Tuesday, May 3, 2016

wild alaska! stinging nettle pesto

Behold! The delicious, if not tricky, stinging nettle plant.  Tasty little sucker!

It's springtime in Alaska!  Here in Juneau everything has come back to life from the rainy, dreary, soggy wet days of "winter."

(I refuse to acknowledge that we actually had winter when I barely saw traces of snow.  Winter my left toe, Mother Nature.)

I've well-documented my excitement for foraging here on the blog-- PEOPLE, IT'S FREE FOOD-- but Juneau, with its lush rainforests, is a mecca for a forager's soul.  Fiddleheads!  Devil's club buds! Fireweed shoots! Nettles!

Who needs a garden?!

With my trusty sidekick Milo at my side, we set out to gather our bounty.  And by we, I mean Milo explored the wilderness and picked a fight with a whippet while I did all the actual work.  We each have our roles, I suppose. 

Milo: Slacker.
I found an avalanche shoot not too far from where we live and the nettles were in abundance!  Making sure to wear gloves (their sting is not harmful but hurts like a mother), I picked two heaping grocery bags full in no time.

There are so many ways to use nettles.  They just need a quick steam, sauté, or boil to nip the sting.  You can use them in soups, frittatas, or substitute them just about anywhere you use spinach.  They're my favorite spring edible.

With such a huge bounty, I settled on making a pesto.  While there are loads of recipes on the internet for nettle pesto, I settled on this one from Persephone Farm in Washington State.  I loved it!  I will say that I didn't adhere to the recipe entirely.  Perhaps an extra garlic clove and a bit more squeeze of lemon made it into my pesto.  I think it's  best to make the recipe, taste it, and then add to it what you like to please your taste buds.  Maybe you want a little extra parmesan or a dash more of salt?  Go for it!

(And for more information about stinging nettles, check out this page from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.)

Stinging Nettle Pesto

1/4 pound stinging nettles (weigh them dry!)
1-2 garlic cloves (depending on your taste)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or to taste)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes, or until they turn lightly brown (being careful not to burn them like my first batch. Oops). Set aside.

Set a large pot of water to boil.  Gently boil the nettles for 1 minute.  Drain, then place immediately in a large bowl of ice water (this will set the pretty green color and stop the cooking).  Drain in a colander.  Use clean paper towels to squeeze out as much water from the nettles as possible.

Place all ingredients in a food processor, and whir up until smooth.  Adjust ingredients to your liking (I like extra garlic and lemon) and season with salt and pepper to taste.  

Spread on toasted baguette, homemade pizza, or toss with pasta.  This pesto freezes well, too!


xo h

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