I will make this brief. We are all preoccupied right now. The world has changed in the blink of an eye and we begin to understand the true meaning of survival. Adjusting to this new order has been stressful. New behaviours that contradict our human instincts and impulses to be together must be curbed. The fear of illness can stop us from functioning properly so we must ensure, now more than ever, that we are feeding our bodies with nutritious and simple food.
As I surveyed the kitchen garden early this week I made a mental note of how many meals there still remain in the beds. The last three celeriac roots and a handful of parsnips, the purple sprouting has come on stream, and our autumn sown salad of winter purslane, lamb’s lettuce and radicchio will provide for some time to come, but the remaining beds appeared to offer slim pickings. A clutch of wormy carrots, beetroot the size of swedes, cavolo nero running to flower with moth-eaten leaves and chard sown last summer which, although valiantly sending out some new growth, is looking past its best.
In the course of our previous life I might have consigned the shabbiest veg to the compost heap, preferring to eat the best and freshest looking. That has all changed. Now, with the need to make things last and avoiding going out more than necessary, anything that is still green is potentially valuable and edible.
Although the kitchen garden is on the very brink of the hungry gap, there is plenty shooting in the landscape around us, and there is a surfeit of nettles and wild garlic. The former is one of the most nutrient-rich herbs available containing calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, trace minerals and vitamins A, B and C. When picked at their peak, right now, they have a protein content of 25%. Pick only the tops, as the stalks, once used to make a linen-like fibre and cloth, are tough and inedible. Wild garlic is well known for it’s antibacterial and antibiotic properties, and also contains vitamins A and C, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorus and sodium.
In these times when we must be more mindful of resources, more frugal in what we use and what we discard, and more determined to only eat food that really feeds our bodies and its natural defence systems, this is a soup that will be seeing us through until the veg garden is up and running. This weekend I plan to harvest as much nettle and wild garlic as I can and either blanch and freeze (nettles) or preserve them under oil (wild garlic), so that we are able to keep eating nourishing greens until our own veg starts to produce more.
Older vegetables, particularly the brassica flower shoots, celeriac tops and chard stalks can be fibrous and stringy by this point in the season, but in the spirit of ‘waste not, want not’ I used everything in this soup and then put it through the finest screen of a Mouli-legumes. You could also liquidise it and then pass it through a sieve.
This is not so much a strict recipe, rather a guide to use whatever you might have to hand whether it be a carrot from the salad drawer that has seen better days, a few of the last winter-stored potatoes just starting to shoot or a slightly mouldering cabbage. This is also a good way to use up any vegetable peelings which would otherwise be heading for the compost heap. Use any green herbs you can lay your hands on. Last year’s parsley and chervil are all in fresh leaf now, as are other hedgerow herbs such as Alexanders (go easy on these, they are strongly flavoured), Jack-in-the-Hedge, Fat Hen and dandelions.
12 large chard leaves
150g wild garlic leaves
180g brassica flower shoots
200g nettle tops
2 medium onions
180g celery or celeriac tops
2 litres water or vegetable stock
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Coarsely chop the onion and celery or celeriac tops.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan.
Saute the onion and celery with the lid on until they become translucent.
Remove the green leaf from the chard stalks and chop the stalks coarsely. Add them to the onions and celery and continue to cook with the lid on until almost tender.
Add the water or stock to the pan and bring to a simmer.
Coarsely chop the brassica flower shoots and add to the pan. Grate in some nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the brassica shoots are cooked.
Take the soup off the heat and add the wild garlic. Stir well, put the lid back on the pan and allow to stand for a minute or two until the garlic has wilted.
Liquidise the soup and then, if necessary, pass it through a mouli-legumes or sieve. Check the seasoning.
If you have it a spoonful of cream, creme fraiche, or homemade yogurt can be added before serving.
Recipe & photographs: Huw Morgan
21 March 2020