I see a lot of people in the Midwest say they’re excited about Spring and mention things like peas. I think what we really should be talking about are stinging and wood nettles, the real first Spring vegetables that will come out of the ground worthy of eating, in my opinion. Peas on the other hand are a Summer vegetable in the cold weather-hardy climate of Minnesota and Wisconsin where I roam.
One of the things I know is very traditional in Europe is nettle soup, a few years ago I was doing some research on it, with the goal of developing a recipe for the restaurant menu.
Working with the nettles, I knew that the soup could go a few different ways, well basically two:
- A smooth, green, pureed soup, or what I refer to my servers as “baby food”
- A chunky, finely chopped, broth based soup, or something similar that’s not pureed
The question I wanted to answer was: “which soup would do the nettles more justice.”?
A pureed soup would be a striking green color, but would have to be served cold or heated up “a la minute” to preserve it’s look. It would also need to have some other components put on top to contrast with the smooth puree.
A chunky, broth based soup could be held warm for a bit, making service a little easier, and I liked the idea of chunks of nettles floating around in the soup, since chewing on them would remind the diner what they’re eating. In the end, the chunky one was the winner, but not to say that the nettles wouldn’t be good in a pureed soup, I’ll just have to save that for next year.
I looked at a bunch of recipes online, but eventually re-worked a family recipe from one of my favorite books: Europe’s Master Chef’s, a thousand page tome filled with all sorts of over-wraught, fantastic looking things. Here and there among the fussy dishes, reductions, and complicated charcuterie there are a few real keepers though, and plenty of techniques to experiment with. This nettle soup is a variation on a dish from the grandmother of Orjan Klein, a Swedish Master Chef.
Stinging Nettle Soup With Quail Eggs
- 1/2 lb fresh young stinging nettles washed well
- 4 cups homemade chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Pinch toasted, ground fennel seed
- Pinch toasted, ground aniseed
- Kosher salt to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper for finishing
- 12 hardboiled quail eggs or chopped hard-boiled eggs
- Fresh chopped dill or mint for serving
- Creme fraiche for serving, optional
- Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, then blanch the nettles for a second or two until just wilted, then remove to an ice bath and chill. Remove the nettles and chop finely.
- in a 2 qt sauce pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Whisk in the chicken stock and simmer for a few minutes until lightly thickened, then add the aniseed, fennel, and salt to taste.
- Finally add the nettles and heat through, double check the seasoning and adjust as needed, then divide 1 cup portions between heated soup bowls or cups, garnish each with 3 quail eggs, fresh cracked pepper, creme fraiche if using and the dill, then serve immediately.