"He was a bold man who first ate an oyster."
The same can probably be said about the first person who thought it might be a good idea to cook and eat stinging nettle, though insanity and/or desperation were probably also factors.
But whatever the reasons, we owe this man or woman of the distant past a debt of gratitude. Stinging nettle, when properly prepared, has a very distinctive flavor, sort of like a cross between spinach, broccoli, and cucumber. On top of that, it's very high in several vitamins and minerals, as well as being quite high in protein, when compared with other greens.
So, next time you're at a farmer's market, and see somebody selling this humble plant alongside more familiar offerings, don't worry - they're not trying to pass off an irritating weed onto some gullible shoppers.
Anyway, if you do decide to give stinging nettle a try, the first thing you have to do is get rid of the "stinging" part. This is actually really easy. It washes right off with water. Boiling the leaves for a couple minutes works great, as does soaking them for a little while in cold water.
Stinging Nettle Pesto
Makes approximately 3/4 cup
- 1/4 lb stinging nettle leaves
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
- 2 bulbs green garlic
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
- 4 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese
- Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the nettle and salt. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove the cooked nettles from the pot, and place in the ice water to immediately stop the cooking process. Drain the water, and squeeze excess water from the cooked nettle leaves. At this point, you'll find that you can handle the leaves without any fear of being stung.
Put the cooked nettle, lemon zest, green garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and lemon juice in a food processor. Puree the mixture in the food processor, while gradually adding the olive oil until the pesto is thick and smooth.
This pesto is great on pasta, pizza, sandwiches, or even by itself as a dip.