After a weekend in Suffolk I returned with a bag of stinging nettles and seaweed; easy foraging for a novice. Nettles are all over the UK during the spring and early summer and as well as having a deep and earthy flavour, it is a great (and free as they grow all over the place) source of vitamin A, C and iron.
Early spring provides the best and most nutritional greens. Select the top leaves, as they are the youngest / least bitter of the plant. Don’t pick from just one plant, take a little from a few and of course use gloves to pick the leaves in order to avoid stinging your hands. Do not be scared of the sting; a very quick blanching of the nettles will remove it. The residual nettle water is excellent for a green smoothie.
The nettles can be used as a replacement where you would use any other greens. A simple ‘pesto’ style sauce is a great way to enjoy the flavour of nettles. For other uses of nettles, just think of how you might use spinach and use nettles instead. Above I made it to accompany Jerusalem artichoke pancakes and wild mushrooms pan fried with sage
150g nettle tops
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
40g Caerphilly or other hard sheep cheese
50g toasted hazelnuts or walnuts or breadcrumbs
Rapeseed oil or olive oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cider vinegar
Bring a pot of water to boil and drop the nettle tops in for two minutes. Drain and place in a bowl of iced water immediately. Drain again and pat with kitchen towel to remove excess water and pick of the leaves, discarding the stems.
Turn your food processor on to a slow speed setting and drop in the garlic, hazelnuts, nettles, cheese, salt, pepper. As soon as it is well combined and finely chopped without being a mush, stop the processor and place in a bowl. Stir through the remaining oil to serve. Your pesto can be stored for a few weeks in the fridge in sterilised jars. Cover the top of the pesto with oil, cover with a thin layer of cling film and seal the jars tightly.