Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stinging Nettle, Lovage, And Mussel Soup

 nettle soup 149 

When I lived in Bellevue and worked in North Bend I’d often stop at the Herb Farm.  This was before the fire that caused Jerry Traunfeld and co. to move the charming and famous Herb Farm restaurant from Fall City to Woodinville.

Back then you could buy herbs and flowers and wander the gardens and visit the chickens.  The paths were lined with hazelnut shells that crackled and popped underfoot.  A wooden bench nestled under  a wisteria arbor.  I’d sit there, quietly mesmerized by the sun dappling through the trees and the contented chuckling of the chickens.  

So it’s Jerry Traunfeld’s fault that I want chickens. 

I’ve been trying to convince Ross that three little chickens would be a charming addition to our family but he’s equally convinced they’re troublesome and smelly and the best kind of raccoon bait and our own personal episode of Wild Kingdom.  He’s probably right which is why I haven’t copied some of the wonderful chicken coops I saw at the Northwest Flower and Garden show a few weeks ago. 

But I’m so tempted.  And I can’t stop imagining the perfect chicken coop.

Yesterday while strolling along and mentally designing a raccoon proof chicken fortress I noticed stinging nettles just beginning to sprout.  This got me thinking of Jerry Traunfeld again.  Because he’s a fabulous chef and uses all sorts of local ingredients and according to Carolyn from Sound Food makes the best nettle soup.  She passed on this great recipe and I have to agree with Carolyn; it’s fantastic. 

I don’t have lovage so I substituted fennel but you could also use celery and parsley.  I used homemade chicken stock and mixed clams with mussels.  It was fast and easy and delicious and healthy.  You know to be careful when harvesting but beware: nettles can sting through denim so wear high boots, rubber gloves and a thick coat. 

If you’ve never eaten nettles before it takes a bit of courage to take that first bite, especially if your leg is throbbing where the nettle stung you through your jeans.  Rest assured that blanching nettles cures their sting and they’re perfectly harmless yet filled with all sorts of antioxidants, more iron than any other leafy green and are a tonic to ease arthritis.

Stinging Nettle, Lovage, And Mussel Soup

(6 servings)

  • 4 ounces young stinging nettle leaves (handle with gloves when raw)
  • 2 pounds small live mussels
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leek
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon white rice
  • ¼ cup young lovage leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crème fraiche for garnish

Boil the nettles in a large pot of salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and squeeze dry.
Put the mussels and wine in a large pot with a tight fitting lid. Place over high heat until the mussels open, about 4 minutes. Drain the mussels, reserving the liquid, and remove the meat from the shells. You should have about 2 cups liquid. If there is less, add chicken stock to come to 2 cups.
Cook the leek in the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan until softened. Add the mussel liquid, chicken stock, and rice. Cover and cook at an even simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice is very soft. Stir in the lovage and nettles. Puree the soup in small batches in a blender until very smooth. Return to the pan and bring it back to a simmer. Taste and add pepper and additional salt if needed. Stir in the reserved mussels. Ladle into warm bowls and drizzle with crème fraiche.
Copyright 2003 © Jerry Traunfeld


Anonymous said...

I heard somewhere that you could pinch the bottom of a nettle on the stem and that would remove the sting. Have you tried that?

Carla said...

Anonymous: I haven’t heard that but I’ve read a few things about removing the sting. Apparently you can touch the top of the nettle, fold it in half then eat raw without getting stung. A friend of mine has done this with no ill effects. I’ve been told that saliva neutralizes the stingers as well which is why you can eat raw nettles. If that’s true then the next time I get stung I should be able to lick the affected area and have the sting go away and I’m not sure that will work…any thoughts?

Car Hire said...

Nettle soup is delicious but mussels... How people can can eat them.

Anonymous said...

Would you be able to tell me where to get fresh Lovage leaves? I live in Seattle.


carla said...

Anonymous…lovage is hard to come by unless you grow it yourself. This time of year you can probably visit your local famer’s market and ask a farmer. If they don’t have it on hand they may be able to bring it to you the following week. I substituted fennel and you could also try a combination of celery and parsley. Good luck and let me know how it turns out.