September 11, 2014

Nettle, Fennel, Kale and Potato Soup with Saffron

A friend of mine in Orange who just happens to live in my street dropped by yesterday bearing a gift of stinging nettles.  My friend understands my passion for anything green and therefore handed me a culinary challenge. This cooking task dove tailed nicely into the themes expressed by The Kinfolk Table by Nathan Williams, another beautiful cookbook I am in the midst of reading – see more at http://www.kinfolk.com/shop/book/the-kinfolk-table-cookbook/ In their words life is all about emphasizing the relationships that surround eating. I have shared quite a few meals (and the occasional wine) with my friend and this was a good opportunity to create a dish to perpetuate the spirit of sharing.

If anyone has seen stinging nettles growing in the garden or around the neighbourhood they are a wild, wild weed that usually start popping up when winter moves into spring. Picking the young leaves is vital and they should be used the same day as they spoil quickly. They are nutrient dense particularly in magnesium and iron and are known to have many medicinal qualities; the one that sparked my interest was joint pain as I continue my culinary mission to find foods that shall heal my back.

I have always been curious about cooking with stinging nettles since reading a copy of Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion. This cooking masterpiece is a fabulous book that I refer to often since it covers almost everything you need to know about growing your own produce and cooking with it. Read more here…http://www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au/shop/view/01tA0000001qqljIAA/stephanie-alexanders-kitchen-garden-companion

I guess in the first instance, my natural instinct would be to create a pesto as I seem to love blitzing and pureeing greens to maximise nutritional benefits in our meals. However given my first interest in nettles was discovered in Stephanie’s book, I thought I must do them and the book justice by creating one of her recipes. There are a few tips and guidance provided on how to prepare – BEWARE, do not touch the raw nettles without using gloves. Once you have followed the first steps, they are like any green ready to be wielded into goodness.

I chose the Nettle, Fennel and Potato Soup with Saffron. I realised at preparation stage that they didn’t quite weigh 150 gm so I decided to throw in some kale from my garden as well. You could still taste the nettles by the end result. I also did not make the garlic croutons, I served with crusty baguette rubbed with some olive oil and garlic like a bruschetta. This recipe is a little time intensive, although shouldn’t take longer than 1 hour and 15 mins.

So here it goes and thank you Stephanie Alexander for always being an inspiration with recipes from beautifully home grown produce. This is also my first recipe that I am publishing by an expert ‘celebrity’ chef so I hope you keep an eye out for those stinging nettle weeds growing wild, enjoy this and give it a go!

NettleFennelandPotatoSoupsaffron

Nettle, Fennel, Kale and Potato Soup with Saffron

Ingredients:

salt

150 gm young nettle leaves (I had 50 gm)

70 gm kale leaves (stalks discarded)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 bulb fennel, cut into 2 cm pieces (reserve some leaves and chop, for garnish)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bay leaf

a pinch saffron stamens

600 gm potatoes (about 4), cut into 2cm chunks (I used 750 gm)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 free-range egg yolks

1 Baguette and some extra virgin olive oil and garlic

Method:

1. Half-fill a large saucepan or pasta pot with lightly salted water and bring to the boil. Using tongs, drop nettle leaves into pan and swish for 1 minute. Drain nettles in a colander, then press hard on them (they will have lost their sting). Chop roughly. Dry the pan.

2. Heat olive oil in the pan over low-medium heat, add onion, fennel and garlic and cook for 5-8 minutes until onion is well softened. Add nettle leaves, bay leaf, saffron and potato. Stir to mix and then barely cover with cold water.

3. Bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until potato is quite tender. Puree potato/nettle mixture in a blender (or food processor). Cover blender lid and the flask with a dry teatowel; hot liquids can force up the lid of a blender, spraying hot liquid that can burn. Carefully blend until smooth.

4. Tip each batch into a large coarse-meshed sieve placed over a large mixing bowl and force through into the bowl with a pestle or another device. When all soup has been pureed, rinse and dry pan again.

5. If serving immediately, return soup to pan and reheat to simmering point. Taste and add salt and pepper. Whisk egg yolks in a small bowl with a ladleful of the hot soup. Remove soup from heat and tip in egg yolk mixture. Stir for 1 minute until the soup thickens slightly. The soup mustn’t boil again after the egg yolks have been added, so don’t complete this final step until you are ready to serve.

6. Slice baguette into rounds and place on a tray under the grill or oven at 200 C. Once they have been in the oven for 5 minutes or so, spoon some olive oil on them and rub garlic clove on each warm piece of bread.

Ladle into soup bowls, garnish with chopped fennel leaves and some crusty baked baguette on the side.

Enjoy!

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