Nettles have a flavour that’s almost indescribable – rich, but also sour and fresh – which is perhaps why I like them so much. Also, I can’t think of an ingredient we find in such abundance wherever we pitch up. Needless to say, wear gloves when foraging for them…
Another thing that’s very important is to pick the leaves early on in the year when they’re young, as older leaves can have a laxative effect! The soup goes rather well with Penny Buns.
knob of butter
1 onion, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
2 large potatoes, peeled and
1½ litres vegetable stock
1 handful of spinach
3–4 handfuls of young nettles, well washed
sea salt and white pepper
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
crême fraïche, toasted seeds
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion, celery,
garlic and bay leaves and sweat them down for a few minutes.
Add the potatoes and stock and simmer for 30 minutes until
the potatoes are cooked through. Add the spinach and most of
the nettles (saving a handful for deep frying later), then return
the soup to the boil and remove from the heat. Allow to cool for
a few minutes before transferring to a blender. Whizz the soup
until smooth, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour a couple of centimetres of vegetable oil into a small,
heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Heat the oil until a
cube of bread dropped into it turns golden in about 15 seconds
(about 180 ºC on a cooking thermometer). Now deep-fry the
reserved nettle leaves just until they are dark green and crisp,
being careful to shield your eyes as the oil can spit with some
ferocity. Drain on kitchen paper, then drop into the soup with
a drizzle of crême fraïche and some toasted seeds. Serve with
Penny Buns, if you like.
Pick up your Giffords Cookbook here.
GIFFORDS CIRCUS COOKBOOK by Nell Gifford & Ols Halas (Quadrille, £27) Photography: David Loftus