This nettle pesto is packed with flavour and goodness. You can whizz it up in 10 minutes, and of course, it is very satisfying and cost-effective if you are using wild nettles. This recipe uses everyday ingredients with suggestions for substitutions.
Stinging nettle pesto is a great ingredient to make quick meals such as pesto pasta. It adds a ton of flavour, plus it's got the goodness of nettles, olive oil and nuts. It's definitely worth making your own pesto - it's really quick, and so much cheaper and healthier.
Why make homemade pesto?
Homemade pesto tastes much nicer than bought, and is much better for you. Supermarket pesto tends to be made with cheap, less healthy oils. As well as the expected ingredients, the brand I looked at also had glucose, potato flakes, and vegetable fibre. In order to have a long shelf life, bought pesto also contains preservatives. When you are making pesto yourself, you can choose the ingredients more carefully, plus you can control the amount of oil and salt that you add.
What's great about nettle pesto?
Traditionally, pesto is made with basil. But it does take a lot of basil, and the little packets of basil that you get in the supermarkets don't go very far. Unless you are growing you own basil, or buy a large plant and strip the whole thing, you probably won't have enough. But nettles are plenteous in the spring. Like me, you may well have a free supply in the garden, and they do grow pretty much anywhere. And if you forage them yourself, you certainly know that they are fresh.
Wild stinging nettles also have a lovely flavour, rather like spinach. And once blanched (which will stop the sting), the texture is tender and breaks down easily in the pesto. Like most greens, nettles are rich in a number of antioxidants and polyphenols. They are also a good source of vitamins A,C,K, and several B vitamins, plus calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. Foraged nettles have been eaten and used in medicines for centuries, and if anyone was marketing them, they'd probably be classed as a superfood!
Nettles. Eating foraged stinging nettles is a really good way of dealing with this ubiquitous weed. (You might also like this nettle soup and nettle and mint tea recipe ) You'll need 2 large handfuls of nettles for this quantity of pesto.
Of course you'll need gloves and long sleeves to pick your nettles. Use the fresh young green leaves at the tip of the stem, and harvest the nettles before they flower. Remove the main stems from the leaves.
Extra virgin olive oil is a healthy fat, and a key component of the much researched healthy Mediterranean Diet. The fruity, slightly spicy flavour of olive oil will add a lovely flavour to this pesto. You can vary the amount of oil to adjust the taste and texture of your nettle pesto. If you want to reduce the level of fat in the recipe, just replace some of the oil with water.
Nuts: Traditional pesto uses pine nuts in the recipe, but they are not something that I regularly have on hand. They are very expensive, and often out of stock. However, most nuts will work very well in pesto, and you can vary them to taste. Even peanuts will make great pesto, although they are not quite so heart healthy as most other nuts. Roast nuts will also add good flavour, and you could quickly toast the nuts in a pan for your pesto if you prefer. Just take care if you are using ready roasted nuts that you don't end up with too much salt in your pesto. In this nettle pesto recipe, I've used ground almonds, as they make a really smooth creamy texture. If you've got a powerful food processor, you'll get the same effect with whole almonds.
Cheese: Pesto is usually made with Parmesan. However, any hard dry strong flavoured cheese will work well. I used a strong mature, quite dry textured, cheddar. If you want a vegan nettle pesto, use vegan cheese, or replace it with a spoonful of nutritional yeast to add a tangy umami flavour.
Seasonings: If you're using a salty cheese or nuts then you might not need more salt, so make sure you taste your pesto before you add any. Lemon juice really lifts the flavour of homemade pesto. If you don't have a lemon, you could add a splash of apple cider vinegar instead. This recipe uses a tiny amount of garlic - as it is raw a little goes a long way. If you've got some roast garlic, you could use that. It's much milder, so use a whole clove.
If you want a stronger, tangier pesto, then add half a teaspoon of Marmite as extra seasoning, and omit the salt.
Use other greens instead of nettles when they are out of season. Kale works very well. I regularly buy kale in the winter and it tends to come in large bags. Homemade kale pesto is a great way of using some of it up. You could also use spinach, leaf beet or rocket. These greens won't need blanching first, just add them directly to the food processor. You might need a little extra oil, or a splash of water.
If you notice some wild garlic whilst you are picking your nettles, you can also add a leaf or two of that. Add the washed raw leaves to the processor with the other ingredients, and omit the garlic.
If you want a nut free pesto, use sunflower seeds instead of nuts. Alternatively, replace the nuts with breadcrumbs.
Of course if you want a more traditional fragrant pesto, add a few basil leaves or other soft herbs.
This nettle pesto only takes 10 minutes to make.
Place the nettle leaves in a large pan of boiling water.
Make sure all of the nettle leaves are submerged, and boil for 30 seconds. Drain through a colander and squeeze all of the water out. I find it easiest to leave the colander in the sink and press the water out with a fork or potato masher.
Place the blanched nettles and other ingredients in a food processor, then simply blitz them all together. If you are using whole nuts then you'll need a powerful a food processor or blender. If you using ground almonds you'll easily be able to make the pesto with just an immersion blender.
I'd recommend very finely grating the garlic before you add it, to make sure that it is evenly distributed. And if your cheese is very hard, you might also prefer to grate it first.
Adjust the seasoning to suit. Add a little more olive oil, or water if you want a slightly looser pesto.
Storing homemade pesto
This nettle pesto with almonds will keep for up to a week in the fridge. It also freezes really well.
For nettle pesto pasta, just stir a couple of tablespoons through a portion of cooked pasta. If you add a splash of the pasta cooking water, the sauce will emulsify nicely around the pasta shapes.
Nettle pesto is a great addition to soups or mashed potato. It also complements grilled chicken and salmon really well.
People also ask
Blanching (or very briefly cooking) stinging nettles in boiling water will take the sting away. Although crushing the leaves in a food processor should remove the sting, I prefer not to take the chance. Blanched leaves also keep their lovely bright green colour.
Nettles have a very similar flavour to spinach. They are quite mild in flavour.
Nettles are at their best in the Spring. Just pick the young leaves at the top of the plant and avoid the large old leaves lower down. It's best not to eat nettles that are in flower.
Other healthy sauces that you might enjoy
You might also like to try these stinging nettles crisps. They are a bit like crispy kale, and packed with nutrition.
Have you tried this recipe? Please leave a rating and/or comment at the bottom of the page. Your feedback and questions are much appreciated.
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- food processor or immersion blender + jug
- colander or sieve
- 60 g nettle tops stems removed
- 60 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 30 g ground almonds or other nuts see ingredient notes above
- 30 g hard cheese such as mature cheddar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ¼ clove of garlic very finely grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- Use gloves to handle the raw nettles. Once blanched in boiling water you can handle them with bare hands.
- Place the nettle leaves in a pan of boiling water and boil for 30 seconds. Drain into a colander. Squeeze out as much water as you can using a fork or potato masher.
- Place the nettles and all the remaining ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, and blitz until smooth and creamy.
- If you want a looser pesto add more oil or water, a small amount at a time.
- Use fresh green stinging nettle tops. Avoid using nettles which are in flower.
- When nettles are out of season, use another green veg such as kale, spinach, leaf beet or rocket. You can also add leafy herbs such as basil, mint or parsley.
- For a nut free nettle pesto, omit the nuts and use sunflower seeds or breadcrumbs.
- For a vegan pesto, either use a vegan cheese or omit the cheese and add nutritional yeast.
- For a lower fat pesto, replace some of the olive oil with water.
Please note nutritional information is for guidance only.