Thursday, 19 May 2011

Beyond the Garnish

Could watercress be the next superfood? Historically it is known to be a blood cleanser and more recently there have been suggestions that it could help to suppress certain cancers. Watercress does indeed contain lots of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidant properties which are all good for our health. That said, it tastes so good and is versatile enough to be used in so many ways that it shouldn’t need to be bolstered by a health PR campaign to make us eat it.

It may be an acquired taste for some people, the peppery flavour can be quite strong and might be a shock to younger palates. My Dad used to stuff it generously into sandwiches, but it was only after several tries that I grew to like it.

Hertfordshire has long been known for commercially cultivating watercress, the Sansom family have been doing so for five generations and Nine Wells Farm in Whitwell near Hitchin, is probably the closest producer to us here in Letchworth.
It is nice to think that we have a plentiful supply on our doorstep, so expect to find it in local delicatessens, farm shops and greengrocers. I have even found bags of supermarket watercress with ‘Herts’ as the place of origin, so you never know.

May sees watercress being celebrated with its very own ‘week’, the perfect time to explore this humble leafy plant. Experiment with it and don’t just leave it to languish as an undervalued salad garnish on the side of the plate.

Having such a robust almost mustard-like taste, it can be used very much as an ingredient, giving flavour as well as the crunchy juicy texture coming from the stalks.
Try it roughly chopped and stirred through mashed potatoes or it makes an interesting filling for an omlette along with some mushrooms and Stilton cheese.
I’ve even made pesto using it, instead of basil, which is lovely stirred through some pasta with smoked salmon.

Watercress Soup
To extract all the gorgeous green goodness, a watercress soup is refreshing and an ideal lunchtime treat, but it is also elegant enough to serve as a dinner party starter.
Take care not to overcook the soup once the watercress is added as this will destroy the flavour and the colour may not be so appealing.

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
25g butter
250g potatoes, peeled and diced
600ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 x bags (about 150g) of watercress, roughly chopped
50ml cream
a little milk if needed
salt and black pepper

In a large pan gently melt the butter, add the onion and cook the onion until soft and translucent but not browned.
Add the potatoes and stock and cook until the potatoes are soft, for approximately 15-20 minutes. When potatoes are almost cooked, add the watercress and cook no longer than 5 minutes. Tip into a liquidiser, add the cream and blend until smooth. Use a little extra milk if the soup seems too thick. Season with salt and black pepper and serve hot. Drizzle with some extra cream to serve.
Food photos: ©childsdesign 2011

My article previously published in Letchworth Living magazine. (May 2011 edition) www.letchworthliving.co.uk


Unknown said...

Yes I think we'll be seeing more of watercress as a superfood... talking super . . what a lovely blog !

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this !

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