OK, I understand
I'm yet to meet a person that doesn't like a simple pesto pasta. It's such great comfort food, and even though the weather is teasing us with early spring, it's totally okay to indulge in a pasta from time to time. So instead of just making a traditional pesto with basil, why not think more in line with what's in season? For instance stinging nettle, which is now in full swing and tastes divine!
I've been picking wild stinging nettle for a few years now, and it's worked its way into my seasonal food calendar for wild foods. I love being able to pack the Jeep with my gear and head out into the paddocks, forests and fields to find delicious ingredients that are free and wonderfully wild. I love that no chemicals are used on them, I love that it's free and natural, and most of all I love that many of them are considered pests, but for me they sing loudly: 'Eat me!'
Stinging nettle does sting, so when you pick it make sure you wear some gloves. I've tried to build up a resistance to it, but even these outdoorsy hands of mine still get stung. Luckily I'm not out to prove how tough a guy I am, and am very happy to wear gloves!
If you find a good picking spot, be it someone's backyard, a field or on a farm, you'll have it as a foregoing hot spot for years, as it comes back every spring with mega force. Before you pick and eat, make sure you ask the land owner and check that the patch hasn't been sprayed with weed spray the day before.
This wild beauty tastes a good deal like spinach, and is favoured all over Europe for its culinary potential and its medicinal benefits. For me I'm interested in its potential to feed me and the hungry kids. It can be used in any meal that you'd normally use blanched spinach, so think quiche, pie, soup, sauces, and in pasta and gnocchi. But my kids' favourite is my nettle pesto. It's a no brainer really and the beauty of it is that if you find a nice patch of stinging nettle in the wild you can pick to your heart's content. Then come home and make a big batch of pesto that can be frozen in dinner serves, and defrosted for lazy week night meals.
500 g pappardelle
2 cups grated Reggiano parmigiano
1 cup blanched nettle
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
Marinated goats cheese (optional)
Firstly you need to blanch the nettle for a minute in boiling water, as this removes the toxins that give you the sting. We wouldn't want to serve it raw to the kids now would we…? Well, I guess that depends on how the day has panned out with them, so I'll leave that up to you!
Once blanched allow the nettle to cool on a rack and then a handful at a time, squeeze the excess water out with your hands and set aside.
Grate good quality parmesan cheese, or pecorino, about two cups worth. In a mortar and pestle crush a few handfuls of pine nuts. You could use other nuts like cases, walnut, macadamia or even sunflower seeds. I tend to use what ever I have lying around, in this case I was feeling rich and used pine nuts. Don't need to make a fine power here, just give them a bash and break them up a tad. You could use a food processor for the nuts, but I like to do things by hand, the old fashioned way.
Finely chop the squeezed nettle, I mean finely chop – take a bit of the day's frustration out here. Slice and dice, chop and decimate.
When you're feeling relieved pop the sliced nettle in a large mixing bowl, along with the grated cheese and the pine nuts, and mix well with a large spoon as you pour olive oil over to eventually form a basic paste. If you like it oily then add a bunch of oil here, if you like it a bit dry then don't add so much. It's your meal, so do what your senses tell you. Now is the time to season with some salt, I'd use a pinch or two then taste, and add more if required.
Cook the pappardelle al dente and drain. Return the pasta to the pot and spoon over as much of the pesto as you want. To feed four people I'd add a table spoon for each person.
Mix well with a large spoon and make sure all the pasta is coated with your delish pesto. Serve with a drizzle of the good stuff and a sneaky bit of goats cheese on top and a sprinkle of pine nuts, roasted or not. And there you have an easy Tuesday night's dinner done.