With Marlay on our doorstop, the first few weeks of April invariably involved a nettle picking trip when I was growing up. Rubber gloves would be donned, a plastic bag would be found (in my mind’s eye it was always a red and white striped bag), and we’d all troop off down to the park with my dad to watch him picking them. Back home, they’d be transferred to a basin and my mum would pick out the youngest tips to make soup with.
And what a soup! I don’t think it’s just nostalgia speaking when I say that it’s one of the nicest spring dishes out there. It tastes clean, comforting and very, very good for you, and it has a beautifully Irish flavour that just seems right for this time of year, especially when served with brown wheaten bread or homemade cheese scones. Best of all, it’s quick, easy and fun to make, and once you start looking, you’ll see that there’s no shortage of nettles in this country.
1 basin of tender young nettle tips, picked from the very top of the plant with rubber gloves and rinsed
1 large onion, peeled & diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled & diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled & cubed
Around 1.5l good quality chicken stock
Pinch of nutmeg
150 ml cream
Salt & pepper
Fry the onion in the butter till golden, then add the potato, season and continue to cook for 10 minutes, or until the potato is starting to soften. Pour a little boiling water over the nettle tips and add to the pot, holding a cupful of the leaves back. Sauté gently for a couple of minutes then add the stock. Cook at a simmer until the potatoes have softened. Purée with a hand blender. Add the remaining nettle tips, cook for a minute or so and then blend lightly again – this step will brighten up the colour nicely. Add the cream, stir well and serve in bowls with more black pepper and thyme leaves.