Monday, May 16, 2011

Irish Nettle Pesto with rapeseed oil

Well, here's another recipe using what are regarded by most as weeds.
Pesto can be made from really anything. We’ve all seen pestos with basil and tomato of course, but they also use other herbs.
The Italians make this nettle pesto in springtime called  pesto d’urtica.
They also make a nettle pasta - Strettine - a springtime favorite in Emilia Romagna, but that's for another day.
There are a lot of recipes for it, but mine was certainly inspired by Hank Shaw from

I have not used Irish rapeseed oil before but it is now being produced in Donegal by the Donegal Rapeseed oil company, and it worked great. I think its great that we are now producing a viable alternative for olive oil and really hope they do well. A list of outlets stocking the product can be seen here.
Donegal Rapeseed Oil is also very healthy. It only has 6% saturated fat content where most olive oils have 14% and sunflower oil 10%.
100g fresh nettle leaves, washed in cold water
As with nettle soup avoid picking nettles on the roadside as these may have been sprayed with herbicides. 
Dont forget to retain the nettle stems for the garden.
2 garlic cloves, core removed, finely chopped, or wild garlic if you have it.

50g (about 2 tablespoons) pine nuts, lightly toasted.
You can also use cashew, walnut or if you are lucky enough to grow them try hazelnuts.
60g grated hard cheese like Parmesan or even the heel off a good mature cheddar
150ml Donegal rapeseed oil (or substitute good quality extra virgin olive oil)
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Remember to wear kitchen gloves.
Blanch the nettle leaves in well salted boiling water for a minute or two, this removes the sting and the salt helps retain the colour.
Then plunge into iced water, again to retain texture and colour.
Drain and roughly chop, (you can keep the water as stock or for boiling pasta to go with this meal) remove as many stems as possible.
Once they are cool, put them in a colander to strain.

Next get a tea towel, and put the nettles in it. Wrap one end of the towel one way, then the other end of the towel the other and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.

Purists say pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle, after all the name comes from pestle, which means to pound. I just use a food processor.
First crush the pine nuts lightly with a knife
Core and roughly chop the garlic.
Add the salt, pepper, cheese and the nettles and commence blitzing.

Start adding the rapeseed oil.
How much you add depends on how you are using your pesto. If you are making a spread as I do then about 100ml. If you plan on using it for pasta sauce, then you will need more.

Either way, you add it in to the blender at a slow steady pour to incorporate it.
I used 100ml in the blender and retained 50ml to cover it in the jar at the end.
I tend to go for a dryer pesto - I figure if I use it in pasta, minestrone or gnocchi, I can just add a little oil in a bowl and thin it out a bit more.
Nettle Pesto is very easy to make, can be stored by freezing or waterbathing.
Pesto will keep for up to a month in well sealed jar in the fridge. 

It really is great simply put on soda bread, with a little cheese and some spicy radishes for a little extra kick.
The colour is vivid and fresh looking, with a mild and subtle flavour. Compared to even good quality basil pesto the flavour and colour of home made is far superior.
Well, thats another mostly free food - and soooo easy to make.
As always, please do take the time to comment, I love the feedback

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  1. that looks excellent and I'm going to try it tomorrow if the wind stops!
    The Donegal rapeseed oil is excellent, I bought a bottle at the Collooney Food Market last week, it's high quality!
    Thanks for the recipe, I'm going to bookmark your page...

  2. I've just discovered the fun of eating 'weeds'. thanks for sharing the recipe. It sounds yummy.


  3. Nettle pesto. Wow!
    Its almost springtime in Joburg; this year I will try the nettle pesto as well as the usual basil one. We grow nettles specially for nettle soup - but, with nettles ... we seem to have more than we really need. They do try to spread.

  4. Made this today, turned out really tasty, thanks for the recipe.

    I used hazelnuts & olive oil, as I didn't have pine nuts or rapeseed oil. It's so incredibly green!


Thanks for commenting - its cool that you took the time