• 150 g of nettle shoots is about 2 litres which is equivalent to a large mixing bowl (as shown above) or half a carried bag full.
• Only use nettles less than 30 cm (1 foot) high because otherwise they will be fibrous and tough.
• Avoid nettles that are flowering: they are too old.
• Pick the nettles carefully, trying to avoid picking any grass at the same time.
• For the best flavour, pick only the top four or six leaves on each spear.
• In the UK the nettle soup season is from mid-February until late April, unless the nettles have been cut down in which case you can enjoy a second crop!
• The soup freezes well, but you can also freeze the nettle tops.
• Traditionally, chicken stock is used as a base for the soup, but I tend to use vegetable stock so that it is suitable for vegetarians.
|150 g||(8 cups)||stinging nettle shoots|
|1 tbsp||olive oil|
|1||small onion, finely chopped|
|250 ml||(1 cup)||water|
|500 ml||(2 cups)||good quality chicken or vegetable stock|
|1 tsp||dried thyme|
|1 tbsp||cornflour (cornstarch)|
|4||hard boiled eggs|
|120 ml||(½ cup)||crème fraîche|
1. Rinse the nettles thoroughly, picking out any grass and creepy crawlies, and then drain.
2. In a large pan, heat the oil and then sauté the onion for about 5 minutes, until soft without colouring.
3. Add the water, salt, stock, dried thyme and a good pinch of white pepper. Bring to the boil and then add the nettles. Cover and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Whizz the soup in a food processor (or use a hand blender) until smooth and then return to the pan.
5. Dissolve the corn flour (cornstarch) in a little water and stir it into the soup.
6. Bring back to a gentle boil, stirring regularly until the soup thickens slightly. Check and adjust the seasoning.
7. Serve hot with halved hard-boiled eggs and a dollop of crème fraîche.
Hard boiled eggs
The eggs should have hard yolks, but with a little creaminess in the middle so that they have a bright yellowy-orange colour. To achieve this, place the eggs in a saucepan of cold water, bring them to a gentle simmer, and simmer for 6 minutes for medium sized eggs and 7 minutes for large eggs. As soon as they are cooked removed them with a slotted spoon, cool them under running water and then leave them to cool completely in cold water. (The running water is essential to prevent the eggs cooking further and a dark ring developing between the yolk and the white.)
Once the eggs are completely cold, peel them and trim the ends slightly, so that eggs can be stood up, and then slice them in two crossways. Place the egg halves in a soup bowl and then carefully ladle the soup around the eggs.
• Strips of smoked salmon instead of, or as well as, the hard boiled egg. Either chop the salmon and stir it into the crème fraîche or add it as a garnish as shown above.
• Hard boiled eggs, watercress and croutons. (For the crouton, cube some stale bread, toss in olive oil, season well with chopped garlic, salt and pepper and bake in a medium oven (180°C, 350°F, gas 4, fan 160°C) for 10 minutes, turning them once or twice.)
• Quail eggs instead of hen’s eggs.
• Crispy bacon or pancetta with a poached egg.
• Add a large potato, finely diced, along with the onion, but boil for 10-20 minutes until the potatoes are really soft. Afterwards, purée in a liquidiser and then return to the pan to reheat. The potato will provide the starch for thickening the soup, so the cornflour (corn starch) can be omitted.
• Adding some fresh or frozen peas will give the soup a little sweetness.