Spring is the time for emerging growth, a time to celebrate the end of winter, and a time to watch the green come alive! What better way to celebrate green than by making pesto? True, we are months away from basil but there is a local source of green that is considered a nuisance by plenty of hikers and curious children. I am talking about nettle. Rich in vitamin C, abundant in the Pacific Northwest and free for the taking!
This whole process starts with a trip to the forest or field where you can find a nice supply of nettle. Be sure to avoid areas near roadways, private property, and public lands. Check with a friend, or maybe you have them on your own property. Next, wear comfortable gloves as the nettle will sting you. When collecting nettle we are only looking for the tips. If you follow the top of the plant down to its third leaf set, you pinch it off just below that; all it takes is a flick of the wrists. You will want to bring a large basket on this trip, as you will need to collect plenty in order to make a good amount of pesto.
Here is the recipe:
2 cups packed blanched nettle,
1/2 cup nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, or hazel nuts work well)
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)
Garlic to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt.
1/4 cup hard shredded cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
Fill a large pot halfway full with water. Add 1/4 cup salt and bring to a boil.
Wearing rubber gloves, pull the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Put the nettles in the boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain and spread the nettles on a baking sheet. Let cool completely. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible and coarsely chop.
Place the nettles in the bowl of a food processor with the garlic, nuts, and lemon juice. Process until the mixture has formed a paste.
With the machine running, pour in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.
A great way to not use lots of individual plastic containers and bags is to line a muffin tin with baking cups and freeze the pesto, or for smaller amounts use an ice tray. Once they are frozen you can remove them from the containers and put them all into one plastic bag and put them back into the freezer to be used as needed in the coming months.