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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stinging Nettle Pesto

Stinging Nettles are one of those weeds that sprout up in gardens and the country side across the US during the spring. They look innocent enough, but they are not called Stinging Nettles without good reason. When touched with bare skin, they can sting you with the tiny needles that cover their leaves and stems. But, despite this seemingly major character flaw, they are completely safe to eat once cooked. And, they happen to be quite delicious!

I found my Stinging Nettles at my local farmers market this week and, if you see them at yours, don't pass up the opportunity to pick some up and try cooking with them! Once cooked, they have a similar taste and texture to spinach, so they can be used in countles
s ways. And they provide numerous health benefits. They have been used to help treat arthritis, kidney problems, hay fever and pain. They are also used to treat anemia, since it contains 40% protein, which is extremely high for a leafy green vegetable.

Please note, when handling the nettles before they are cooked, be sure to wear thick dishwashing or gardening gloves. Regular latex gloves won't cut it for these bad boys. But, the nettles lose their sting completely after they are cooked, so you can lose the gloves as soon as they have been dunked into the boiling water.

Plus, I find it kind of fun to take an otherwise scary plant and turn it into a delicious meal. Stinging nettle pesto, anyone?

Stinging Nettle Pecan Pesto

1 bunch stinging nettles
2 minced garlic cloves
3/4 cup toasted pecans
Juice from 1 lemon

3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan reggiano
salt & pepper

To prepare the nettles, fill your kitchen sink, or another large vessel, with water and soak the nettles for 5 minutes to remove dirt. With your gloves on, pull nettles from
water and transfer to a baking sheet. Strip the leaves from the stems and dispose of stems. Place nettle leaves in large pot of salted boiling water (salting the water helps to flavor the nettles and helps them retain their bright green color). It is now safe to take off your gloves. Blanch the nettles for one minute and drain (but reserve cooking liquid!*). Transfer to a sheet pan to cool.

Once the nettles have cooled enough to handle, squeeze excess water from them and transfer to a food processor. Add in the garlic, toasted pecans, lemon juice and par
mesan cheese. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I served this with a short-cut pasta and topped it with seared wild Gulf shrimp and sea scallops.

*So, why reserve the nettle cooking liquid? Well, that greenish liquid has picked up a ton of nutrients and flavor from the nettles and can be used as a vegetable stock or as base to make soups with. Stay tuned for an Asparagus Soup that uses my nettle cooking liquid from this dish!

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