We have all seen them and most of us at some point have encountered them. The burning and itching of the stinging nettles prompts most people to burn them off their property. How many of us would ever have thought that the stinging nettle is also tasty and nutritious. The English have been using them for centuries and with the recent movement in the United States to eat local and wild plants the stinging nettle is gaining some popularity. In early spring foragers head to the woods to find all sorts of wild edibles. The most popular lately has been Ramps, a type of wild leek that grows along streams and rivers and in cool wooded hollows. They have a powerful onion and garlic flavor. Fiddleheads have been hugely popular as well although I am not sure why. When I have had them I have found them to be flavorless and not really worth the effort. And of course there are mushrooms the granddaddy of them all being the Morel. Every year about this time people start to get all crazy about morel's. I have had Morels and fiddleheads but had never had nettles or ramps so this year I was going to give them a try.
I found a nice wooded area that had nettles growing everywhere, they were only about a foot and half tall and still fairly young. From what I understand this is the ideal time to pick them because the stalks and leaves are the most tender. I picked just the tops and filled a plastic grocery bag about half full, about a pound and a half of leaves and young stalks. I brought them home and rinsed them in ice cold water and then let them dry. I had seen several different things done with the nettles, from making pasta to brewing beer but thought I would keep it simple and make a nettle soup. The following recipe is a combination of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Andreas Viestad's recipes.
Half a grocery bag full of nettle leaves and stalks picked clean and rinsed
2 carrots diced
2 stalks of celery diced
1 medium onion diced
3 cloves garlic
4 cups of stock (veggie or chicken work best)
4 tbls butter
2 tbls creme fraiche or heavy cream
a pinch of grated nutmeg
3 tbls cooked rice or 3 rice cakes
Melt the butter and add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic and saute until tender. Add the stock and bring to a boil add the nettle leaves and cook for about ten minutes on medium high heat. After all the leaves are tender add the rice and then let the mixture cool. Once cool blend in batches in a blender until smooth or use an emersion blender. Reheat the soup and stir in the creme fraiche or heavy cream. To serve this I like to break up chunks of smoked fish and drop them in the soup and top it off with some chives and creme fraiche.
The soup is a bright green color and tastes the way you would expect green to taste. Very fresh and light. The smoked fish adds a salty component that compliments the lightness of the soup wonderfully. As abundant as nettles are and as easy as this soup is I really think everyone should try it at least once. I was very surprised at how well this turned out. Even my wife who was certain I was trying to poison her enjoyed it, although she thought the extra creme fraiche was unnecessary.