Recipe from The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Hugh’s basic recipe for nettle and other ‘wild greens’ soups, including fat hen and chickweed. Nettles are full of iron, vitamins and natural histamine, so are good for improving blood circulation and purifying the system. The best nettles for cooking are the young shoots of early spring. Later in the summer, look at the edges of nettle patches where a second seeding will often produce another batch of younger plants. Also, where nettles have been cut back, young shoots will soon emerge.
I like this recipe because, as well as tasting great, you can be flexible with many of the ingredients. You can also mix the leaves with watercress, cos lettuce and fresh/frozen peas. All versions freeze well. You can thicken with potato if you prefer, but Hugh prefers cooked rice, or even rice cakes for the best texture. If you’ve not used nettles before, keep quiet and see who guesses the ingredients correctly!
!! Don’t forget your washing up or rubber gardening gloves when picking and washing the nettles!!
Ingredients – serves 6
- 1/2 carrier bag of nettles – tops or young leaves
- 55g butter
- 1 large or 2 medium onions, finely sliced
- 2 celery sticks, chopped (optional)
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed (optional)
- 1 large carrot, chopped (optional)
- 1 litre good chicken, fish or vegetable stock
- A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
- 3 tablespoons cooked rice or 3 rice cakes
- 2 tablespoons thick cream or crème fraîche
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly chopped herbs to garnish.
Pick over the nettles and wash thoroughly. Discard the tougher stalks, as the soup will be liquidised [NB long stalks tend to wrap themselves around the blender blades].
Melt the butter in a large pan and sweat the onion, plus the carrot, celery and garlic if using, until soft but not brown.
Add the stock and pile in the nettles (in batches if necessary). Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the nettles are tender. Season with salt and pepper, and with nutmeg if you wish.
Purée the soup (in a liquidiser or with a stick blender, in batches if necessary) with the rice.
Return to the pan, stir in the cream and reheat, but don’t let it boil. Check the seasoning and then serve, garnishing each bowl with a swirl of cream and a generous sprinkling of chopped herbs.
Hugh also suggests serving cold on warm spring days – leave in the fridge for a couple of hours, stir well just before serving and garnish as above.