Romance a loved one by preparing dishes featuring watercress, said to be a natural aphrodisiac.
Shakespeare had a point when he wrote that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and what more seductive way is there to romance a loved one than through food? Texture, taste, sight and smell all help to excite, and not just the taste buds.
Watercress has long been believed by many to be an aphrodisiac. In Crete, islanders swear by its powers, with ancient recipes handed down from one generation to the next to keep the passions hot, while in the 1970s an Arab prince was reputed to have had special consignments flown out from the UK, presumably to help him satisfy his harem.
Below are a selection of mouthwatering recipes to help love birds everywhere this Valentine’s Day to get all a flutter over each other by combining peppery watercress with other aphrodisiacs. Now all you have to do is dim the lights, turn on the music and let the evening take its course…
Scallops grilled with Hazelnut Butter, Watercress and Pea Shoots
6 large scallops, cleaned (shells optional for presentation)
1 tsp olive oil
75g butter, softened
Zest of half a lemon
1tbsp chopped chervil
Salt and pepper
FOR THE SALAD
Half tbsp wholegrain mustard
Half tbsp white wine vinegar
1 and a half tbsp sunflower oil
Handful pea shoots
Place a frying pan on a low to medium heat until warm. Finely slice the shallot, then fry gently with the olive oil until softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add the hazelnuts to a food processor and pulse until chopped quite finely. Be careful not to blend for too long so that they do not form a paste. Into a bowl add the soft butter, hazelnuts, softened shallots, lemon zest, and chervil. Mix and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat the grill to high. If using scallop shells, place each scallop on an individual shell on a baking tray. If not the scallops can be placed directly onto the tray. Top each scallop with a spoonful of the hazelnut and butter mixture. Once the grill is ready, place the scallops underneath for three to four minutes, then remove and set aside to rest for one minute.
Make the salad by whisking the mustard, vinegar and vegetable oil together in a bowl. Taste and add salt if necessary, then add in the watercress and pea shoots and toss together.
Serve the rested scallops on two serving plates with the salad on the side.
Gnocchi Alla Trapanese (vegetarian)
20g toasted pine nuts
1 clove garlic
30g watercress (leaves only)
20g vegetarian parmesan
250g cherry vine tomatoes, halved
50g green beans, trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
Bring a deep pan of salted water to the boil.
Peel and finely chop the garlic, then add to a bowl along with a pinch of sea salt and mix. Add the pine nuts to a food processor and pulse once or twice, just enough to break them up but not too finely. Add to the bowl with the garlic.
Finely chop the watercress leaves and stir into the garlic and pine nuts along with two tablespoons of olive oil. Grate in half of the parmesan then mix and season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Add the cherry tomatoes to the pesto, crushing with a spoon to release the tomato juices, and mix thoroughly.
Add the green beans to the boiling water for four minutes, then remove from the pan, leaving the water on the heat. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook for two to three minutes, or until they float to the surface. While the gnocchi cooks, chop the green beans into 3cm lengths and add to the pesto and tomatoes.
Drain the gnocchi, reserving about 250ml of the cooking water in a separate jug. Tip the pesto mix and gnocchi back into the warm pan and place over a low heat, stirring and adding a bit of cooking water at a time until everything is heated through and fully mixed. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
In clean bowl, add a tablespoon of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the rocket and toss to cover.
To serve, divide the gnocchi between two plates, then scatter over the rocket and grate the remaining parmesan on top. Finish with some freshly ground black pepper.
Rack of Lamb with Hasselback Potatoes, Winter Brassicas and Red Wine Sauce
1 rack of lamb, French trimmed
300g Charlotte potatoes
50g mixed chard
Salt and pepper
Knob of butter
FOR THE SAUCE
250ml red wine
500ml beef stock
3 shallots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
Knob of butter
Remove rack of lamb from fridge 30 minutes before cooking to allow to come up to room temperature. Season with salt and pepper and preheat oven to 190°C.
Prepare the kale by removing the stalks then finely slicing. Slice the chard then mix together with the watercress and kale in a bowl.
For the potatoes, take a wooden spoon and place each potato in turn into the bowl of the spoon. Slice along the potato horizontally at about 3mm intervals. Place a baking tray on a moderate heat on the hob and add the 50g of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Heat until sizzling, then place the potatoes into the tray, sliced side down. Carefully put the hot tray into the oven for 40 minutes, turning the potatoes halfway through the cooking time.
Meanwhile, sear the rack of lamb in a heavy-based frying pan on a high heat, fat-side first, ensuring that all sides are golden brown. Place the lamb into the oven on a roasting tray and cook for 15 minutes before removing from the oven. Check the cooking of the meat by inserting a metal skewer close to the bone in the centre of the rack, the skewer should feel warm to the touch for pink lamb. If the skewer feels cold, then return the lamb to the oven for a further five minutes before checking again. For well done, cook until the skewer feels hot to the touch. Once the lamb is done to your liking remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least five minutes.
To make the sauce, fry the shallots and garlic in the butter until caramelised. Add the red wine, then simmer until reduced to a syrup. Add the beef stock and continue to simmer until the sauce has reached the desired consistency. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and return to the heat while you cook the winter vegetables.
Dark Chocolate Fondant with Watercress Sorbet and Honeycomb (vegetarian)
FOR THE SORBET (MAKES 1 LITRE)
50g caster sugar
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
120ml apple juice
60ml lemon juice
FOR THE HONEYCOMB (MAKES 1 TRAY)
200g caster sugar
60g golden syrup
200ml glucose syrup
20g bicarbonate of soda
FOR THE FONDANTS
50g plain flour
85g caster sugar
85g dark chocolate, chopped
Extra soft butter for lining moulds
Cocoa powder for coating moulds
First, make the sorbet. Bring the water and sugar to the boil, then add the apples and simmer until they are cooked through and soft. Add the watercress then remove from the heat and leave to rest for one minute. Place the mixture in a blender and blend until as smooth as possible, then strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool in the fridge. Finally, pour the mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a storage container, cover tightly and freeze for at least half an hour or until ready to serve.
To make the fondant mix, add the chocolate and butter to a heat-proof bowl and place over a pan of boiling water until melted. Remove from the heat then allow to cool for a few minutes before mixing in the flour, sugar and eggs. Allow to cool.
While the mix is cooling, use a pastry brush to evenly coat the inside of two 8cm metal moulds with soft butter. Once coated with butter, add a tablespoon of cocoa to each and keep tipping the moulds round until the entire inside is coated with a fine layer of flour. Tap out the excess. Split the mixture evenly between the moulds and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before cooking.
Make the honeycomb by first lining a deep 30x20cm tray with parchment paper. Add the sugar, golden syrup and glucose syrup to a large heavy bottomed pan, then place over a medium-high heat and cook until it turns a golden-brown caramel colour (or 165°C on a sugar thermometer). With your lined tray ready, tip the bicarbonate of soda into the pan in one go and whisk in quickly. The mixture will bubble up so be careful at this point, it will also be very hot.
Tip the mixture immediately into the lined tray, then give the tray a couple of taps to release any large air bubbles. Allow to cool and set. The honeycomb can be broken up and stored in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.
Finally, preheat the oven to 190°C. Put the chilled fondants on a baking tray and place in the centre of the oven and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until a crust has formed on the top and the fondant has started to come away from the sides of the mould. Remove from the oven and rest for one minute before turning out onto a plate.
Serve with a scoop of watercress sorbet and scattered pieces of honeycomb.
For more mouthwatering recipes visit www.watercress.co.uk