The white-flowered chickweed, Stellaria media – not to be confused with the toxic red-flowered scarlet pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis – has soft, juicy leaves and tender stalks that are by no means as fragile as they seem.
Hens and their chicks adore it – hence the name – as do pigeons and rabbits, though this seems to make no difference to its ability to overrun the vegetable patch. No matter – at least it’s edible. Once it takes hold, it never lets go, spreading itself everywhere at the merest hint of rain. However heavily cropped, it renews itself till winter takes hold and the ground’s so hard that nothing will grow.
To crop, pull up the whole plant, pick off the stringy white roots, and rinse thoroughly. The flavour when raw is sweetcorn and pea sprout: delicious on a potato salad, or combined with tender young leaves (mâche, baby spinach, lettuce hearts) dressed with nut oil and a squeeze of lemon. To prepare as a cooked vegetable (be warned: two close-packed cupfuls of the raw material deliver just one tablespoonful when cooked), pack into a pan with the water that clings after rinsing, shake over a high heat for a minute or two, drain thoroughly and treat as spinach, chopped or not, as you please.
Just toss with melted butter, or stir into mashed potato, or fold into a cream sauce, or combine – as does Michel Bras, sometime chef-patron of Laguiole in the Aveyron – in a delicate stuffing of breadcrumbs, cream and egg yolk for rolled-up fillets of flatfish.