A special green pasta for spring.
If you can find them, stinging nettles are one of the best spring greens out there. And when you do find them, make this easy vegan stinging nettle pesto pasta recipe. It takes 30 minutes, and tastes silky delicious.
Since I am not in the habit of regularly foraging for painful weeds, 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 Pasta. Start to finish, it takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.
What are stinging nettles? Are nettles healthy?
Nettles are an incredibly nutritious perennial green — a weed, technically. In addition to anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties, nettles can help tame allergies, and have lots of antioxidants and vitamins.
What do stinging nettles taste like?
Taste wise, nettles are a mild and tasty green, with a bit more density than something like spinach. But to cook them, you first need to tame them.
How to Cook Vegan Stinging Nettle Pesto Pasta
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:
1. 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.
2. 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, 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.
You’ll also like:
Vegan Stinging 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.
- Use tongs to transfer the nettles and garlic into a colander to drain, reserving the water. Return the water to a boil, and add the pasta.
- While the pasta is cooking, press the excess moisture out of 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.