I must admit, I love spring. It’s not just that the first signs of sunshine, flower blossoms, and days without coats are invigorating, though that’s part of it. It might also be a nostalgic feeling – knowing that spring used to signal the end of classes and summer break. What really excites me now, though, is the bounty of produce.
I have always loved asparagus, but it’s only been since I moved to Illinois that I fell in love with ramps, green garlic, and morel mushrooms. This spring, I discovered yet another spring vegetable – stinging nettles.
Having grown up in rural Wisconsin, I’m no stranger to stinging nettles. I spent nearly a quarter of my childhood with a stinging rash on my leg. Ok, I’m exaggerating. I did, however, see and feel plenty a stinging nettle in my childhood. I just never knew I could eat them… or how nutritious they are.
In many ways, stinging nettles are like spinach. They’re super food, full of potassium, iron, and a dozen other minerals and vitamins. Don’t just take it from me; a google search on stinging nettles reveals boatloads of information regarding the medicinal and nutritional qualities of this plant.
Unlike spinach, though, these guys can hurt you. They have tiny hairs that, when touched, release folic acid and histamines that sting. Really sting for hours. You just have to be careful when preparing them.
So, facing a refrigerator full of spring produce – asparagus, ramps, and stinging nettles – as well as some homemade chicken stock eating up space in my freezer, I decided to dump everything into an earthy, hearty, springy soup.
I have seen recipes for stinging nettle soup; most of these are very simple and involve pureeing the soup to a fine consistency. However, with the asparagus and ramps on hand, I really wanted to see the vegetables as I was eating them, instead of mashing all the flavors together in a jumbled puree. Hence, I was on my own in soup world, flying by the seat of my pants and throwing in an assortment of veggies and I went along. The result? A tasty, earthy (I can’t say this enough), nutritious, and quite delicious weeknight dinner.
Stinging Nettle, Ramp, and Asparagus Soup
1 large bunch young stinging nettles
1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 bunch fresh ramps
3 medium carrots
3-5 small red potatoes
6-10 cups chicken stock (this really depends on how juicy you want the soup and how big your “bunches” are)
5 cloves garlic (ok, so I love garlic)
noodles – I used whole wheat cavatappi
Being careful not to physically touch the nettles (you can use gloves, or I used tongs), detach the leaves from the tough, stringy stalk. Set aside.
Cut the leaves off the ramps and roughly chop into smaller pieces. Set aside with nettles. Cut the rest of the ramp into inch-long pieces, hacking up the bulb at the bottom a little more.
Break the tough part of the asparagus off the bottom of the stem and cut into inch-long pieces.
Prepare the garlic, carrots, and potatoes in a similar manner. In your soup pan, saute the garlic, carrots, and potatoes in olive oil until the garlic becomes fragrant. Now pour in the stock and noodles and let simmer until the veggies start to just get soft. Toss in the asparagus and some salt and pepper; simmer for 2 more minutes. Take of heat and toss in the nettles and ramps.
Now, in a separate, smaller pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil, then turn down heat to medium-low. Dash in some vinegar (any kind will do), and break an egg into the water. Let the egg sit in there for a minute or two, depending on how runny or not runny you want the yolk, then lift out with a slotted spoon. Serve the egg atop the soup.
Honestly, the egg here really made this a fantastic dinner. The yolk tasted so perfect with the rich, earthy flavor of the nettles. The ramps were delicious, as usual, and the asparagus just really rounded out this soup.