From the River Cottage Hedgerow Handbook
Pick in Spring – before the flowers form, though the younger the better. New growth will appear in summer and autumn from cut-back plants. In March the whole plant can be picked, but as they mature, just take the developing leaves from the top. At the first sign of flowers developing you must stop picking. The plant will start producing cystoliths which can interfere with kidney function. By this time the texture and flavour has deteriorated anyway. Cooking completely destroys the nettle's ability to sting.
Half a carrier bagful of stinging nettle tops, or fresh-looking larger leaves
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock, or even light fish stock
1 large potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp crème fraîche
A few drops of extra-virgin olive oil
A few drops of Tabasco
- Wearing rubber gloves, sort through the nettles, discarding anything you don't like the look of and any thick stalks. Wash the nettles and drain in a colander.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for 5–7 minutes until softened. Add the stock, nettles, potato and carrot. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the potato is soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Using an electric hand-held stick blender, purée the soup and then season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Ladle into warmed bowls and float a teaspoonful of crème fraîche on top. As this melts, swirl in a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil and Tabasco.