Recipe for Five Leaf Pesto from Our Cooking Vacation in Spoleto

Foraging during the lockdown in Italy.If you had to spend time in lockdown, then perhaps the Umbrian countryside was an ideal place to do it. Last week our friend and partner Richard di San Marzano described his family’s experience during the past year in Italy (you can read it here). It included a lot of seasonal foraging and fabulous food, as. you might expect in Italy.

Try one of Richard’s recipes, fruit of his foraging in the hills around his home, but is also adaptable to your own ingredients. If you can’t find nettle leaves, simply omit them and add extra herbs!

Check out our Spoleto culinary tour.

Five Leaf PestoDelicious homemade pesto made with foraged herbs and vegetables during a cooking vacation in Italy.

Serves: 8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 minute
Cook method: Blanch


  • 2 cups stinging nettle leaves (see instructions for harvesting and preparing)
  • 1/2 cup or more fresh basil, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup or more Italian parsley, stems removed
  • a few leaves of fresh mint
  • a few leaves of coriander
  • Optional: dandelion leaves and/or wild arugula leaves
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil (ideally extra “fruttata” and less than a year old)
  • 1/3 cup walnuts or 1 to 2 oz toasted pine nuts, or a combination thereof
  • 2/3 cup grated parmesan
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • red chili pepper flakes, to taste

Freshly foraged stinging nettles.Instructions:

1. First, remember that the amount of each ingredient is to be used as a general guide.

2. To harvest the stinging nettles, make sure to wear rubber gloves and protective clothing. Pinch or cut off the top of the new growth to about 1/2″. Wash the nettle leaves, then blanch them for 1 minute, drain, and immediately immerse in cold water. Drain them again and squeeze out the excess water by hand–they will no longer sting!

3. Slice the garlic and let sit for 10-15 minutes.

Stinging nettle ready for harvesting in the wild.4. Using either a mortar and pestle or a food processor or blend, combine the garlic with the nuts, pepper, chili pepper, salt, and oil.

5. Next, add the herbs and nettles, adding more oil if needed.

6. Stir in the cheese, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

7. Serve as a condiment for pasta or gnocchi, on bruschette or crackers, in lasagna, on grilled fish or chicken, or served atop soup. It is best if used fresh, but it will keep for a day or two if covered in a layer of oil in a sealed jar. To retain the vibrant color, add a bit of lemon juice (and if necessary a bit of sugar to balance the acidity).

Nettle leaves during a cooking class in Italy making ravioliWhen including wild asparagus, Richard adds some asparagus tips to the pesto and keeps some to add as a garnish.

Cook (and forage!) with Richard in the countryside of Umbria during our Secrets of Spoleto culinary vacation. Contact us to start planning!

Try Richard’s recipe for Tagliata di Manzo. 

By Peg Kern

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