Archive for the ‘Wild food’ 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.

Wild food | Two recipes for a blackberry bounty

19 September 2014

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Purple smiles and ‘bloody’ hands.

One two three four — how many more? — gleeful children, laden arms outstretched, offering, loaded, big bowls of bouncing blackberries. The kitchen crowded with their relentless harvest.

It has been an exceptional summer for wild fruit. Not only in Brittany; British hedgerows are weighted with fruit.

And so we pick and pick. And now?

Blackberry pies, of course, and cakes brimming with blackberries.

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And these to capture summer’s flavor, puckery sweet, for more wintry days.

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Crème de mûre (Blackberry liqueur)
Makes about 3 bottles

1.2 kg just-picked blackberries

1 bottle pinot noir

800 g sugar

1 bottle eau de vie (fruit brandy)

Gently wash the blackberries over running water.

In a bowl, preferably high and deep, coarsely crush the berries with a pestle or masher. Pour the wine over the berries, cover tightly, and and let steep for 48 hours.

Pour the berries into a large saucepan. Add the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve.

Measure the volume and add the eau de vie at a ratio of 1/3 eau de vie to 2/3 blackberry juice.

Using a funnel, pour the liqueur into (clean) bottles, seal tightly, and store in a cool dark place. Let the liqueur sit for at least a month before using for the flavors to develop beautifully.

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Blackberry and lemon jam

1.6 kg just-picked blackberries plus 400 g

1.4 kg sugar

3 untreated lemons

Gently wash the blackberries under running water.

Using a small, sharp knife, cut a long ribbon of zest from one of the lemons.

In a large heavy saucepan, mix 1.6 kg of blackberries with the sugar, ribbon of zest and juice from one lemon. Let sit for a few hours or overnight, as convenient.

Later (or the next day), add the other two, very thinly sliced lemons. Bring the fruit/sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat and let the jam bubble away for about 20 to 30 minutes. The boiling bubbles will become less vivacious as the temperature rises to the point where the jam will set. As the boil becomes more leisurely, the jam ready to set, add the remaining 400 g of blackberries. Cook for another 10 minutes.

Sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 minutes, transfer the hot jam into the jars, seal tightly, and store for a few weeks at least before opening!

Related posts

Plum jam with candied ginger

Rhubarb rosemary jam

Rhubarb rosemary syrup

Chive blossom vinegar


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