Archive for the ‘Foraged’ Category

Nettle soup aka ‘Stone Soup’

14 September 2018

I think of it as stone soup.

During our summer holidays in Brittany, nettle soup is always top of the list of meals we look forward to making. Still, the intent usually lies dormant until a fateful evening when we are caught off-guard with no dinner plan. There are always nettles about: in the bits of garden that haven’t been mowed, in the field at the bottom of the drive where a solitary horse used to live. The horse is long gone, the field remains ‘le champ du cheval.’ Armed with wellies, gloves, scissors, and a basket, it won’t take longer than ten minutes to gather dinner.

According to the folk tale Stone Soup, with just a soup kettle, water, a stone as decoy, and some craft, a clever traveller fools one mean farmer (or, depending on the version of the story, the inhabitants of a whole village) into relinquishing vegetables, one at a time, little by little, in order to make that initial ‘stone soup’ — a stone in a pot of water — taste better and better.

In my fairy-tale summer, the nettles are the stone, the nothing. Like that stone, they’ll need a bit of a boost in terms of depth and unctuousness. An allium of some sort, a couple of potatoes, a zucchini — all of which weren’t donated by villagers but are the neglected, long-term squatters of the vegetable crates in the cellar.

And in reality, nettle soup is the very opposite of stone soup. It has, it is true, sprung from nothing. But unlike the stone — ultimately discarded — the nettles are the very essence and raison d’être of the meal.

Nettle soup
Since the main idea of the soup is its fortuity, the ingredients and quantities are just indications. But the nettles must remain the focus, they should not be overpowered by the other vegetables.

A big bag of young nettle leaves
Butter
1 or 2 small onions or shallots, finely chopped
A few garlic cloves
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Some chicken stock if available
Depending on season and availability, a few of the following:
Leeks, zucchini (courgettes), carrots, fennel, etc (all of which need to be washed well or peeled and cut into slices)
Crème fraîche to serve

With a pair of gloves to avoid getting stung, pick fresh young nettle stems (in season in spring and summer) especially the most tender part close to the tip.

(Still protected by gloves) pick the leaves off the stems and wash thoroughly in a large bowl of cold water. Drain and set aside.

In a large soup pot, melt a few tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped onions (or shallots). Sweat for a few minutes until translucent but not yet turning in color. Add a couple of garlic cloves and cook for a minute longer.

If using leeks, add to the onions and garlic now. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and any other vegetables and immediately cover well with water or/and chicken stock (there should be enough liquid to account for the nettle leaves later). Bring to a slow simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Add the nettle leaves and cook for just a few minutes, until they are wilted and soft but still bright green! (Add a little boiling water or stock to cover the leaves if necessary.)

Remove from the heat and purée the soup until unctuous using a hand mixer or, in batches, in a food processor.

Finally, a game-changing tip from my peripatetic sister — inspired by the Egyptian soup molokhia: Just before serving, smash or finely chop a couple cloves of garlic and cook in a puddle of butter in a corner of a skillet. Remove just as it turns golden and stir into the soup immediately before serving.

Garnish with crème fraîche if desired.

Fig leaf wine apéritif

1 September 2018

Some people will consider this the first weekend of autumn, but, succomb as I may to those plums and first apples, I am holding on firmly to summer for a few more weeks until the equinox.

I prepared this fig leaf apéritif about a week ago, and as it only takes three to five days to infuse, now is still the right time to make a bottle for those last late summer evenings. There won’t be much of a thematic clash, September is fig season after all.

This recipe is particularly exciting for those of us who live in the North, as it just uses fig leaves. So for all optimistic boreal gardeners and green city dwellers (most neighborhoods have a garden with a fig tree stretching its branches above the fence within reach of the sidewalk…), who monitor those fig trees with anxiety and trepidation, monitoring the evolution of each fruit, this is the solution. Even if the figs never ripen there is a path straight to Provence with this apéritif.

The recipe comes from Thom Eagle via Diana Henry about two years ago. It bears repeating every year.

Fig leaf wine

10 fig leaves
One bottle (75 cl) dry white wine
160 g sugar
One giant glug of vodka

Crumple the fig leaves and place them in a clean jar with the white wine, sugar, and vodka. Stir or shake well, and leave to infuse for 3 to 5 days.

Strain out the leaves and pour into a bottle with a tight lid.

Serve over ice.

Gooseberry elderflower jam

25 June 2015

IMG_0575

For years there was an acidulated gap in my life.

While I grew up on the sour tinge of gooseberries (as well as raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants…) just-picked from the fairy-tale garden of my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland, for all the intermittent years since, gooseberries virtually disappeared from my life. They are not all that popular in France, and were not common at the Turkish market in Berlin where I did most of my shopping; markets have since proliferated there, I am sure gooseberries now feature prominently. The berries magically reentered my world In New York at Union Square market, and they are impossible to overlook in London. I have moved to gooseberry heaven.

IMG_0570

Gooseberries grow wild in Northern Europe, they thrive in cool, moist climates, which explains their prevalence here, and a notable claim of northern superiority: Scottish gooseberries were historically considered superior to those of England (conversely, English gooseberries were thought better than those of the Continent). Wild bushes were apparently the only native fruit-bearing plants of the Shetland and Orkney islands.

Notwithstanding my enduring passion for the prickly little things, they are not the most beloved of berries. Perhaps because they tend to be impossibly tart. Or because they sport the most peculiar names. Gooseberries in England and groseilles à maquereau (mackerel redcurrants) in France. Those epithets probably linked to the rich dishes they initially accompanied. (There is another theory for the English name, which could be derived either from Scottish or Dutch origin.) In German they are guardedly called ‘Stachelbeeren’ — ‘prickleberries’ — an apt description, and not the most inviting one.

IMG_0599

I can well imagine that gooseberry compote tastes great with a savory dish, a little like cranberry sauce, but when one compulsively buys over a kilo of berries as soon as they appear in spring, the best solution is jam. They pair remarkably well with elderflowers, which are in season coincidentally. And so I’ve adapted Christine Ferber’s simple gooseberry jam. The result is very delicate. And deliciously tart.

IMG_0660

Gooseberry and elderflower jam
Adapted from Christine Ferber’s two-step technique

1.1 kg gooseberries

800g white or caster sugar

2 small lemons, juiced

One small lemon, finely sliced, each slice cut into quarters

2 heads elderflowers, just-picked

Rinse the gooseberries in cold water, strain, then dry in a clean tea towel (dish cloth). Rub the berries with the cloth very gently to remove the fuzz. Trim the stems and what is left of the flower. In a heavy, cast-iron or marmalade pot, mix the gooseberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer and immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl.

Inspect the elderflowers and carefully remove any bugs. Submerge the elderflower heads into the fruit/sugar mixture. Give a gentle stir to mix the aroma, then cover the fruit (and flowers) with a sheet of parchment paper and  place in the refrigerator overnight (up to 24h hours).

The next day, remove the elderflowers. Transfer the fruit back to the cooking pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the jam sets*. Stir frequently and don’t leave the room, this jam burns very quickly! Skim off the excess scum as it boils.

*To test whether the jam has set, place a spoonful of jam in a small dish in the refrigerator, it will cool quickly and reveal its consistency.

Boil about 12 small or 8 large jam pots in water for 5 minutes to sterilize.

Once the jam has reached the jelling point, remove from the heat, spoon into jam pots, and close immediately. Try to keep the jam for a few weeks before opening, it gets better with time!


%d bloggers like this: