Nettle soup with smoked mackerel crostini

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This is a tasty and highly nutritious soup that freezes very well. Feel free to substitute the nettles with other greens such as spinach, watercress or sorrel. For the best flavour, pick young new nettles that haven’t been sprayed. Don’t forget to wear gloves while picking and chopping! The sting goes out of the nettles as soon as they hit the hot stock. Like all green soups, this should not be left to simmer for a long time or it will lose its fresh green colour and flavour.

25g (1oz) butter or 2 tbsp olive oil

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onions

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

600ml (1 pint) chicken or vegetable stock

600ml (1 pint) milk

350g (12oz) nettles, destalked and chopped

For the crostini

2 demi baguettes or 1 thin baguette, cut in half

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 smoked mackerel fillets (about 150g/5oz in weight)

4 tbsp crème fraîche

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp dill

1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (optional)

1 Add the butter or olive oil to a large saucepan on a very low heat and when the butter has melted, tip in the onions and potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and cook for 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned.

2 Pour the stock and milk into the pan, bring to the boil and add the nettles. Cook, uncovered, on a high heat for about 1 minute until the nettles are just cooked – don’t heat them for too long or they will lose their fresh green colour. Remove from the heat and purée until smooth in a blender or using a hand-held blender. Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

3 Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas mark 4, and prepare the crostini.

4 With the baguettes running lengthways away from you, trim the ends of each loaf and then cut the remaining bread into six long thin slices. Arrange the slices on a baking tray crust side down and brush the olive oil over evenly. Bake in the oven for 6–8 minutes or until crisp and golden. Remove and allow to cool.

5 Peel the skin from the mackerel and chop the flesh. Place in a blender with the crème fraîche, lemon juice, most of the dill, chilli sauce (if using) and a little pepper. Blend for a few seconds until smooth. Taste and season with a little salt, if necessary.

6 When ready to serve, divide the mackerel pâté between the cooled crostini, spread evenly and sprinkle with the remaining dill. Ladle the soup into warm bowls, arrange two pieces of mackerel crostini on the side and serve.

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