Smoky Nettle Pesto

Sauces & Spreads

Since nettles are weeds, they are also a free and prolific source of food. Right now they are concentrating their energy in producing seeds. Regardless, their phenomenal nutrient content still makes them worthy of consumption.  They are one of the highest plant-based protein sources around.  They are loaded with calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K.  Nettles also have detoxifying properties, making them great for your kidneys and adrenal glands.  Not to mention, they are absolutely delicious.

This smoky nettle pesto is a great way to cook with nettles late in their season.  The leaves have adopted a subtle bitterness and the overall flavor of the leaves is slowly dissipating.  You still get to taste the essence of the nettles with this, but the roasted nuts and smoked cheese–variations of aging–really complement the nettle’s complex and quiet flavor, as the plant enters its new cycle.

Serve simply, with bread and cheese, or toss with pasta, or smear onto a ham sandwich.  Play with the amounts of ingredients.  Some like it more garlicky, others like less nuts.  Remember, when using an ingredient, you can always add more, but you cannot remove it.

Working with fresh nettles is very simple: use gloves. If you don’t have any, use tongs. Their hollow stingers (or trichomes) are located on the bottom of the leaf and on the stem.  When crushed or cooked, they are deactivated. This is one reason we blanch them.  The other is to preserve their beautiful, emerald green color.

Of course, you could always substitute basil for the nettles.

  • 3 cups fresh nettle leaves, blanched (about 1/2 pound raw)
  • 2/3 cup almonds, whole with skins, roasted
  • 5 tsp. garlic greens (or 1 hefty clove of garlic), minced
  • 2 Tbsp. smoked gouda rind, chopped (smoked cheddar will also work — use the heavily flavored rind and save the cheese for eating)
  • 2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese, shredded or chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Clean the nettles in water. Use tongs to swish them around. Meanwhile, get a pot of water boiling. When it’s boiling, drop in the nettles and blanch for 10 seconds. Remove and let cool in a colander.

Roast the almonds for about 20 minutes, until they are fragrant. Let them cool.

In a food processor, chop the nuts until fine. Add the garlic greens (or garlic) and nettles. Pulse and chop until smooth. Add the cheese and chop more. While the food processor is spinning, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Use only a few tablespoons at a time, until you have a creamy but firm consistency.

Scrape the sides and season with sea salt. Keep spinning and emulsifying more oil. You will have to process this for several minutes, scraping the sides, until the fibers break down and the pesto becomes homogenous. Season to taste.

This will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, as long as it’s in an airtight container. Keep it in the freezer for up to 6 months.

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