This simple stinging nettle pesto recipe produces a rich, yet mild and creamy pesto that is delicious on pasta, white fish, or used as a dip. Use the detailed instructions & photos in this article to make your own!
Stinging nettle: our favorite winter & spring green
Last night, while eating stinging nettle pesto and MSC labeled haddock, my husband and I agreed that stinging nettle is probably our favorite late winter and early spring green. Why?
As we wrote about in Why you should grow and use stinging nettle, this famously prickly plant has lots of attributes:
- it’s perennial so you don’t have to replant it each year;
- it offers a wonderful mild flavor and is incredibly versatile in the kitchen;
- stinging nettle is one of the most nutritious, high protein greens on the planet;
- the plant produces huge quantities of greens each year with little effort — arguably a little too much if it escapes your garden beds.
We’ve been picking and eating piles of stinging nettle from our two patches this spring. We’re also trying to diversify our stinging nettle recipe portfolio so that we (and thus you) have more ways to use stinging nettle in the kitchen.
Hence, this new stinging nettle pesto with green garlic recipe.
Step-by-step: getting this stinging nettle pesto recipe perfect
Step 1. Harvest stinging nettle and green garlic (use garlic cloves as alternative).
Start by harvesting a big colander full of stinging nettle. For this recipe, we harvested about 8 loose cups of stinging nettles.
We cut the tender young growth tips off of the plants with scissors (or garden pruners). The stems are technically edible too, but they tend to be stringy and fibrous, so we remove them when processing in the kitchen — more on that process below.
Once stinging nettle plants start producing seeds, they lose flavor and can purportedly cause a bit of GI distress, so get ’em while they’re young!
For this recipe, we also used “green garlic” which is basically the immature bulbs and greens of hardneck or softneck garlic. If you don’t have green garlic, just use regular garlic cloves. Or you can often find it in spring at farmers markets or high end grocery stores.
To grow green garlic, we simply leave garlic cloves in the ground each summer, rather than harvesting them. Each clove/bulb will then divide and you end up with dense garlic patches the following year. You can pull a few of the plants in the spring for use as green garlic.
Step 2: Clean stinging nettle and remove the stems.
We put our stinging nettle into a giant metal bowl full of cold water and swirl it around a bit. This removes any debris and also the occasional small insect or arachnid whose home you are about to eat. (Take any critters back outside and release them, should any float to the top during rinsing.)
With tongs or gloved hands, hold the base of each stinging nettle stem and cut the leaves off into a metal colander. Compost the stems. As mentioned earlier, stinging nettle stems are technically edible, but they can add a stringy consistency to a recipe.
Step 3: Blanch your stinging nettles leaves.
We’ve had hordes of beautiful cedar waxwing birds visiting us over the past few weeks. This may be TMI, but as the birds go back and forth between our backyard trees and our neighbor’s holly bushes (they love holly berries) they deposit quite a bit of poo on the ground below.
The problem: part of that area happens to encompass one of our stinging nettle patches. It’s generally not a great idea to ingest wild animal poo unless you like salmonella and E. coli. Even though we’ve had epic thunderstorms washing our plants clean, we aren’t willing to take any risks.
Thus, we blanched our stinging nettles for this recipe, e.g. dunked them in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Blanching also slightly changes the flavor profile of stinging nettles, making them richer and more spinachy in taste.
Step 4: Toast pine nuts and toss-dry your blanched nettle leaves — then cool them.
We wish there was a more local nut (like pecans or walnuts) that tasted as good in pesto as pine nuts. Pesto made with other nuts is good, but it’s just not the same as pine nut pesto, so we splurge on organic pine nuts.
Up your pesto game a bit further by lightly toasting your pine nuts in a pan before using them. Simply turn the pan to medium (4 on our stovetop) for ~5 minutes, stirring every minute or so. The pine nuts should be lightly browned when done.
Now, toss-dry your blanched stinging nettle leaves in the colander, removing as much water as possible. Leave the pot of nettle water on the stove to boil your noodles. (We usually add some salt to our water before boiling noodles.)
Important: Put your toasted pine nuts and blanched stinging nettle leaves into fridge to cool BEFORE final blending step. If you add them warm, the cheese will melt. This will still taste good, it just won’t have that classic pesto texture.
Step 5. Blend all pesto ingredients.
Add all ingredients together in a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve stinging nettle pesto over the top of whole wheat organic whole wheat pasta or however you like it.
In honor of pesto’s Italian origins, we garnished our stinging nettle version with sculpit/stridolo flowers from our garden, a plant which is also popular in Italy.
Recipe: Stinging nettle pesto with green garlic
Stinging nettle pesto with green garlic
A delicious Italian-inspired pesto recipe made with stinging nettles and green garlic.
- stinging nettle leaves Quantity: ~8 cups raw leaves lose packed becomes 2.5 cups loosely packed after blanching and tossed dry
- 1 cup fresh-grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1/2 cup green garlic leaves, stems, and bulbs
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 6 Tbsp white wine we used an unoaked chardonnay but any drinkable white wine will do
- 1 tsp sea salt
Clean and de-stem stinging nettle leaves. Then blanch stinging nettle leaves for 2 minutes in boiling water. Toss-dry stinging nettle leaves in colander. Put in fridge to cool to room temp so it doesn't cause cheese to melt. See additional instructions and photos above recipe card.
Lightly toast pine nuts for ~5 minutes on medium heat until slightly browned. Let cool to room temp.
Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. Serve over pasta, fish, or as a dip.
We hope you LOVE this stinging nettle pesto recipe as much as we do!
Other related articles you’ll love:
- Why and how to grow and use stinging nettle in your garden
- Recipe: Raw stinging nettle soup (yes, seriously!)
- Duck egg stinging nettle pasta with white whole wheat flour
- Recipe: Green garlic pesto
- Why and how to grow hardneck garlic
- 16 common edible weeds growing in your garden