22 May 2012

Anushka and Amazing Asparagus

Spring arrives just about the time my friend Anushka appears at The Thorn with the first of her fantastic homegrown asparagus. There isn’t any warning; one morning she just will breeze into the kitchen with a wooden box laden with her beautiful bunches and continues to deliver until she hasn’t any more to pick. And that’s it; we don’t have any other supplier before the season, or after. During the short growing period, Anushka’s asparagus will feature on the menu daily. I tend to keep the dishes simple, perhaps chargrilling the spears and finishing off with a bit of fruity olive oil and a generous grating of pecorino cheese. Her not-so-perfect spears, which are slightly bent or broken, are tucked to the side in a shopping bag.  I often look forward to these little ‘perks’; the tips are usually reserved for a risotto, salad or pasta with the stalks and trimmings going into making a simple, but luxurious soup.

Another indication that spring has sprung is the abundance of tender stinging nettles lining the footpaths and fields here in Mistley. Stinging nettles are extremely rich in calcium and are known to have the highest plant source of iron. In addition to being a super food, nettles are super trendy in California where the plants are now being cultivated for top restaurants and sold by the bundle at farmer’s markets! I feel very lucky to have on my doorstep (literally) this fantastic, wild and free ingredient.

Nettles have an earthly flavour that pairs well with asparagus, especially in soup.  The leaves can be substituted for most dishes calling for cooked spinach; and even make a delicious pesto. A couple of favourite dishes that we will be preparing soon at The Mistley Kitchen are nettle gnocchi with a simple sauce of asparagus tips, butter and Pecorino cheese, as well as a nettle and asparagus risotto.

Harvest the plants while young and tender. Remember to wear long gloves and use scissors and only pick leaves that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals. It is also a good idea to choose plants away from the very edge of the footpath, away from areas where dogs are known to frequent. I usually pick the tender sprouts from the top of the plant. Should you get stung, I find that by rubbing crushed dock leaves, bicarbonate of soda or even toothpaste on the affected area seems to offer a bit of relief.

If you don’t have access to fresh nettles, this soup can be made substituting watercress, rocket or spinach for the nettle leaves. A tasty alternative is to throw a handful of fresh mint leaves, flat leaf parsley or tarragon into the soup before pureeing.


22 May 2012

4 generous portions

  • 500g thin asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium leeks, white part plus 2cm of the green part chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 300g tender nettle leaves, rinsed thoroughly and dried
  • 2 to 3 litres vegetable or chicken stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • lemon juice, to taste


Slice the asparagus spears into 2cm pieces, reserving the tips

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, leeks and potatoes stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture begins to colour slightly, about 10 minutes.

Add 2 litres of stock and simmer, partially covered for 10 minutes after which time, add the asparagus stalks and the nettle leaves. Simmer the mixture a further 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes and asparagus stalks are tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Using a hand held blender or food processor puree the soup until smooth. Pass the mixture through a food mill or sieve into a clean saucepan. Make sure that you press the solids through with the back of a spoon, discarding the fibrous bits.

Return the soup to the stove. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. If the soup appears too thick, add more stock to thin out the mixture. If on the other hand, the soup is too thin, bring the heat up to high and reduce the soup to the desired consistency. Add sea salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Add asparagus tips and simmer until tender, about 4 minutes. Serve hot or cold.


This soup can be made substituting watercress, rocket or spinach for the nettle leaves. It is also very nice to throw a handful of fresh mint leaves, flat leaf parsley or tarragon into the soup before pureeing. It is also great with a handful of crispy croutons, a grating of pecorino cheese or a swirl of cream added before serving.