I have been focusing on foraged food again. This weekend I took part in a collaboration between Transition Town Belsize Park, 176 art gallery in Camden and a community project. The curator wanted food to be a part of the experience, the smell of bread being baked as you come in, demonstrations of foraged food and samples of local, artisanal food. How enlightened to see food playing a role in such an expression! Visitors didn't hold back in sampling and found the concept of eating nettles utterly fascinating, as I have done, hence my rather new obsession with cooking them. Talking to one man who spends time in Italy, I heard of risotto made with nettles........ of course! How wonderful, I can just see how that would pan out. A good squeeze of lemon juice and lashings of parmesan.
Talking of lemons, I was talking to Lib Dem Eco councillor Alexis Rowell who dropped an excellent tip my way. While feeling rather pleased with my local ingredients, I had used 2 exceptions; the lemon for the elderflower cordial and brazil nuts for the pesto. Cllr Rowell suggested using sorrel in place of the lemon, which I vow to do for my next batch this week. Indeed for anything where we want to add a sour tone, sorrel is abundant here.
I made nettle soup, elderflower cordial and a chilli nettle pesto. The nettle pesto was fun as I tried out a new idea. With a nod to the Transition Town thinking of local, local, local this delicious pesto was the result with the majority being from a 100 mile radius of London, instead of olive oil, I used virgin rapeseed oil from Suffolk, goats cheese from Kent. The chili works really well with the nettles and the goats cheese. It was a major hit with the visitors.
How strange in the un-shockable world we live in, that people generally took a step backwards at the idea of nettles being so delicious and versatile. Nature and it's wondrous generosity and abundance is what stops people in their tracks.
Here's the recipe
- 125gms freshly picked nettles (tops only and not in seed)
- 2 Cloves of garlic
- As much chili as you wish (I used 3 birds eye chili)
- 50 gms of any nuts (brazils, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine)
- 75 gms of hard cheese (try to find a local cheese, goats works well)
- 120ml virgin rapeseed oil (or hemp oil)
- Flaky sea salt and ground pepper (Essex sea salt)
- Blanch the nettles in boiling water for 1 minute, chill and drain.
- In a blender place the garlic, nuts, oil and blitz to a smooth paste then add the nettles.
- Add the grated cheese and blitz again.
- Season to your taste
This is delicious on bread, or with pasta, particularly good with new potatoes or served as an accompaniment to meat or fish.
The pesto will keep in a clean glass jar for a month in the fridge.