Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sunday Afternoon (Peasant) Soup - Nettle, Wild Garlic, Sorrel and Horseradish

Wild Garlic, Wild Sorrel, Water-Mint, Nettles and Horseradish.

On a late May Sunday afternoon, a wind blustering round the house and all pretence at Summer waned; the rugs beat (for when better to do it than when the wind does it for you); the cupboard bare (for it is Summer, and one had planned to live off scant homepicked salads Summer long), except for an onion, a few mouldering potatoes… the weather calls for une bonne Soupe Paysanne or "Peasant Soup".

The first obligation is to face the weather, to wrap up and go gather Nettles and whatever other wild greens suit your pallet.  I also picked a bit of Wild Sorrel and the last of the Wild Garlic, which has really come to an end.  I found some Water-Mint, but refrained from putting that in the soup, as it has rather a strong flavour, and I think better in tea than in food.  The Dandelion leaves are large at present, grandiose almost, quite the most billowing leaf around it would seem, but I held back simply because they are bitter, and with the sharp taste of the Sorrel I thought it might be a bit much.  I then grabbed a large handful of Garden Herbs and returned to the haven of the kitchen.

Second, to pour yourself a tumbler of a very unpretentious French red, to give-in to the spirit of the affair, then grab a pan and a wooden spoon. 

This morning trying to revive the Rhubarb patch, quite marauded by Ground Elder, I came across a different root, twisting and thick, with a sweet smell - Horseradish, of course! So I added this to give the soup a bit of a kick.

I understand the art of a Soupe Paysanne to be the chunky texture, the vegetables are cooked, but not falling to pieces, the broth is hot and salty, and the meal, although simple is sustaining and satisfying… don’t therefore waste time with pernickety chopping.  Let the Herbs be whole branches, the Onion coarse, the Potatoes chunky… and throw in the Nettles, stems and all.


Chop an Onion and sweat in Butter or Olive Oil, according to preference.  I used Butter with a drop of Oil to prevent it burning.  Add a few whole Garlic Cloves and several finely chopped Wild Garlic Leaves.  Stir, then add Potatoes cut into chunks.  Cover the lot in Water, adding the grated Horseradish (to taste) and a handful of Garden herbs (Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, a pair of Bay Leaves).  Bring to the boil.  Allow to simmer gently, adding the cooked Beans (I cook these separately, in this case I used Butter Beans, but any will do) when the potatoes are about halfway cooked.  Once the potatoes are nearly done add the Sorrel and Nettles, letting them wilt, the Sorrel will turn khaki, the Nettles should retain their vivid green colour.
Season with Salt, Pepper and Tamari. 

The soup is very sustaining as it is, but it can be made more comforting with a handful of Salt and Pepper Croutons and some Grated Cheese.

I made the Croutons using Stale Bread, Olive Oil, Chunky Sea-Salt and Black Pepper, and grated Mrs Temples’ Walsingham cheese on top of the soup, a local interpretation of Cheddar.

Curl up with your Bottle of Wine by the Wood Burner and eat the Soup leafing through Elizabeth David, or watching dishy Jean-Paul Belmondo in a Sunday afternoon movie…

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