Pete Marczyk and Barbara Macfarlane do not leave their work behind when they leave Marczyk Fine Foods and head for their great old Denver house with a spacious kitchen. They often bring some of their market's best ingredients home with them and cook up a feast, and when they're not cooking at home, they're working with the staff at Marczyk to create recipes for the rest of us to enjoy, usually turning to Whitney Ariss, a home cook and the market's marketing project manager and events coordinator, for inspiration.
At Marczyk's, the first signs of spring -- fiddleheads and nettles -- have arrived in the produce section. "Finally, our eating habits can come out of hibernation," says Ariss, and soon, she adds, "We'll get even more fun stuff like morels, peas and ramps."
And to celebrate these early springtime ingredients, Ariss tracked down this recipe for chilled nettle soup with pickled fiddleheads. "It's the perfect entryway into seasonal eating, because it takes advantage of some really flavorful ingredients that are usually only around for a fleeting period of time in the spring," she says, adding that the soup can be made with just about "any assortment of greens, including watercress, mizuna or even beet greens."
But if you're feeling adventurous, she encourages you to play with nettles. "Their stinging ability is enough to frighten people away," she admits, "but as long as you don't handle thee greens with your bare hands, you'll be just fine." Empty them straight from the bag into a pot of boiling water, she advises, and after five minutes, the sting diminishes. "The flavor is lovely, akin to a combination of spinach and cucumber, and adds a really unique flavor to this delicious and wholesome soup," she says.
Chilled nettle soup with pickled fiddleheads (adapted from a James Beard Foundation recipe) Serves 4
For Pickled Fiddleheads:
2 cups fiddleheads 1 cup rice vinegar 1/2 cup water 3 tablespoons brown sugar 3 tablespoons kosher salt 1 sprig rosemary 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled & crushed 4 whole peppercorns
1. To make the pickled fiddleheads, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the fiddleheads and cook for 3 minutes. Prepare an ice bath while the fiddleheads cook. When the fiddleheads are done, shock them in the ice bath. Strain and set aside. 2. In a medium pot, combine the rice vinegar, water, brown sugar, kosher salt, rosemary, ginger and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain and reserve. 3. Put the reserved fiddleheads in a glass jar or small container, then pour the cooked liquid into the jar, making sure the fiddleheads are completely submerged. Seal the jar or container and refrigerate overnight. (Can be made several days ahead.)
For Nettle Soup:
1 cup parsley 1 cup spinach or other fresh greens 1 cup stinging nettles 2 teaspoons olive oil 1 cup sliced onions 3 cloves chopped garlic 3 cups vegetable stock 1 green tea bag Salt and pepper to taste
1. To make the soup, bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare a new ice bath. Boil the parsley and spinach greens for 1 minute, then shock in the ice bath. Boil the stinging nettles for 5 minutes, then shock in the ice bath. Squeeze the greens dry and set aside. 2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic; sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the water and simmer until the onions are very tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the tea bag, and let it steep for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the tea bag from the pot and discard. 3. Add the reserved greens to the pot and cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Purée the contents of the pot with an immersion blender (or, use a food processor) until smooth and season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the soup for 2 hours.
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To serve, remove the pickled fiddleheads from their liquid. Divide the chilled soup among the serving bowls. Garnish with a few pickled fiddleheads.