Tame those stinging nettles: pesto on potato gnocchi

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I love finding random things at the farmers market—as long as the vendor still has them. Last week there was a sample of greens called Tatsoi, and wow, I fell in love. They’re peppery and slightly mustard-flavored little microgreens. After I nibbled on the sample, I quickly asked the vendor for a bag and he shook his head sadly. “We’re out.”

Well, that shot my Saturday afternoon dream of a delicious salad!

But this Saturday I ran down to the booth to make sure I didn’t miss out. I bought a bag, which has been providing me with fantastic lunches all week long. If you have a chance to grab some Tatsoi (or Tat Soi) you really should.

tatsoi greens

Tatsoi greens are a delicious addition to salads. Photo: Launie Kettler

Now that I’ve talked about my favorite new microgreen, I’d love to talk about my new favorite weed: nettles.

Not only are they considered a “superfood” because of their high levels of protein and iron, they also make an amazing base for pesto.

stinging nettles raw

Wear gloves when handling nettles. Photo: Launie Kettler

However, they’re the bad boy of the garden, because they’re not called “stinging nettles” for nothing. The woman who sold them to me said that even with gloves she’s gotten stung while harvesting them. And when I pulled them out of the bag, I was stung pretty badly too.

So, don’t become a cautionary tale like we were. Use heavy plastic gloves while handling these.

After that? It’s easy peasy, light and breezy.

Give this recipe a shot, you’ll love it. It’s beautiful, delicious and healthy. What more could you want?

nettle pesto

‘Stinging’ nettles make great pesto. Photo: Launie Kettler

Potato Gnocchi with Stinging Nettle Pesto

Makes approximately 50 gnocchi.

4 medium red potatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 ½ cups unbleached flour, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water, and cook over medium heat. Add ½ teaspoon salt to the water. Cook until fork tender, about 30 minutes.

Let potatoes cool until they can be handled comfortably. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Gently grate the potatoes on the large holes of a box cheese grater. Discard any remaining skins. Mix the potatoes, remaining salt, 1 cup flour and olive oil together in a large bowl. Scatter the remaining ½ cup flour on a flat work surface. Pull one quarter of the gnocchi dough out of the bowl, and roll out into a rope about ½-inch thick. Cut into ¾-inch pieces, and roll over the tines of a fork to create indentations to hold the pesto. Drop into the boiling water and cook until they bob to the surface, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Once you finish cutting the remaining gnocchi you can cook it, or freeze it for up to 6 months. If freezing, just place on a sheet pan until hard, and then place in resealable bags. To cook from frozen, just drop in boiling water and cook until they bob to the surface.

Stinging Nettle Pesto

Makes approximately 1½ cups sauce

½ pound nettles
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon shredded parmesan (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil with half the salt. Rinse the nettles under cold water in a colander. (Make sure you handle the nettles with rubber gloves!) Drop in the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. (That takes the sting off of them.) Run under cold water, and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, add the nettles, remaining salt, olive oil, almonds, lemon juice, black pepper and parmesan, if desired. Process until smooth.

Top the gnocchi with the pesto and serve with a Tatsoi salad.

Any remaining pesto can be frozen for up to 6 months.

Have you ever heard of stinging nettles?

Launie Kettler

Launie Kettler is a food writer/photographer who lives in a suburb of Burlington, Vermont. Her food blog, Teeny Tiny Kitchen, was featured on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, and her writing has been cited by CNN and the L.A. Times. Launie has also had her recipes featured on Punk Domestics, Cheese Culture Magazine, Athens Foods and Salon. Her first cookbook (with Brooke McLay), The Everything Mediterranean Slow Cooker Cookbook, will be available in August.

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