SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
If you are weeding this spring, there might be an extra payoff - dinner.
WESA's Larkin Page-Jacobs set out with a Pittsburgh food writer in search of wild edibles that are often considered weeds.
LARKIN PAGE-JACOBS, BYLINE: It looks a lot like mint.
LEAH LIZARONDO: It's the same color as mint, it's the same height that it grows.
PAGE-JACOBS: It's not mint. It's stinging nettles and it's a key ingredient in Leah Lizarondo's pesto. On a chilly, grey morning, we've come across a big lush patch of nettles in a Pittsburgh park, and with her hands encased in old plastic bread bags, she starts tearing them up by their roots.
(SOUNDBITE RIPPING NETTLES)
PAGE-JACOBS: Those bags are crucial because stinging nettles, they can be unpleasant.
LIZARONDO: It's like something pricked you, like a little ant bit you, and then it starts being a little painful.
PAGE-JACOBS: But Lizarondo says she likes that element of danger, which is hard to come by when cooking with plant matter.
LIZARONDO: Put it in a bag and here we to go.
LIZARONDO: So let's go look for some garlic mustard. Garlic mustard, it's a tall kind of plant with white flowers growing on top of it.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)
PAGE-JACOBS: It's best to gather wild greens from areas you're familiar with, and Lizarondo explains there's a veritable grocery list of ingredients plaguing many backyards, like this one - dandelions, the old stand by...
LIZARONDO: There's also Chickweed.
PAGE-JACOBS: Back to the garlic mustard.
LIZARONDO: When you crush the leaf you could actually smell the garlic...
(SOUNDBITE OF SNIFFING)
LIZARONDO: ...a little bit.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)
PAGE-JACOBS: In the kitchen Lizarondo gets a big pot of water boiling to blanch the nettles.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOILING LID CLATTERING CLOSED)
PAGE-JACOBS: That'll make them as gentle as spinach, which is exactly what they smell like after wilting in the hot water.
LIZARONDO: We'll go back to our garlic mustard, and this is very easy to handle. OK.
PAGE-JACOBS: Lizarondo says pesto makes a great wild edibles starter dish.
LIZARONDO: There's not a lot of investment in it and you can actually taste the green because you're not mixing it with something else that would mask the taste.
PAGE-JACOBS: Into the food processor goes: extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, roasted walnuts for body, lemon zest...
(SOUNDBITE OF ZEST GRATING)
PAGE-JACOBS: ...freshly squeezed lemon juice.
A few cloves of peeled garlic...
(SOUNDBITE OF PEELING GARLIC)
PAGE-JACOBS: ...water and, of course, wilted stinging nettles and fresh garlic mustard leaves.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOD PROCESSOR)
LIZARONDO: That's it. And now you can put this in warm pasta or bread. So it's lemony, it's spicy, it's definitely not a basil pesto. The character is completely different and your friends will definitely love it.
PAGE-JACOBS: And as your guests are chowing down, let them know all they need to make the dish is stinging nettles and garlic mustard, or maybe tell them over dessert.
For NPR News, I'm Larkin Page-Jacobs in Pittsburgh.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: This is NPR News.