I’ve evangelized stinging nettles plenty in this space before. If you’re still a skeptic, here’s an an oh-so-foolproof way to get yer nettles on. (And a good reason not to feel guilty about owning a Cuisinart that takes up valuable shelf space.) If you live in the PNW, don’t tarry: the coastal nettles are perfect size right now, and foothills nettles shouldn’t be too far off. For my brothers and sisters in the Midwest and Northeast, hang in there—your time is nigh.
Because stinging nettles must be boiled briefly to neutralize the sting—unlike basil—my advice is to use a food processor. Much has been said about making the traditional basil pesto in a blender—much of it disparaging. 101 Cookbooks recommends chopping the ingredients together with a mezzaluna and David Lebovitz uses the uber-traditional mortar and pestle. But nettles are different from basil. Once boiled and drained, they’re a soggy mess; a food processor remedies this sorry state without messing with that splendid day-glo green color.
1. Blanche nettles for a minute in boiling water. Remove to a salad spinner and shake off excess water, then ball up your nettles and give one good squeeze to wring out more water. It’s tough to watch all that dark green, nutrient-laden liquid vanish down the drain, but you’ll want olive oil lubricating your pesto, not water.
2. Add nettles to food processor, along with roasted pine nuts (or walnuts, if you prefer), grated parmesan, garlic cloves, lemon juice, and seasoning. Pour half of the olive oil in and…Whirrrr. Pour the rest of the oil in. Whir again, until your preferred consistency. That’s it.
This recipe makes a fairly pasty pesto; if you want something a little more spreadable for bread, sammiches, etc., try using more olive oil.
Next, think about putting up. You may want to fill a few small (e.g. 4 oz) tubs for the freezer for dinner party pasta, as well as an ice tray for smaller servings. To fill the tray, use a plastic Ziploc with a corner cut out and squeeze out a blob of pesto in each cavity, just like icing. Remove the pesto cubes from the tray once frozen and seal in a freezer bag; now you’ve got instant sauce to brighten a fillet of fish or piece of meat—or simply to spread on good homemade rosemary bread baked by your friend and neighbor, as we did.