Sunday Cooking With Crys Part IV: Nettle Pesto

I have a vague memory of eating fresh pasta made with nettles when I was younger, but I’ve never cooked with them. I don’t really remember what they taste like, but for this week’s experiment I wanted to try my hand with them. Now is the perfect time of year for cooking nettles, because you need pick them when they’re young, and how can I resist free vegetables growing all around me?

If I’m going to figure out if I like nettles, I figured I’d go full out and make a nettle pesto. Recipe and tips below the fold.

First of all, as I mentioned before, you need to find young nettle plants. When they grow tall in the summer, they are too tough and have much more sting to them. Still, always better to pick them wearing gloves.



Even when they’re young, you only want to pick the tips of the plants, which are the most tender and flavorful.




Try to pick them as far away from the road as possible, so that they’re not covered in pollution. Even so, you should wash them very well. While you wash them, try to remove all residual stems.

For the nettle pesto:

four large handfuls of nettles

5 walnuts

a quarter of a clove of garlic (optional)

olive oil


Once washed, place the wet nettles in a pan with salt, cover them and let them wilt, the way you would with spinach. Cooking them in this way will deactivate any residual stinging effect from the nettles.

Let the nettles cool, squeeze out the excess liquid and place them in a food processor with the walnuts, garlic and about half a cup of olive oil.

Blend it all together, slowly adding olive oil until it becomes creamy, about the consistency of a soft yoghurt. Adjust salt to taste.

If you want to keep the pesto for a long time, place it in a jar and cover the top with olive oil, so as to prevent oxidation. The final result will look something like this



If you want to cook it immediately, add some parmesan (or, better yet, pecorino romano) before serving.

The final result? It’s good! Really good, far better than I expected. For some reason I thought they would taste grassy, or have very little taste at all. Instead, they have a great flavor all of their own. I can see this pesto going very well with a nice mozzarella as well. I might have to pick some more nettles and stock up on this awesome and cheapest pesto I will ever make. Or make something completely different with them, so far as I have free vegetables growing all over the place.


  1. says

    Nettle pesto is only a “thing” because of starvation during the great wars in Europe. Why use nettles when there is perfectly good basil to be had? (Hint: add a bit of other mints to your basil)

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      Basil pesto is great, no doubt about it, but why confine oneself to only one kind of pesto? We also make baby spinach pesto, rughetta pesto, red pepper pesto, sun dried tomato pesto and pistacchio pesto, because why not? As far as I’m concerned, the more variety of tasty food in my life the better, and the fact that it’s virtually free to make is only an added bonus

  2. kestrel says

    I’m going to weigh in here on the side of the nettles. I have never made pesto from them but used to cook them like spinach as a vegetable and found them very tasty. No, they don’t taste like basil; they taste like nettles. I would never tell people that they are something only eaten if one is starving; not unless I was trying to make sure there would be more for *me* that way.

    I also wander the woods and gather other edible plants, as well as edible mushrooms. Go on; warn me I’m going to kill myself. 🙂 I’ve had wonderful mycology discussions with people who live in Germany and who are very keen on mushrooms. Europeans in general don’t seem to have the same phobia about wild mushrooms that the British and Americans do. Not sure how they feel about other wild foods.

  3. Raucous Indignation says

    Marcus, you’re thinking of pesto alla genovese or pesto with basil and untoasted pine nuts? There quite a few variations on basil pesto. And pesto isn’t always made from basil. Basil requires a lot of water. Rucola is frequently used in the more arid areas in the south, for example. We recently had a delicious pesto made from fava beans, although I agree that pesto alla genovese is the best.

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