Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stinging Nettle Soup: A Tale of Revenge

Just outside the vegetable garden fence at the house in Greece there was a patch of poison ivy, st least I think it was poison ivy. In French we called them "des ortilles", which translates as nettles. stinging nettles which are safe to eat cooked but really nasty to touch raw. In any case they sting/itch with a violence I'd never before felt. I backed into them and was struck with an almost vibrating sensation on my ankles where they touched. I immediately ran for the anti-itch cream and began to plot my revenge.

Ever since spying nettle recipes in Italian cookbooks, I've been intrigued by the idea of eating poison ivy. Thing is, unless you walk through the wrong place in the wilderness, it's not that easy to find. Imagine picking up something like that in a grocery store! So aside from being irrationally angry at the poison ivy for itching me, I knew a rare culinary opportunity when I saw one, so I donned the thickest pair of garden gloves I could find, grabbed some pruning shears and whacked that poison ivy patch to the ground.

When I brought the bounty in to the kitchen, my father-in-law got a really bright look on his face. He had a really easy old family soup recipe called "Soupe des ortilles".

Here's the recipe:
1 big bunch of nettles (don't ask me how much, but enough to fill a large plastic collander)
water to cover
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large baking potato
small dollop of cream or butter
salt and pepper

This recipe is in the potage parmentier family, which means a few vegetables boiled in water until soft, with minimal seasoning added, which as if by magic, tastes really, really good. A soup much more than the sum of its parts. Music to sip soupe aux ortilles (nettle soup) by: Jennifer Nettles singing "Who says You Can't Go Home" with Jon Bon Giovi.


Blogger ML said...

I had NO idea you can eat poison ivy! I figured if it made you miserable on the outside, the insides would be awful too.

Thanks for the info!

5:16 PM  
Blogger J at said...

I'm with ML...I would have been terrified to try it. :)

8:20 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi ML, Yes! You really can eat cooked poison ivy (if all poison ivy is the same as nettles) with no problem. They only irritate when they're raw. The problem is preparing them for cooking and not getting stung.

Hi J., It just tasted like many cooking greens you'd know. And no throat itch, I promise.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Cherry said...

Poison ivy and Stinging Nettles are not the same thing!!!

Stinging Nettles is edible, but Poison Ivy is NOT, cooked, raw or otherwise!!!!

11:41 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Oops! Cherry, thank you for the clarification. I had very little outdoors experience in the States and now in Europe new things are never explained to me in English. You are absolutely right. Nettles are safe to eat when cooked but poison ivy never is.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I have heard of nettles sauteed and cooked as greens. My concern would be how would a person harvest them? When you touch them they give you quite a nasty sting. Then again I have heard they are quite tasty!!!I don't think we have them here but I have met up with them in England!

5:30 AM  
Blogger Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Nettles are just gorgeous once tamed and cooked, but I'm afraid that eating poison ivy is not a good idea. My father fell into a poison ivy patch when he was young and was in a coma for 10 days.
Nettles sting right away, but poison ivy doesn't develop until later and then it blisters - it's really very dangerous.
Gorgeous nettle soup though!

4:46 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Valli, You have to harvest VERY carefully. I used heavy leather garden gloves.

Hi Figs, A coma? Whoa! Before reading some of the comments here, I thought nettles and poison ivy were more or less the same. Now I know just how different they are. Thanks for the heads up.

6:18 PM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

i don't think i'd like ANYTHING to do with stinging nettles ever again after encountering a patch of it many years ago.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

ooh! cool that you made nettle soup in a sort of revenge-style fashion! :) i think i tried something nettle here already, but i forget what. anyway, i'd like to try this soup--sounds good!

12:35 PM  
Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

ps. love the spelling of jon bon jovi :)

8:42 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Melissa, Ooh, isn't it awful? Tastes good, though.

Hi Jackie, Oh, I didn't even realize I did that. It's really spelled with a J! I heard that the band name is the phonetic sound of his Italian last name. I'm guessing it was originally Buongiovi, or something.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

wow--that's funny that you didn't mean to do it...that kind of spelling error means you are truly becoming Italian!

-Giachi (just kidding--Jackie)

12:10 AM  

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