While waiting on asparagus, we’re reminded that nettles are also a harbinger of spring and you’ll find them at farmers markets in the Bay Area and at select grocers. We love them in pesto more than anything else. Casteltravano olives, with their smooth buttery flavor and sun-dried tomatoes with their sweet chewy texture, add a nice contrast to the hearty herbal flavor of the nettles.Print
For the pesto
¼ cup Kosher salt
4 cups stinging nettle leaves
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, preferably Maldon
1 garlic clove
1 cup walnut halves and pieces, divided
¾ cup olive oil
1 cup Romano cheese, grated and divided
For the pasta
8 ounces pasta, we prefer spaghetti or bucatini
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes
½ cup casteltravano olives
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
To make the pesto
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a the kosher salt. Add the nettle leaves to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Scoop out the leaves into a bowl of ice-cold water and let cool for one minute.
Drain the leaves and wring them out with your hands to remove most of the water.
We make our pesto in a mortar and pestle, but it’s just as easy to blitz all the ingredients together in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well blended, scraping down the sides to make sure everything is combined and adding more oil if needed. We like our nettle pesto more chunky than smooth though.
If using a mortar and pestle, add the garlic clove and the flaky salt to the bowl of the mortar and grind into a paste. Add the walnuts and continue to stir together until they’ve made a smooth paste.
Add the nettle leaves and a couple tablespoons of the olive oil and grind together until the leaves begin to break down, adding more oil as needed until you have a rough paste. Nettle leaves are fibrous so they don’t break down as smoothly as basil leaves. Stir in the romano cheese.
If you are making the pesto in advance, transfer to a small bowl and smooth out the top. Pour enough olive oil on top to form a thin cover layer and set aside.
To make the pasta
Scoop out one cup of the boiling pasta water ( the same pot you blanched the nettle leaves in) and add to a small bowl with the sun-dried tomatoes to rehydrate for 15 minutes.
Smash the olives with the side of a knife, remove the pits, and thinly slice.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to instructions on the side of the package.
In a large saute pan, add the rest of the olive oil, the olives, toasted walnuts, the rehydrated tomatoes and half of the pesto.
When the pasta is done, add to the saute pan (we remove it from the boiling water with tongs so we don’t have to carry the pot to the sink to drain), turn the heat to high, and ladle in a ½ cup of the pasta water, stirring all the while to combine all the ingredients. Cook until most of the water has been absorbed by the pasta and add more pesto or pasta water as needed to make a smooth sauce that coats the noodles. You may have some pesto left over which can be refrigerated for up to a week. Stir in the lemon zest and the rest of the cheese.
Using tongs, grab a portion of the noodles from the saute pan and hold over an individual pasta bowl/plate, turn the bowl with one hand and as you do, gently release the pasta into the bowl (this is easier than trying to twist your hand holding the tongs). Repeat until all servings are dished up. Garnish each bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice and lots of freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Don’t forget to wear gloves to handle them before they are blanched. Although did you know that the sting from the nettles can actually be used as a little known natural therapy called urtication (from nettle’s botanical name, Urtica dioca) where applying the stems of the plant to your skin can help provide relief for stiff joints and aching muscles.
Photos: Bruce Cole
- Prep Time: 15
- Cook Time: 10
- Category: Pasta
- Serving Size: 4
Keywords: nettle pesto