Despite the sting or their prickly leaves, they secretly are both good tasting and good for you. Nettles are high in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium and vitamins A and C (and are also a decent source of protein). The word “nettle” describes more than 40 different flowering plant species from the Urtica genus, which comes from the Latin word “uro,” meaning, “I burn.” The plant is native to Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, and is found wild throughout the continental United States. Nettles are readily available in spring and summer to forage or at Farmer’s Markets.
Nettles are also used as a medicinal herb and reportedly can help in treating arthritis, anemia, hay fever and kidney problems, among other ailments. Dried leaves may be used to make a tea that is touted to be useful in alleviating allergy symptoms.
Look for young plants in spring and early summer when you are ready to forage or at Farmer’s markets. Pick the leaves while wearing thick gloves and a long-sleeved shirt (and pants). Use rubber gloves when handling them in the kitchen. Nettles are easy to prepare. When steamed, sautéed, or parboiled they lose their sting, but don’t fall apart and don’t turn a dull color. Store nettles in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Green nettles can be blanched and frozen.
When foraging, only pick the nettle tops (the top four leaves) and make sure the nettles are less than knee-high. An annual plant, nettles are found in woodsy areas and forests, in natural grasslands, along fertile fields and riverbanks and along shaded trails.
To cook nettles, wash and drain, discarding stems. Place the leaves in a pot of boiling salted water and cook for 3 minutes or so or until nettles are wilted. Drain in a colander and press out any excess water.
TAGLIARINI WITH RICOTTA AND NETTLE PESTO
Delicious with pasta of course but also try added as a garnish for creamy soups and fold into softened butter for a delicious topping for meats, fishes and vegetables.
4 – 5 cups young tender nettles
1/3 cup or so extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped green garlic, or 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4cup freshly grated pecorino
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese (sheep’s milk preferred if you can find it)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound fresh tagliarini or fettuccine
Blanch the nettles in boiling, salted water for about 1 minute.
Remove from cooking water and immediately plunge into cold water. Drain again, squeeze nettles dry and roughly chop.
Place the nettles in a blender or food processor. Add the oil, the 2/3 cup pine nuts and the garlic. Blend until well combined, about 30 seconds to scraping down the sides of the food processor.
Transfer to a bowl and fold in the pecorino and ricotta cheeses. Season to your taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile bring a large amount of salted water to a boil in a heavy pot for the pasta.
Put the pesto mixture in a large saucepan. Whisk in about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and the butter and heat till hot but not boiling. Cook the pasta till al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta and toss with warm pesto. Serve garnished with remaining pine nuts.