Nettle Soup

Mention something for nothing and my eyes generally light up - that's how I came to be making nettle soup.

The first thing to do is persuade someone to pick a bowl of young nettle tops for you. This is the best way I've found of doing it without getting stung! Luckily, Pauline eventually gave in and obliged.

Stinging Nettles in a bowl

Wash the nettles.

Wash the nettles

Meanwhile peel and chop a potato, onion and optionally, a little celery and a garlic clove.

Soup ingredients

Cook all the ingredients except the nettles in a little oil for about 5 minutes before adding a pint of stock or water. Don't let the veg colour.

Simmer the veg

Simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes until the potatoes are soft then add the nettles. They'll cook down in no time

Add the nettles

Cook for about a further 3 minutes and then allow to cool slightly before liquidising the soup.

The nettles cook down

The 'finished' soup.

Liquidise the soup

When I say finished, well I guess that depends on whether you like nettle soup. Pauline, my resident food critic (and wife) tasted it, and drawing on years of eloquence, declared: "That's 'Orrible!". Doh! back to the drawing chopping board.

Adding a couple of sprigs worth of mint leaves...

Adding mint leaves

...and a dollop of double cream...

Nettle and mint soup

...has produced a soup that's a lot more palatable and very reminiscent of pea and mint.

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It says it all really. In England we eat this:

Beans and Sausage on toast

In France they have this:

Cassoulet of beans, Toulouse sausage, ventreche bacon and duck confit

Now, not wishing to come over as a food snob (albeit I am!) I have to admit to having Heinz Beans & Sausage towards the top of my "So bad they're good" list! However, I draw the line at this cheaper copy of the Heinz rubbish. It reminds me of Humphrey Bogart's character, Rick in Casablanca talking of Ugarte (Peter lorre): "I don't mind a parasite... ...I object to a cut-price one!"

Anyway, back to the Cassoulet. Over the past few weeks I've made the meat ingredients: Ventrèche Bacon, Toulouse sausage and Confit Duck Legs, so it was just a case of finding a good recipe. I settled on this cassoulet recipe - one that fellow sausage maker Ian Hoare from Forgès in the Limousin recommends. I made a half quantity and it was more than enough for four people - the left-overs were great on toast the next day. I didn't have any pork rind to hand so left this out.

My only regret is that, as is traditional, I pushed the brown crust that forms during the cooking back down into the beans with a wooden spoon six times which broke the pieces of pork and duck up more than I would have liked.

The recipe is:

Cassoulet De Castelnaudary

1000gm white haricot beans; pre-soaked overnight
1 med onion; stuck with a clove
1 stalk celery; washed
50 g carrots; peeled & quartered
1½ tablespoon tomato puree
500gm Ventrèche, salt belly of pork; remove rind and keep
2 tablespoon duck fat; from confit
2 legs Confit Duck Legs
350gm Lautrec sausages
bouquet garni
1 litre stock

2 cloves garlic chopped together with 25 g fat from raw ham, and 1 shallot, chopped
salt and black pepper

Boil the beans in plenty of water for 10 minutes then drain. Boil the stock and add the beans, garlic, ham fat, shallot, tomato puree, all the veg and the bouquet garni, in fact everything but the duck fat, salt and meat. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer. Cut the Ventrèche and sausage into large chunks and separate the duck thigh from the drumsticks. I also removed the duck bones. Brown the meats in the duck fat and set aside the sausage and confit of duck. Add the Ventrèche to the beans and simmer until the beans are nice and soft (about 1½ hours).

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Layer the beans and meat (except the confit) into a casserole with beans on the top and bottom. Cook for an hour before increasing the temperature to 170°C, adding the confit and cooking for a further hour uncovered. When a crust forms push it gently back into the bulk. If it dries out add some boiling water to keep it moist.

Cassoulet of beans, Toulouse sausage, ventreche bacon and duck confit

Nice as it is prepared this traditional way, it would also be superb with the confit duck leg roast or fried separately and served on top of the beans.

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