This is the time of year when my stash of stinging nettles comes in handy. I've got a few packets of blanched and vacuum-packed nettles in the freezer awaiting the lasagna treatment and a larger store of dried, powdered nettles that can be easily added to soups or teas. High in protein and nutrients, stinging nettles are a jolt to the system—in other words, they're just the ticket for the deepest, coldest stretch of winter. They also have that taste of the wild that can't be duplicated by domestication.
Who doesn't love a soup that's ready to eat within an hour on a winter day? Just take your favorite Potato Leek recipe and sprinkle in a couple heaping tablespoons of dried nettles. If you got 'em, that is. If you don't got 'em, may I recommend you plan an outing for the spring. Your local hippies at the health food store should have nettles too. Just a couple tablespoons can transform a routine dish into something with a little more edge to it, a dish that sits up and howls at the winter moon.
3 tbsp butter
3 leeks, thinly sliced (tops discarded)
1 onion, chopped
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 lb red potatoes, unpeeled and cut up
1 quart chicken stock
2 heaping tbsp dried & powdered stinging nettles
1 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf
pinch of white pepper
pinch of thyme
salt to taste
Melt butter in a heavy soup pot. Saute leeks and onion until soft. Add potatoes. Cook a few minutes. Cover with chicken stock; add water if necessary until potatoes are fully covered. Throw in a bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes before adding nettles. Continue simmering until potatoes are tender, then work with a masher. Season and add spices. Turn heat to low. Now is the time to use an immersion blender; otherwise, blend in a food processor to desired consistency. Stir in heavy cream and, if you like, a pat of butter.
For a little extra umph, I floated a few garlic-rubbed croutons on top.
Gift of the Magi
As it happens, 2009 marks my first year with an immersion blender in the arsenal, hence my desire to put it to work. In fact, Marty and I gave each other immersion blenders for Christmas. Same brand, same model. The two presents sat under the tree, fully wrapped, identical, until New Year's Day when we finally decided to give in to the inevitable. The kids took pictures. It was, as they say, a "teachable moment." It's the thought that counts.
Over the years we've tried to resist gadget creep. Toaster-over? No, thanks. Popcorn popper? Pass. Espresso machine? Mr. Coffee gets it done. Waffle iron? Puh-leeeze! But I'll admit we've both coveted the immersion blender from time to time, especially during those all too frequent times we overfed the food processor and sprayed soup everywhere. Plus, they're fairly compact and inexpensive. This was my first test drive and I have to say it came through with flying colors. Hooray for immersion blenders!