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Wild watercress can be seen growing in summer streams, although the vivid green bunches that arrive on the greengrocers’ shelves have been cultivated in special beds with piped running water and are available all year round.
The robust, peppery flavour of raw watercress is delicious in salads, or it may be shredded and added to cooked dishes at the last minute. Some people, however, find watercress too powerful on its own, and prefer it combined with blander ingredients or used more as a flavouring. The shredded leaves are excellent stirred into creamy mashed potato just before serving, or combined with milder lettuce leaves in a salad, in a similar manner to fresh herbs.
Spread savoury scones with thick cream cheese and top with a sprig of watercress, or shred a handful of leaves and sprinkle over an omelette while it cooks.
Choose watercress with large dark leaves and avoid any that is withered, limp or slimy. If a recipe requires only the leaves, simply pluck them off the stems. For salads, part of the stem is often trimmed off, leaving the more tender upper part and juicy leaves.

Watercress soup
SERVES 4
Ingredients: 25g/1oz butter; 1 onion, chopped; 225g/8oz potatoes, chopped; 750ml/26fl oz/3 cups vegetable; stock; 175g/6oz watercress; 250ml/9fl oz/1 cup milk; 4 tbsp single cream; salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Melt the butter in a pan, then add the onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the potatoes, pour over the stock and leave to simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, remove the green leaves from the watercress and roughly chop the stalks. Add the stalks to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes, then stir in the leaves, reserving a few to garnish, and cook for about 1 minute more.

Pour the contents of the pan into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Return to the pan, stir in the milk and bring to simmering point. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved watercress leaves.

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Susannah Blake
Seasonal Food
Available from Nourish Books

 

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