Urticaceae!

Sounds like a sneeze but tastes good: I have been cooking cream of nettle and potato soup. It’s extreme cooking where one has to clear up fastidiously, and I’m minded not to go barefoot when cooking with nettles again. Wore gardening gloves at the allotment to put them into a bag; wore marigolds in the kitchen when preparing them.

Chopped the potatoes into large chunks and started to sautée them in olive oil; chopped garlic and caraway seeds and put to one side. On opening the bag of nettles there was a fresh smell, like cut grass, with an astringent immediacy. Handled them very carefully, removed the leaves from the stalks which were quite tough (it is quite late in the year for culinary nettles), and washed them. Then chopped handfuls into strips. Once all were cut, I popped the garlic and seeds into the pan, stirred for a few seconds and threw in the nettles. Cleaned up carefully, and took the gloves off.

Sautéed them for a few minutes. Was very reminiscent of spinach, and looks like a dahl sag with them would work OK. Then poured in stock and left to simmer until the potatoes softened. Liquidised and then poured in the cream.

Perhaps I put too many caraway seeds in because I could only notice a faint vegetable taste when I started eating the soup. After some spoonfuls I could pick up an aftertaste, metallic and minty, but not much. Will see how I get on.

The Scot’s Herbal by Tess Darwin (ISBN 1873644604) has a couple of pages on nettles. Apparently they have laxative and diuretic properties so I’d better make this second bowl my last. They’re certainly fibrous but no more so than kale. She notes that they’re usually picked when 15-25cm high, and that repeated cutting keeps the plants in a juvenile state for much of the summer. She recounts an 1898 recipe from Islay to take a large apronful of nettles, two handfuls of meal, two gallons of water and a piece of salt beef or braxty.

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