Monday, 30 April 2012

Foraged Food: Nettle Soup

Aoife, Cambridge

On a recent sunny Saturday morning, I woke up feeling full of the joys of spring and I knew it was time for a feed of nettles. The Husband thinks of foraging as "making a scene", so I left him sleeping and headed off with my high tech equipment: purple latex gloves, scissors and a plastic bag.

Cambridge has an abundance of green spaces suitable for foraging but I ended up in my favourite spot just around the corner from the apartment. The path that winds along between Hobson's Conduit and the allotments on Brooklands Road has given me sloes, elderberries as well as nettles. It was the stinging nettle which first got me interested in foraging and I have been making my spring-time nettle soup for nine years now. Nettles are full of iron, one of my Uncles swears they make a great tonic for the blood. Whether it’s particularly good for you or not, soup made from the tender young leaves is delicious and definitely worth getting out foraging. The smell of a wet nettle patch is fresh and almost spicy; it brings me right back to the damp summer fields of my childhood.

There is still time to get out and pick some nettles before they get too tough and woody. If they have flowered it’s probably too late. Don’t forget your gloves. 

Rapeseed or olive oil
I onion, sliced
2 carrots, diced
3 sticks celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 carrier bag full of nettles, washed and any thick stems removed
1 bunch of parsley (leaves and stalks chopped)
2L of chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Cream or yoghurt to serve

The preparation of the nettles is the longest part of this process. I find it best to get some music playing, get your gloves on and give yourself over to the process. Best to get any significant others out of the kitchen at this stage, if they are anything like The Husband they will just start to moan about the mess you are making. Pick over the nettles, washing them thoroughly and discarding any thick stems as well as any insects, feathers or bits of grass that have ended up in your bag.

Gently sweat the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in some oil (I use local rapeseed oil) until they are soft. Add the nettles, parsley and the stock. Let it cook for about an hour until everything is tender. Allow to cool, blend (I use a handheld blender) and season with salt and pepper. Serving the soup with a little swirl of cream or yoghurt helps to balance the spicy flavour. I’ve served this soup as a starter when I’ve had people over for dinner. I normally call it spring greens soup until everyone has eaten it. When I tell them it's made from nettles they are always amazed how tasty it is.

Clockwise from top left: the preparation process begins; picking nettles: protective equipment in place; beautiful soup in the pot; beautiful soup in the bowl; nettles cleaned and ready for cooking.

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