With the focus of this blog leaning more and more towards the nostalgic role that food plays in family life, I would like to introduce this post with a stream of beautiful recollection… Oh, the days I spent as a child, picking nettles for the pot, honing my skill for extracting the sweetest of spring’s new growth without a single sting. I would be lying though. The first time I tried eating nettles was barely a month ago, when I took my daughter to forest school and we ate nettle pancakes cooked over an open fire. It was a pretty profound experience mind, and one that I’m sure to relay to her in exacerbating detail when she is much older.
We went to the woods again this week, but this time we enjoyed nettle soup cooked on the campfire. The soup was made with a base of Swiss vegetable stock, into which was thrown new potatoes, onion and fresh nettles. The children all lapped it up without any fuss, making me think that a lot of childrens’ neuroses about eating their greens can be overcome with a combo of ‘food theatre’, distraction, and hands-on fun. In spite of its novelty, there was absolutely no emphasis put on preparing or presenting this meal, and so from what I could gather, the children just ate because they were hungry. Clean bowls all round.
When I got home I found my samples from Hodmedod’s had arrived. Hodmedod’s specialise in supplying unusual, organic grains and pulses that are, quite remarkably, grown in Britain. Their current range features white quinoa, exotic Black Badger peas, Kabuki peas, and Fava beans in many forms: dried whole and split (split beans don’t require soaking), cooked tinned fava beans, tinned Vaal Daal and a new product still under trial, ready-to-eat roast fava beans. Hodmedod’s also produce tins of real British Baked Beans; now I think of it, the only widely enjoyed British dish that celebrates the humble bean.*
I learn from the beautifully designed Hodmedod’s packet that fava beans are still grown in the UK for export but they haven’t been eaten regularly in Britain for centuries. Well, we are an odd bunch. Saying that, looking at my fava bean bounty I didn’t know quite where to start, there were certainly no family recipes to think of, but then I remembered the nettles, which are perfectly in season right now, and I thought combining these two native and overlooked British ingredients would be a jolly good idea. After a quick Google search, I also discovered that the Italians – more specifically the Venetians – got there first, so the pairing of flavours must be a fair bet.
Recipe notes: Nettles are full of iron and vitamin c but they must only be eaten at times of new growth, in spring until the end of April and sometimes in autumn. You must obviously protect your hands before picking and take only the top shoots and first full leaves for the best flavour. To prepare the nettles, keep your gloves on and wash well under running water; you will be struck by the greenness of their perfume. Dry in a salad spinner and then snip the leaves from the stalks using scissors. The stings will be lost pretty much as soon as the nettles are plunged into hot water, they only need simmering for short while, as with spinach, so that they retain their vibrant colour and zippy flavour. The stock I used was made from a roast chicken carcass, cooked very gently overnight in plenty of fresh water, as recommended by Josh Eggleton.
- 25g butter
- Small onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic
- 700ml good chicken stock
- 150g dried split fava beans
- 80g (prepared weight) nettle leaves, cleaned and roughly chopped
- 200-300ml water
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Pick, clean and roughly chop the nettle leaves and set to one side while you make the soup.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and fry the onion and garlic gently for 8-10 minutes until soft and translucent.
- Add the stock, bring to the boil then add the fava beans and cook for 35 minutes until soft and falling apart.
- Add the chopped nettles and cook for 3-4 minutes until wilted.
- Remove the pan from the heat, add a little extra water and blend until smooth using a hand blender. Add a little more water as desired to create a looser consistency.
- Season with salt and pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
*If you can think of any other popular ‘British’ dishes that use beans and peas, please share, and let me stand corrected in the comments!
Disclosure: I received free samples of Hodmedod’s products for trial
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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