Not all vegetables come from a seed packet or are carefully tended and raised in a border, and not all weeds are unwelcome to the cook.
Certainly, nettles can be both a vicious weed and a refined ingredient. We have deliberately left several large patches of nettles in the garden.
Not only are they an important habitat for wildlife - butterflies love them - but in spring the young shoots make a nutritious soup.
You can treat them as a cut-and-come again crop, taking them right back to the ground as soon as they flower to encourage a fresh batch of young leaves. I wear my rubber gloves to avoid being stung - although nettle sting has been used to treat arthritis.
Once cooked, the leaves lose all their power to sting. They reduce rapidly rather like spinach and can be treated in much the same way.
They were much valued by country people as a source of goodness - especially after a long winter when fresh greens were scarce - and they are very rich in iron, vitamin C and minerals.
- 80g (3oz) unsalted butter
- 4 onions, finely diced
- 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2ltr (3½pt) chicken stock
- 1 carrier bag full of nettle tips, well washed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Creme fraiche (optional)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and sweat the onions for about 5 minutes.
Add the potato, stir and soften for another 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook, stirring for a minute or two, taking care not to burn it.
Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and squash easily against the side of the pan with a fork. Add the nettles and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cool slightly then liquidise the soup in batches until smooth. Return the soup to the pan, reheat gently (do not let it boil) and add seasoning to taste.
If you're using creme fraiche, add a good dollop to each bowl before serving.