Pasta with Nettle Pesto

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Bright green, full of nutrients, completely free of charge – nettles are the no 1 spring food steal. Equipped with gloves and a few bags tucked in our pockets, we headed out early the other day for this year’s haul. Pesto is an excellent application and one of our favorites, but nettle soup isn’t too bad either – and the same goes for quiche. A versatile weed to say the least, wouldn’t you agree?

Provided you protect your hands, picking nettles is as easy as can be. You snip off the leaves and put them in a bag, carry them home, rinse them off and then blanch them quickly. After that, just cook away! And even though the experts say you should pick them when they’re smaller and “newer”, we were late to the game last year and picked them fully grown – which worked fine too.

We like to eat pasta dishes such as this one with some vegetables on the side, and maybe some legumes as well. This Quick and Crunchy White Bean Salad would be a nice complement, but when we have this tonight, it’ll be with a giant bowl of lightly dressed, freshly harvested spinach on the side. Ah, it’s really here now – the season of sneaking outside to pick up dinner. How wonderful!

Serves 4-6

1 liter tightly packed raw nettles (~120 g)
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 dl toasted walnuts (~40 g), roughly chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 dl olive oil
1 dl grated västerbottenost or aged cheddar (~20 g)
1/4 tsp salt 
Black pepper
Zest from 1 lemon
500 g spaghetti

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using gloves, de-stem the nettles and rinse. When the water is boiling, blanch the nettles for 1-2 minutes. Drain in a colander, and when cooled off enough, squeeze out all the excess liquid (be careful here – it’s easy to burn your fingers when the water from the center is coming out). Roughly chop and set aside. You should end up with 1 1/2 to 2 dl.
  2. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  3. In the meantime, make the pesto. Place the blanched nettles, garlic, lemon juice and walnuts (reserve 2 tbsp for garnish) in a food processor. Process to form a rough paste. Slowly pour in the olive oil while continuing to process until combined. 
  4. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese. Add in the salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
  5. In a big bowl, toss the spaghetti with the pesto, making sure it gets evenly distributed.
  6. Garnish each plate with lemon zest, reserved walnuts, and freshly grated cheese. Serve immediately.

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