Now’s the time to harvest nettle tops, before they become tall, bitter and gritty. The top six leaves are what you’re after, but if there are plenty, cutting them low will give you a second crop in a few weeks. Leave some for the butterflies.
Half a dozen handfuls of nettle leaves, stripped from the stalks (about ⅓ of a carrier bag)
Two cloves of garlic
An optional bird’s eye chilli, chopped fine
½ tsp salt
A dozen or so grinds of black pepper
Juice of half a lemon or lime
Grated parmesan or similar, to taste
Oil – olive or sunflower
Rinse the leaves in a colander then tip into a pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. You’re aiming to drive off most of the bitter, greenish-brown liquid which exudes without drying out or burning the leaves. The stewing nettles smell faintly of smoked fish, which is a surprise the first time you use them.
Meanwhile, chop the garlic and cover with the salt (or use a garlic press).
When you’re happy with the leaves’ texture, tip out, chop roughly and add the other ingredients, crushing the garlic with the back of a knife.
Eat immediately with pasta or on good bread. It has a delicious, earthy, salty flavour somewhere between the traditional basil based pesto and a tapenade. I was considering adding chopped olives, but decided not to, this time.
I’m experimenting with jarring it, as in the pic, to see how long it will last. If you decide to give it a go, don’t press the pesto too firmly into the jar and pour in enough oil to just reach the surface. This will seem like a lot of oil, but the pesto absorbs it overnight.
Remember – parmesan isn’t vegetarian. Parmazano is a vegan substitute, I think Waitrose stock it.