Stinging nettles are one of the finest wild greens you can use to make soup, and there’s plenty of recipes out there. Some recipes are good, some are ok. Most of the ones I’ve tried have tasted mostly of potatoes or rice. This one is the strongest tasting nettle soup I know of, and it’s my version of the most commonly version relying on nettles, vegetables, a little potato, and a splash of cream. It’s Spring in a bowl, a hyper-seasonal dish I look forward to making every year, and it’s gone through a number of revisions over the years to hone and improve it.
I made the first version one year when I was planning the most elaborate meal I’d ever served, a dinner for four CEO’s that I billed at 1k/head. I built the menu and every recipe from the ground up, testing, re-testing, and agonizing over the details of everything. There was foie gras, osetra caviar, quail eggs scented with Italian black winter truffles, a trio of locally farmed goose, along with a flight of desserts and wine pairings, but the thing that people raved about the most? The humble nettle soup.
As I worked on the soup, I tried different ways of thickening it. Potatoes are the most common, but sometimes I like to use rice. Roux was out of the picture as the soup needed to be gluten free. After tasting the potato and rice-thickened versions side-by-side, I was stumped. Neither soup had the vibrant, verdant taste of nettle I wanted.
One day, at work in the restaurant, while I was instructing a line cook on the importance of blanching certain vegetables in salted water, for whatever reason I had the realization of exactly why my nettle soup wasn’t intensely nettle-y. It seemed to me there were two compounding things I was overlooking.
Blanching removes flavors
- I was blanching and shocking the nettles in water, then squeezing them dry. Blanching, while necessary for somethings, isn’t necessary for some greens, and the water leeches out plenty of flavor from them. Steaming the nettles quickly, then allowing them to cool, spread out on a tray as I mentioned in my post on Turkish Steamed Nettles, will keep the flavor vibrant as no flavorful solutes are lost to water. That being said, you can get a great result from either blanched or steamed nettles here-the potato tip below is the most important for the correct flavor.
Calming the potato
Traditionally, the nettles and vegetables are cooked together with the potato or rice and pureed. This, combined with the blanching, ends up making nettle soup that tastes more strongly of potato or rice than it does nettle to me. I suspected that cooking potatoes separately in water and discarding that is discarded after cooking would not only bring the flavor of the nettle to the front, but also remove some of the starch of the potato that can get overpowering and gummy tasting in pureed soups.
Both my hunches were right, and the finished version using those two nuggets of clarity was the version I served for the dinner. To this day it is still the recipe I reach for when I want someone to taste the true flavor of nettles.
Classic Stinging Nettle Soup
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups diced peeled russet potato, roughly 1 large potato
- 2 cups diced leeks
- 2 medium sized shallots diced small
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup diced celery
- Kosher salt to taste
- White pepper to taste
- 8 oz stinging nettles or roughly half a paper grocery bag full This should yield about 1 heaping packed cup after blanching, shocking and mincing.
Finishing and serving
- Crème fraiche
- chopped dill or mint
- chopped hard boiled egg optional
- Ramp leaf oil optional
- Cook the potato in unseasoned water until soft, then set aside, keeping the potato in the cooking water until you need them. Meanwhile, bring a gallon of lightly salted water to a boil.
- Working in batches in a large pasta pot fitted with a steamer basket, steam the nettles until completely wilted, a minute or two. Make sure the nettles are completely wilted, as if they're not they might discolor. If you're more comfortable blanching nettles, that's fine, to blanch them, blanch the nettles for 10 seconds in boiling, salted water, then remove to a tray to cool. Squeeze the nettles of excess water, chop finely and reserve.
Building the soup
- Sweat the celery, onion, shallot and leek, then add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a simmer and cook on medium-low until the vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
- Add the cooked potatoes, then puree the soup, working in batches if necessary until very smooth in a highspeed blender. Pour the pureed soup into a pot (preferably metal as it cools faster) and chill in a sink of cold water or in a bowl with ice water.
Refreshing the color
- When the soup is cooled a bit, but still warm, puree a qt or two with ¾ of the nettles until very smooth, then add back to the soup. Season the mixture with salt and white pepper to taste.
- Add the rest of the finely chopped, reserved nettles back to the soup as a garnish. Finally, whisk in the cream to loosen it.
- Assess the consistency, if you prefer your soup more thin, add a splash of stock or water until it looks good to you. Double check the seasoning for salt and pepper, adjust until you like the taste, whisking to make sure the salt is completely dissolved before adding more, then serve, or transfer to a container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. The flavor will be at it's peak if it's made the night before.
- Serve the soup ladles into warm bowls, garnished with spoonfuls of creme fraiche and the ramp oil, if using.