Nettle Pesto

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This recipe was a revelation. I grabbed a few young nettle leaves from the allotment, blanched them (very important as this gets rid of the sting!) and bashed them up with some oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan, and hey pesto! It made enough to feed two with spaghetti, but you could easily make more and keep it in a jar covered with oil in the fridge and it would probably last a week or so.

You’ll need to wear gloves when harvesting/prepping the nettles, and feel free to adjust any of the quantities according to taste. The following made quite a gutsy pesto, absolutely delicious and so full of vitamins and iron!

NETTLE PESTO
Serves: 2  Prep/cooking time: 15 mins

Ingredients

80g young nettles (remove any coarse pieces of stalk)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
30g parmesan cheese, grated
handful of pine nuts
squeeze of lemon juice

Method

Bring a pan of water to the boil and blanch the nettles for 1-2 minutes before draining and plunging into iced water to stop them cooking.

Meanwhile, crush the garlic and grate the parmesan cheese.

Drain the nettles and squeeze out all the water you can. They’ll have lost their sting by now. You’ll be left with a small ball of green. Chop finely.

Place the garlic, cheese and nettles in a large bowl and pour over the olive oil.

Pound thoroughly with the end of a rolling pin.

Add the pine nuts and a squeeze of lemon juice before giving the pesto another good pounding.

I added some freshly cooked spaghetti to the bowl and tossed everything together before serving, but you can do all sorts with the pesto: spread it on bread or pizza bases, coat meat with it. You can easily make it in a blender or with a pestle and mortar if you prefer.

Enjoy!
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A Nettle Odyssey

It’s been very quiet in the Agents of Field kitchen of late. With no home-grown produce to cook with (aside from one small pumpkin left over from last autumn’s harvest), I’ve been impatiently drumming my fingers on the sideboard, looking forlornly through photographs of last year’s bounty and willing the rhubarb in the back garden to get a move on. I know I’ll eat my words come August when I’ll be stuck in the kitchen, drowning under trugful’s of home-grown produce and wondering what the heck to do with it all!

Yesterday, I visited the allotment with Ade. He’s been incredibly busy up there recently and it was great to see the seedlings growing happily in the polytunnel and the beds already planted up with potatoes and brassicas. But oh, the frustration at having to leave there empty-handed! At the end of the day, we packed up, closed the gate behind us and started walking down the allotment path. It was then that I saw them.

IMG_0663Stinging nettles. Great clumps of them bordering the allotment fence. I’d already planned on using nettles to make a feed for the tomato plants later on in the season, but what about now, in April? Could I turn them into dinner?

This afternoon, I returned to the allotment and armed with a bag and some robust gloves, I started harvesting nettles. I’d never eaten them before, although I had heard of their health benefits and it seemed crazy not to take advantage of their abundance up at the plot.

Incredibly nutrient-rich, nettles are used to treat a vast array of ailments from colds and eczema to rheumatism and gout. They really are a super-food and I wonder how long it’ll be before the food industry catches on and packets of gourmet nettles start appearing in our supermarkets alongside the goji berries and endame beans. (Grab them while they’re plentiful and free!)

March and April are the prime months for harvesting nettles, according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, before they flower and become coarse. It’s also recommended that you pick just the top 4-6 leaves of the plants which are young and tender. Make sure you wear gloves and keep your wrists and ankles protected as they do give a nasty sting! Get them home and wash them thoroughly, making sure you remove anything non-nettle that you may have picked up by mistake.

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My first experiment was a simple nettle tea. I steeped a handful of the nettles in a teapot with some freshly boiled water and let them brew for 10 minutes before straining. The tea was like spring in a mug; a beautiful, pale green colour with a taste redolent of freshly-mown lawns! It was so refreshing and I’ll certainly make it again.

But it was the punchy nettle pesto I whipped up for dinner tonight which was my big discovery! Utterly divine and so nutritious.

Recipe to follow on Wednesday… 😉

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Spaghetti with Fresh Courgette Pesto

When Ade harvested the first courgette the other week, I decided to team it with the Basil ‘Sweet Green’ we’ve got growing prolifically in the garden to make a fresh, verdant pasta dish. Now, admittedly the title Courgette Pesto is a little bit misleading here – I’m not pulping the courgette to a paste along with the basil, I’m actually sautéing the courgettes in garlic separately and tossing them into the pesto-coated spaghetti at the end. This gives a much more interesting contrast of textures and, more importantly for us since it was the first of our courgette crop, enables you to really taste the courgette.
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With home-made pesto, you could use a blender or a pestle and mortar, but I find this only creates more washing up! I’m not making vast quantities of pesto to be stored for future use here, I’m making just enough to be served fresh, for two. So, I prefer to chop the basil and garlic roughly by hand before tipping it into a large bowl with the oil. I then bash the hell out of it with the end of a rolling pin! You tip the drained pasta and sautéed courgette into this bowl once it’s cooked, give everything a good stir, et voilà!

Hearty, wholesome and oh-so-simple.
SpagCourgPesto
SPAGHETTI WITH FRESH COURGETTE PESTO
Serves: 2 Prep Time: 15 mins / Cooking Time: 10 mins

250g spaghetti
2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, washed
1 small courgette
2-3 cloves of garlic
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
20g parmesan, grated
salt and pepper

Method

Roughly chop the fresh basil leaves, removing any thick pieces of stalk, and place them in a large bowl with the oil

Chop 1-2 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like it – we like it strong!) and add to the basil/oil, along with half of the grated parmesan and a pinch of salt, before pounding the pesto in the bowl with the end of a rolling pin for a few minutes.

While the flavours steep, cook the spaghetti according to instructions.

While the spaghetti is cooking, chop the courgette into rounds before halving again and sautéing in a pan with a little oil.

Chop the remaining garlic clove and add this to the courgettes. Cook for approx. 5 mins before removing from the heat.

Drain the spaghetti and tip into the pesto bowl, stirring thoroughly to make sure the pasta is well-coated.

Add the cooked courgette/garlic.

Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and plenty of black pepper before giving everything a final mix.

Serve in bowls and top with fresh basil leaves.

For such a quick and easy dish, this is scrummy! You could easily add some toasted pine-nuts or thick curls of fresh parmesan on top if you fancy. Go wild. Knock yourself out.
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