Bruton, Somerset. A small town with a growing creative scene. Merlin now calls this west-country wonderland his home. You'll find the recipe and some foraging notes from Merlin below the video.
23rd May 2020 Words: Merlin
ASPARAGUS WITH NETTLE SAUCE, SOFT BOILED EGG AND WILD HERBS
Serves 4 as a starter
1 bunch of asparagus
2 free range eggs
3 large handfuls of nettle leaves, thoroughly washed
Selection of wild herbs (for example: wild garlic, jack-by-the-hedge, sorrel, yarrow, dandelion), washed
4-5 Spruce shoots (if in season)
Large knob of butter
Salt and pepper
Olive oil or rapeseed oil
First prepare the nettle sauce: Bring a large pan of water to a boil and add enough salt so that it starts to taste like the sea. Using gloves, put the nettles in the water and cook for 2-3 minutes before plunging them into iced water. Once the nettles are cold, squeeze all the excess water out of them. You can do this with your hands as there is no longer a risk of being stung. Place the nettles in a blender and add a glug of olive or rapeseed oil. Whizz until you have a smooth bright green sauce that has the texture of a smoothie. You can add a little of the iced water to help it blend to the desired consistency if needed. Season with a little salt and leave out of the fridge so that it comes up to room temperature.
Boil the eggs for 6 minutes and plunge into very cold water to stop them from cooking. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel away the shell and set aside whilst you tend to your asparagus.
Remove the little triangular shaped flaps from the exterior of the asparagus spears and snap off the woody bottoms. In a large frying pan big enough to accommodate your asparagus, melt the knob of butter and let it begin to foam and bubble. When this happens, add your asparagus and spruce shoots and turn down to a low heat. Cook the asparagus gently for 5-6 minutes until they are cooked but retaining a tiny bit of bite. Season with salt and pepper.
To finish, place a generous spoonful of nettle sauce on each plate. Cut the eggs in half and season with a little salt and pepper. Divide between the 4 plates. Cut the asparagus into whatever size inspires you and arrange around the eggs (I like them halved!). Finally, dress the wild herbs with a little cider vinegar and scatter over the top. Enjoy.
A few notes on foraging:
There’s nothing new about foraging. People have been doing it since the dawn of time and although it might not have been particularly fashionable over the last few centuries it has recently become rather trendy. This is mainly thanks to world famous restaurants such as Noma in Denmark who revolutionised the idea of ‘local’ cuisine, building menus around what grows in their immediate vicinity, whether that be wild or cultivated and experimenting with all sorts of different things that one didn’t know could be eaten. Over the last six years or so we’ve seen restaurants all over the world putting wild things on their menus, often buying them at extortionate prices and having them couriered from the country to the city, which I think is quite odd.
I’m not a believer in the idea that just because something that is wild is edible, that we should eat it. It needs to be delicious. Luckily, in the UK we have plenty of delicious wild things to choose from. My personal favourites are wild garlic, elderflowers, sloe berries, sorrel, spruce shoots and nettles but there are many more weird and wonderful things to discover. There is a type of wild chamomile that grows on wasteland and tastes like pineapple called ‘pineapple weed’ and flowers of prickly gorse bushes that give off the aroma of coconut when the petals are crushed. Free things everywhere with potential for deliciousness as long as you are able to identify them
My advice would be to buy a book on wild food. Roger Phillips is the OG and Miles Irving is also brilliant. There are now really good apps for identifying wild plants too. But I would also advise only ever to eat something if you are 100% certain that it is edible. Quite often the apps can be wrong. Even the slightest inkling of doubt would prevent me from tasting something as the consequences can sometimes be fatal. Apart from that, enjoy every moment of discovery and uncover a new world of flavours!
We'd like to thank Merlin, Michelle and Sam Finney for helping this come Together. All filming was carried out strictly with a safe 2m distance.