Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peasant-Style Foraged Nettle & Ham Bone Stew

Some weeks ago I stumbled upon this post for a recipe called "Green-as-Spring Veal Stew". The blog post was based on a recipe from a book called "Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan. After reading it over I knew I had to do a wild version of my own.

Vibrant & tasty wood nettles
There are many things I like about the original, and many more things I don't. The dish is clearly based on French peasant fare (which I love): it's rustic, simple, cooked long and slow, and very hearty. But then it veiered away from its roots, I think the author took it "upscale".

What I like about European peasant fare, or Southern Soul Food, or Western frontier food, or any number of others, is that you make do with what you have, use what is cheap, what is in season, and you make a lot out of a little. You don't waste, and you don't take anything for granted.
Eastern box turtle among the may apples.
They are listed as threatened, mostly due to habitat loss.
So I wanted to do a version which I felt would take the recipe back to its peasant roots. I choose to use wild spring greens (wood nettles) in place of the garden-grown spinach and arugula. I also chose to make the stock with the skins of carrots and potatoes, and to not discard the fleshy innards. And finally, I choose an affordable--and leftover--pork bone over the expensive veal. I personally don't eat veal anyway, both for ethical and health reasons.

The taste was really unbeatable. The stock is slowly brought to maximum flavor, full of the richness you can only get from the collagen of bone and pork fat, but with an earthiness of the sweet potato and carrot. The fresh nettles add a brightness that is unmistakably spring. Finally the tang of sour cream brings everything together and adds creaminess.

Peasant-Style Foraged Nettle & Ham Bone Stew

Serves 4 as a main course, can be doubled. 
The meal is slow-cooked, and start to finish takes just over 2 hours.

The skins on the right are saved to make the stock
1 large, meaty joint bone, from a picnic shoulder ham
4 cups of packed nettle leaves and young shoots
3 medium carrots
2 medium sweet potatoes, or 3 regular potatoes
1/2 of an onion, roughly chopped
8 cups of water, or more
1 bay leaf
1 tbs garlic powder
1/2 cup sour cream, plus more to serve
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Good sized, meaty ham-bone
  1. In a large stock pot, bring 4 cups of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pork bone and let simmer for 30 minutes. Add more water, if needed, to completely submerge the joint. 
  2. While the ham bone is simmering, skin and chop your potatoes and carrots into bite size--save the skins!
  3. After the meat has simmered, skim off the "scum" that will have risen to the top. 
  4. Place your potato and carrot skins, plus the chopped onion, and the bay leaf onto a piece of cheesecloth. Gather up the sides, and tie with a bit of twine, into a little pouch. Alternatively, you can put them into a tea-infuser, or, use a steamer basket that will fit inside your stockpot. Worst case scenario--you can just dump them loose into the stockpot, and fish them out later. 
  5. Add the garlic powder and veggie scraps to the stockpot, adding more water if necessary to cover, and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for one hour. 
  6. After the stock has simmered for an hour, remove the veggie scraps and discard or compost. Add the chopped carrots and potatoes to the stock pot, and cook for another 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
  7. While everything is cooking, bring another 4 cups of water to a boil, in a second pot. Roughly chop your nettles, and add them to this boiling water. Boil for a full 5 minutes, then strain. 
  8. Remove the pork and root veggies from the stock pot. Measure out 3 cups (freeze the rest for another dish).
  9. Working in batches, if needed, add the 3 cups of stock and blanched nettles to the food processor. Alternatively, you could use an immersion blender. Process everything until reasonably smooth. 
  10. Strip the meat away from the pork bone and chop into bite-sized pieces.
  11. Return the nettles and stock, carrots, potatoes, and pork to the pot. Bring everything back up to temperature and taste. Adjust for salt and pepper. 
  12. Add the sour cream and bring everything back up to temperature, stirring constantly, but do not boil. Taste once more for salt and pepper, and adjust as needed.
  13. Serve immediately, with a dollop of sour cream on top.


  1. Sounds wonderful. There are plenty of nettles around here, so I will have to give this a try!

    1. It was really great. I wish I had made more!

      I love CSAs! I wish you the best of luck, and I will definitely keep posted on your site when you are fully up and running!