This seasonal herb that grows along the roadside and in areas often referred to as disturbed soils and what most of us think of as a nasty surprise when we're out hiking in the hills and brush up against it with bare skin. Yes, that would be the dreaded stinging nettle, or ortiche as it is called here. I had always thought of it as a nuisance, a weed, a plant out of place, until I arrived here and my mother in law introduced me to the many faces of stinging nettle that now make it a welcome attraction instead of the one to avoid. I'm here to tell you that it's a fine addition to soups and savory tarts, ravioli and just about anywhere you would use spinach. Once stripped from the stems, washed and briefly cooked, all that stinging business has gone away and a mild flavorful green is left to add to whatever strikes your fancy.
Recently while cleaning rooms I was listening to one of my favorite pod-casts by Lynne Rosetto Kasper of the famed NPR program "The Splendid Table." I use to listen to it years ago back in Colorado, but was delighted to find it available on itunes podcasts list when we splashed out last summer for an ipod. What a treat this program is if you enjoy food and love learning about a wide ranging topics on the subject of eating. If you have never discovered this program I highly recommend searching for it on your local public radio station or on itunes podcasts. It's free, interesting and entertaining.
My mother in law has never had nettles this way, but she was wild about it and I think you might be too. I foraged just out our door for the more tender top parts of the plant and preferably before they have gone to seed. Do wear rubber gloves and take care to cover all exposed skin to avoid any of the effects of the sting of the nettle. Once I had cleaned them, cooked and whipped up my pesto. I drizzled a little hazelnut oil on top of the crostini that I had slathered on my crusty home made bread and that little touch took this modest taste treat to the sublime. So do a little neighborhood foraging and you'll find a nice change of pace on the pesto front just outside your back door.
Here's the recipe from The Splendid Table's guest, Louisa Shafia, from her recent cookbook,
"Lucid Food". You can also find her blog by the same name here, Lucid Food.
where she celebrates an eco concious way of cooking and living.
It's a fabulously tasty recipe and if it is any indication of the rest of the cookbook, you might want to pick up a copy.
Stinging Nettle Pesto
Featured on the March 6, 2010 episode
Reprinted from Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia.
Copyright © 2009 Published by Ten Speed Press.
Makes approximately 3 cups
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 pound stinging nettles
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup firmly packed grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Fill the sink or a large bowl with cold water. Using gloves or tongs, submerge the nettles in the water and let them sit for 5 minutes. Remove the nettles and discard the water. Wearing rubber gloves, pull the leaves from the stems and discard the stems.
Put the nettles in the boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain and spread the nettles on a baking sheet. Let cool completely. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible and coarsely chop.
Place the nettles in the bowl of a food processor with the mint, garlic, pine nuts, and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Process until the mixture has formed a paste.
With the machine running, pour in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.