STINGING NETTLESstinging nettles

Here is one of my favorite recipes from my new book “Cooking Wild”. It’s available now in bookstores and via Amazon. Now is the time to pick nettles or get at your local Farmer’s Market.

Despite the sting of their prickly leaves they secretly are both good tasting and good for you. The sting comes from formic acid in the hairy leaves which is neutralized when cooked. Nettles are greens with amazing culinary and medicinal properties. They 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.


Serves 4

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.