A special green pesto pasta for spring.
Nettles are a great spring green. If you do find them, cook them correctly and make this vegan stinging nettle pesto recipe for pasta. It takes 30 minutes, and tastes silky delicious.
Meet this stinging nettle pesto recipe
Nettles are a special, but not tremendously common, green. Incredibly nutritious, nettles may require a little T.L.C. to handle (don’t worry — you’ve got this), but are entirely worth it.
Since I am not in the habit of regularly foraging for weeds that have the potential to cause painful injury, I leave it to the farmers market to bring nettles my way, usually around late May and to mid-June. Because nettles are covered in thousands of tiny, hair-like needles that burn and sting, it is vital — but easy — to handle them correctly.
And once you do that, make this silky vegan stinging nettle pesto recipe with pasta. Start to finish, it takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.
What are stinging nettles? Are nettles healthy?
Fresh stinging nettles are an incredibly nutritious perennial green — a weed, technically. In addition to anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties, nettles can help tame allergies, and are loaded with antioxidants and vitamins.
What do stinging nettles taste like?
In terms of flavor, nettles taste mild, not unlike spinach but with a bit more brightness. Burrs aside, nettle leaves are soft and tender.
Nettles are covered in natural protective burrs (think very fine cactus prickers), so in order to enjoy this special spring and summer green (here, as a nettle pesto recipe), you’ll have to tame those leaves first.
How to Cook Nettles
Cooking stinging nettles is not hard, but you want to get it right so you don’t get the little burrs on your skin. Here’s what to do to cook nettles and make this nettle pesto recipe with pasta:
- First, blanch the nettles: Heat up a big pot of salted, boiling water. Then, without touching the nettles, dump them directly from the bag into the pot. Press them with a slotted spoon or tongs to fully submerge them. Let them cook for about 45 seconds to one minute. This wilts and neutralizes the burrs.
- Drain and cook. Drain the nettles in a colander and squeeze out all of the excess moisture. At this point, they are ready to handle.
- Then, to make the nettle pesto, combine the greens, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper into a blender, and blitz. Toss with al dente pasta. Many pasta shapes would work well, but I think the best options are a short shape like these cavatelli, orecchiette, or mezze rigatoni.
If you enjoy this stinging nettle pesto recipe, you’ll also like:
Nettle Pesto Pasta
- 1 large bag (approx. 10 oz.) fresh nettles
- 5 large cloves fresh garlic, peeled
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (plus additional for pasta water)
- 2 dozen turns fresh-cracked black pepper
- 1 lemon for juicing
- 1 large pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 pound medium-sized dried pasta, such as cavatelli or mezze rigatoni
- Generously salt a large pot of water and bring it to a boil.
- Being careful not to let your skin come into contact with the nettles, dump the entire bag of nettles into the boiling water, along with the garlic. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to fully submerge the greens. Blanch for about 45 seconds to one minute. This wilts the burrs.
- Use tongs to transfer the nettles and garlic into a colander to drain, reserving the water. If you're making pasta, return the water to a boil, and add the pasta.
- While the pasta is cooking, press the excess moisture from the nettles. Dump them onto a cutting board and give the greens and garlic a rough chop. (They are totally safe to handle at this point.)
- Transfer the nettles and garlic to a blender. Add the olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, red pepper flakes. Blitz it all up in the blender until it becomes a smooth pesto. You may need to add a little pasta nettle water to loosen it.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain the pasta, reserving a cup of pasta water. Add the drained pasta back into the empty pot. Off the heat, add the pesto and stir vigorously to combine. Taste for seasoning. Stir in a little pasta water if the pasta looks a little dry.
- Serve with freshly-grated pecorino-Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and some more hot red pepper flakes.