Green garlic & nettle are the heralds of Spring! Both are exceptionally mild so don’t let the ‘garlic’ part of the title scare you away. I know it sounds a little frightening but green garlic tastes more like spring onion when cooked and nettle has the flavor of hay. When sautéed with butter and blended with potato & leek cooked in broth, this makes a stunning St. Patrick’s day starter that is mild and earthy in just the same way Spring is.
Traditional Vichyssoise is a magical combination of puréed leeks and potato served cold. Notice that I wrote ‘potato’ in the singular. Many recipes call for multiple potatoes which tends to lend itself to a soup of library paste. If you were a paste licker in school then go ahead and add them back in. I was a glue sniffer so I never really developed that particular affinity.
Older than the rivalry between paste eaters and glue sniffers is the historical food fight over the origin of Vichyssoise soup. Is it French or American? I’d like to say it’s a fusion, but it was made famous on American soil so I could be persuaded to cross the picket line. The soup is said to have been created by Louis Diat, the chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City for most of the first half of the 20th century.
In the New Yorker magazine (1950) Diat said:
“In the summer of 1917, when I had been at the Ritz seven years, I reflected upon the potato-and-leek soup of my childhood, which my mother and grandmother used to make. I recalled how, during the summer, my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk, and how delicious it was. I resolved to make something of the sort for the patrons of the Ritz.”
Other food fighters/historians say that the French chef Jules Gouffé was first to create the recipe, publishing a version in Royal Cookery (1869) and that Chef Diat must have changed it slightly by serving it cold and therefore calling it his own. OH, WHO CARES?!! It’s a basic combination that’s delicious!
I love the classic combo of potato & leek and adding green garlic to the mix isn’t really a stretch, nor are nettles since they just add to the earthiness of the purée and they give it some color. And leek & potato soup needs some color. However, I serve the soup warm because I think the flavors taste better that way. Sorry Chef Diat, but I’m not a die hard fan of cold Vichyssoise.
Green garlic has a short growing period and can be found in farmer’s markets NOW. It often looks likes spring onions when packaged but the white parts are streaked with a little red. This green garlic is from Pie Ranch along the beautiful coastal highway 1.
The nettles were foraged for me by farmer Debbie at Pie Ranch and she somehow managed to collect around 4 gynormous garbage bags full so I could make a soup for 65 people. Unless you’ve attempted to harvest nettles, you have no idea how much heart went into this. They sting like crazy! People, there are poems written about how badly nettles sting! Shakespeare even mentions it (Henry IV 2.3.9-11)! Don’t go harvesting without gloves. Long sleeve shirts and full pants are a must…
Sometimes you can get nettles in farmer’s markets but if you live anywhere that’s rural you have probably mistaken them for weeds in your back yard or seen them growing in forests or along roads. Read my previous blog entry about how to handle nettles). Stinging aside, they are worth the effort because they are packed with antioxidants and many herbalists and lots of Irish lore say they cure just about everything that ails. I like them for their color, more than flavor – which is about as exciting as spinach – and also their health benefits.
This soup was inspired by my Spring commute along the coastal highway, maybe I should rename is Pescaderossoise!
On one side of my drive is the Pacific coast with the waves crashing against the cliffs and on the other are mountains and fields of green that are completely covered in flourescent yellow from the mustard cover crops. This picture was taken early in the morning and you can see the marine layer still floating over the mountains. Unfortunately the snap doesn’t do the view justice. I had to pull over to get the picture anyways, it was just too pretty to let go…
More on nettles and green garlic:
- 5 medium leeks
- 1 bunch green garlic
- 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium shallot, diced
- 1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
- 6 cups chicken stock with extra if necessary
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 bags (grocery store plastic bags) of nettles
- hard cooked egg
- crab or oysters
- olive oil
- mustard flowers
- oxalis flowers
- dried nettle chips
- crème fraîche
Cut off most of the dark green leaves and the roots of the leeks & green garlic and discard. Cut in half lenghwise and clean well. Leeks are grown in dirt clear up to the tops, so make sure all the soil is washed off. Chop both into 1/4″ slices and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large pot on medium-low heat. Add the leeks, green garlic, and shallots and sweat (cook slowly without browning) until the shallots are translucent and the leeks and green garlic are tender. Add the potatoes and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add chicken stock and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile in a large pot of salted boiling water blanch the nettles, 10 seconds in boiling water should stop the sting. (Make sure to handle them with tongs while adding them into the boiling water.) Immediately transfer nettles to a bowl of ice water after blanching and shock to stop the cooking and lock in the green color. Squeeze all of the water out of the nettles just like you would for cooked spinach when cooled.
Purée the soup in a food processor or vita-prep blender in batches with the nettles. Chill the soup by transferring it to a bowl in an ice-bath. Garnish as you like!