Nettle Pesto, a healthy twist to the classic pasta sauce using foraged nettles. How best to harvest them late Spring and prepare them without being stung. This sauce also happens to be vegan.
Healthy Vegan Nettle Recipe
This is one of the family’s favourite nettle recipes and what’s more, it’s full of healthy nutrients. It’s vegan, particularly high in iron, packed with other minerals and vitamins, plus it’s a great detox for the liver. So it’s the most delicious spring clean in a pasta bowl! As nettles are foraged, it’s the perfect meal on a budget too.
What do Nettles Taste Like?
Nettles don’t sting when eaten and their taste is good. They taste ‘green’, that chlorophyll herbal sensation with a slightly sweet aftertaste. They’re a cross between parsley and spinach, I think. But I’ll leave you to taste for yourself.
When and How to Harvest the Best Nettles
Most important, even if obvious, is to harvest nettles using gloves. They’re not called stinging nettles for nothing! If you do get stung, quickly ease the rash with dock leaves – almost always found growing nearby.
Ideally, pick nettles that are quite high (you don’t want them “sprayed” by animals). It’s also best to pick the younger nettle leaves since the older, outer leaves can be quite bitter – as are the more purple leaves, so avoid them too. The greener the leaves, the better. Also avoid nettles when in flower.
Never pick nettles from the side of the road, as they are polluted and also in danger of being sprayed by herbicides. It’s best to get them far into the forest, as nature intended.
As this pesto is best served in Spring, serve with fresh asparagus also in season – it’s delicious!
How Long to Cook Nettles?
First you’ll need to wash them. As they’re still stinging nettles wear gloves in the initial stages. Blanch the leaves in salted boiling water for two minutes to clean and remove their sting. By adding salt, it retains their green colour.
Read the step-by-step recipe instructions below for more details.
How Long Can Nettle Pesto Keep?
Like classic pesto, this vegan nettle variation is handy to have in the fridge. It can keep for 3-4 days (just keep topping it up with olive oil after use) and it freezes well, too. Pesto is SO quick and easy to make, it’s a crying shame if you buy that mass market stuff sold in jars at the supermarket.
How to Prepare Nettles
Once back home, keep your gloves on while handling the leaves, as the nettles still have their sting!
Remove all the leaves from the stalks then soak them in cold water for a few minutes.
Still with gloves on, plunge the nettle leaves into salted boiling water for 2 minutes. The salt keeps the green colour bright. Blanching them removes their sting.
Strain the leaves and cool. You could reserve the cooking water (for stock, soups etc.) Once cool, squeeze out any excess water and place in a food processor or blender with the other ingredients. Add the cheese at the end.
Toss the pesto into cooked pasta. There is no need to heat the sauce. That way you get all the beautiful flavours oodling their way between the noodles.
More Nettle Recipes
Once the nettles are prepared, replace them for spinach or chard in this Corsican Cheese Lasagne. It’s even better for you.
Nettle Pesto with Walnuts
This is great with walnuts – although using blanched almonds in the same way is also a great combination.
Toast the walnuts first either by dry-frying in a pan for 2-3 minutes or under the grill – it brings out their flavours. Although this nettle version of pesto does take a bit longer, it’s worth it to reap their health benefits.
The Extra Touch of Garnish
Garnish the dish with crispy nettle leaves which have been deep fried for 30 seconds in 150°C and left to drain off excess oil on kitchen paper. That way you get Le Crunch and not a sting…
- 100 g / 3.5oz stinging nettle leaves stalks removed
- 30 g (2tbsp) walnuts (or pine nuts) toasted
- 3 cloves garlic core removed
- 1 tsp sea salt (fleur de sel)
- freshly cracked pepper
- 200 ml / 7oz / 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Keep your gloves on at this point, as the nettles still have their sting!
- Remove all the leaves from the stalks then soak them in cold water for a few minutes.
- Still with gloves on, blanch the leaves by plunging them into salted boiling water for 2 minutes (this removes their sting). The salt keeps the green colour bright.
- Strain the leaves and cool. You could reserve the cooking water (for stock, soups etc.)
- Once cool, squeeze out any excess water and place in a food processor or blender with the other ingredients.
This recipe was first published 9 May 2011 but is now completed updated.