Creamy Nettle & Ham Soup
The use of nettles dates back hundreds of years in Europe (in fact back to pre-Christian times) and they only fell out of favour when cabbage became more popular about 200 years ago. In Norway they are still really popular and many people cook with them in the spring. They really are a wonderful and very much overlooked vegetable. Full of iron, formic acid, ammonia, salicylic acid and histamine, these chemicals aid the relief of rheumatism, sciatica and similar ailments. They also increase the haemoglobin in the blood and improve circulation.
The best time to pick nettles is the spring when the tender young shoots are coming through the ground and before they flower. If you find a good patch of nettles it can be really easy to pick a couple of big bags very quickly. Remember your gloves and a pair of scissors though because otherwise you'll have pretty sore hands!
In the spring I use nettles is various ways from sautéed nettle greens to nettle beer. But this vibrant green, creamy soup has become my favourite. The addition of ham makes it a bit more luxurious and more enticing to anyone who might be a bit sceptical. Unlike some nettle recipes that can be rather earthy this one is creamy and mild.
Creamy Nettle & Ham Soup (serves 2 hungry people)
1 small onion, finely chopped
25g / 1 oz butter
2 large handfuls of young nettle tops
1 ltr / 33 fl oz chicken or vegetable stock
170g / 6 oz potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 1 medium sized potato)
50g / 2 oz ham, cut into small dice
Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 egg yolks
100ml / 3.5 fl oz double or heavy cream
Wash the nettles really well and pick the leaves off the stalks. Drain.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion until soft and transparent. Add the nettles and fry for a minute or two until wilted. Add the stock, potatoes and ham (keeping a little ham back to garnish the soup) and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until the potato is really soft.
Liquidise the soup until smooth. At this point I like to pass it through a sieve because I like a smooth, creamy soup, but you don't have to do this. Season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg.
Return to the pan and heat until it simmers. Beat the egg yolks together with the cream until well combined. Remove the pan from the heat and add a spoonful of the hot soup to the egg and cream mix. Stir well and add this to the pan of soup. Stir for a minute or so until it thickens slightly. Don't put it back on the heat as that will curdle the eggs yolks. The residual heat from the soup will cook the eggs.
Garnish with the ham you have reserved and some good bread or flatbread for a proper Scandinavian touch.
If you want to reheat the soup later, take care not to boil as the eggs will curdle but it will keep very nicely in the fridge for a couple of days.
Vær så god!
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