Well, it’s been a while but inspired partly by the ever-increasing signs of spring and partly by recent (associated) foraging endeavours, the badger is back.
I thought it fitting to dedicate the first blog of the year to my new friend & many a man’s enemy, the humble nettle.
My new love affair with this tenacious ‘weed’ started over Christmas, when my brother in law let me sample his home brew nettle beer. It was nothing short of delicious. Not only that but practically free, easy to make and ready in next to no time at all (a very low alcohol content version can be ready in 24 hours and a stronger version in under 2 weeks!). I definitely intend to make some nettle beer as soon as nettles are prolific enough to gather sufficient quantities. This is the recipe I’ll use, to make a stronger beer and I may well add my own touch to the recipe by using some ginger: http://www.selfsufficientish.com/strongernettlebeer.htm
I did a little reading about nettles and found that they are a herb and have a lot of goodness in them, including more iron than spinach. Traditionally, before it was common practice to ship greens in from warmer climates over winter, nettles were a crucial and staple part of the English diet during the first three months of the year.
So, when I went out for a walk a couple of weeks ago, to see if there was anything around worth foraging, I was excited to find a patch of young nettles. On returning home with half a carrier bag of nettle tops, I found a traditional nettle soup recipe and promptly made a pan full. I used this recipe http://localfoods.about.com/od/spring/r/NettleSoup.htm which was a proper winner with both Sophie and I, although the kids weren’t blown away by it.
Since then, I have made a nettle version of saag alloo (twice – once with potatoes & nettles, once with swede & nettles) and topped a nut roast with boiled nettles with nutmeg, butter & black pepper. This last dish was really very good (if I do say so myself!). Although, to be honest, mostly due to the nut roast being over done and needing something moist!
Earlier in the week, we were turning our veggie patch, ready to plant our spuds, garlic & onions in a few weeks, and I gathered another half a bag of nettle tops, growing, organically in our patch. I decided to make another soup but this time decided to use the previous recipe as a base but try to make a version that the kids enjoyed and which used more of what I had available in the garden. Here is the recipe…
Badger’s Nettle & Herb Soup
4 small onions
3 medium – large potatoes
5 cloves garlic
1/2 bag of nettle heads
1 litre vegetable stock
1 Oz butter
1 large handful of fresh mixed herbs (I used thyme, rosemary & sage)
Salt & black pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large pan. Add finely chopped onions & garlic and soften for about 5 mins on a medium heat.
Add potatoes chopped no larger than 2cm cubes. Add to onions & garlic, add a little black pepper & fry, covered, on medium still, for 10 mins.
Add stock, finely chopped herbs, salt & pepper and simmer, covered for a further 10 mins.
Blend until smooth & silky with a hand blender (or food processor).
Serve with seasoning to taste & horseradish, cream, horseradish cream (basically the first two mixed together), or creme fraiche.
It turned out that the kids did like this version very much more than the first and Sophie and I enjoyed it just as much. I had it for a mid morning snack, a light lunch and a starter at dinner all in one day! It seemed to improve each time, the best being at dinner, when I served it with horseradish cream.
So, welcome, humble nettle, to my garden and to my table. I suspect you and I will have a long and fulfilling friendship.
On a recent weekend break near Ross on Wye, I happened upon a huge patch of wild garlic. It was my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary and I made wild garlic & nettle soup as a starter for a celebratory meal. It went down a treat, so thought I should capture the recipe.