Gardens Illustrated
Cleaver and nettle pesto
© Beth Al Rikabi

Cleaver and nettle pesto

  • Preparation and cooking time
    • Total time
  • Enough for a pasta feast to serve 4

Beth Al Rikabi shares her recipe for a tasty and nutritious pesto, using cleavers and nettles foraged from the garden

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During lockdown when food delivery slots were few and far between and ingredients hard to come by, I discovered the joy of wandering in to the garden, grabbing a few bits of green and blitzing them up in to a pesto for the family to enjoy. It’s truly incredible how many edible (and sometimes very tasty) tit bits you can find in the average garden – things that we would see as weeds, pull up and fill the compost bin with.

Spring is a good time to start foraging, especially for nettles when the leaves are vibrant green, making sure to pick the smaller leaves as they tend to have more flavour and nutrients. Cleavers, aka the ‘sticky willy’ of childhood playground tomfoolery, are rich in vitamin C and have been used for centuries in cooking and as a cleansing herb. You can easily make this vegan by swapping out the cheese for a larger quantity of nuts and a little more salt. You can even swap out the nuts (as they are so expensive these days) for toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

Read more about how to garden forage from Beth.

How to make nettle and cleaver pesto

Ingredients

  • 3 Nettle leaves
  • 1 Cleaver leaves
  • 50g Cashew nuts lightly toasted in a frying pan
  • 1 Lemon, juiced
  • 50g Pecorino finely grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½tsp Honey (optional)

Method

  • STEP 1

    Pick the nettles using a garden glove. Rinse the nettle and cleaver leaves then pop in a pan with a splash of water to wilt and get rid of stings. Once softened down, make sure to drain well.

  • STEP 2

    Put all the ingredients in a food blender and blitz until you have the desired consistency. If you’d like to add the smidgen of honey, I find it takes an edge of any bitterness in the greens and compliments the overall flavour.

  • STEP 3

    It should stay fresh in a jar in the fridge for the week. If adding to pasta, make sure to leave a little of the cooking water in the bottom of the pasta pan so that when you add the pesto, it’ll form a juicy sauce that will be clinging to your spaghetti and dripping from your chin within minutes.

Beth Al Rikabi is a 'free-range chef' who creates seasonal, foraged vegetarian food for retreats and supper clubs. beththefreerangechef.com

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