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Nettles are known for their painful sting, but their culinary value is often forgotten.

To draw attention to the wonder of the nettle - both in the garden and the kitchen - Blyth Valley Borough Council are holding Be Nice to Nettles Week.

They hope to change the nettle's image from a painful nuisance to an important part of the ecosystem, supporting some of Britain's rarest butterflies and moths. 

It is also useful in the home as a tonic and ingredient.

We spoke to Blyth Valley Borough Council about their scheme and asked chef Sophie Grigson to give us her best recipe for nettle soup.  

Sophie Grigson's Nettle Soup

When you don your washing up gloves and head off to pick nettles, snap off only the top 3in (7.5 cm) or so. The rest will be too fibrous and tough.

Fill an average carrier bagful for this recipe. Before using them, rinse thorougly in a large bowl of water, then nip off the top clutch of leaves and the one or two pairs of leaves below that, discarding the thicker stems and larger leaves. Check through and discard bits and bobs of grass and other interlopers. Drain the nettles well, then they are ready to cook.

Serves 4-6

1 large onion, roughly chopped
450-500g (1lb –1lb 2oz) large potatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thirds
15g butter
1 tablespoon sunflower or vegetable oil
1 bouquet garni (1 or 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of thyme and a couple of stems of parsley, tied together with string)
Roughly 2 litres chicken or good vegetables stock
1 carrier bag of nettles, prepared as above
A squeeze or two of lemon juice
Salt and lots of pepper

To serve: a little double cream, and/or some crisp croutons, or some crisp bacon, broken into small pieces

Put onion, potatoes, garlic, butter, oil and bouquet garni into a large saucepan, cover and place over a low heat. Leave to sweat gently for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now add the stock, salt and lots of pepper and bring up to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then pile in the prepared nettles. Stir, bring back to the boil and leave to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

Cool slightly, then liquidise the soup in several batches. Stir in a few squeezes of lemon juice to heighten the flavours (not totally necessary, but a small improvement, I find), then taste and adjust seasonings.

Shortly before serving, reheat thoroughly, but without letting the soup boil hard. Serve with a swirl of cream and some crisp croutons, or with a sprinkling of bacon pieces.
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