Grasping the nettle

by Diane Duane

The other morning, an Irish actress and cookbook writer whose food writing I really like — a lady named Biddy White Lennon — was on the morning show on TV3. She was making nettle soup.

Now this is a dish that has a long history over here — there were various hermits and hermit-saints who were reputedly fond of it, and there’s even a legend about one of them who got snarky with his cook when he found the man was ruining the (theoretically) strict asceticism of the saint’s nettles-only diet by sneaking oatmeal into the soup. Nettle soup also has something of a reputation as a spring tonic. Nettle soup

While I watched Biddy making the soup — which took very little time — I thought, “Hey, with all the physical stuff I’ve got going on at the moment, I can probably use a little detox…” This impulse was strengthened when the on-air personality handed one of the studio crew a bowl of the stuff to taste, and was utterly unable to pry it away from him afterwards.

So I made it, and it was really good. Here’s how you do it.

You get a big pot, peel and chop a large onion, and saute it in the pot in a little butter. Then, when the onions are transparent, you put in about a liter and a half of water in a pot, and a bouillon cube / stock cube — chicken for preference. Bring this up to a boil and otherwise leave it to its own devices while you peel and chop up three or four medium-sized potatoes, or two or three largish ones. You want a “floury” variety for this, a baking potato, not a waxy one or salad variety. Put the potatoes in the pot and let them cook in the stock for twenty minutes.

While that’s going on, go out and pick your nettles. You want only the tender young tops — say the first inch and a half’s growth on a given stalk. The recipe as I saw it on screen called for 350 grams of nettles, but frankly, life is too busy around here to spend time weighing nettles. I saw the size of the container Biddy was using — a colander about eight inches deep, with a twelve-inch diameter — got my own colander, which was a rough match, and went out and picked nettles (wearing the rubber dishwashing gloves, naturally…) until it was full.

Once you’ve got your nettles, and when the potatoes are done, rinse the nettles well in some cold water, drain them and shake them to get rid of the excess, and dump them in the pot. You don’t need to cook them very long: in fact, if you do, you’ll ruin this dish, as you want to keep the maximum amount of the vitamins in place. Five minutes in the boiling stock/potato/onion mixture is plenty. The nettles are going to turn an impossibly vivid green (and the cooking very swiftly deactivates their stinging quality.).

When they’ve had their five minutes, take the pot off the heat, find the stick mixer (if you’ve got one: otherwise put the whole business in the blender, in stages) and liquefy the whole deal. You get a lovely thick soup with this astonishingly bright green springtime color.

Dish it out, add a swirl of cream (you can see my attempt to do so in the image, but for some reason the creme fraiche I was using came up in little bobbles instead: don’t ask me why, the cream was fine…). Maybe a crouton or so would go well too. I put some chopped chives on top….and then devoured about three bowls of the stuff, one after another, because it was really good. If you like spinach soup, this would be right up your alley.

(Peter suggested that adding some smoked bacon to the sauteeing stage would improve the soup even more. But he would say that: he likes smoked bacon in most things…)

[tags]soup, Ireland, Irish, Irish food, nettle, nettle soup[/tags]

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