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Lady Claire Macdonald: The green and wonderful world of watercress

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You can’t beat the versatility of this nutritious salad vegetable. Try it out for yourself with these two recipes.

I love watercress. This is a bonus because watercress is packed full of goodness nutritionally, and it is a very versatile salad vegetable. There are, though, a couple of things to bear in mind about watercress.

One most important thing is to avoid picking it growing in the wild. The reason? If there are sheep anywhere in the vicinity, there is the risk that the watercress could be contaminated and give the consumer liver fluke.

My mother taught me this and I have abided by it all my life. But we can buy watercress which has been grown in wide wet fields where there is no danger of sheep nearby.

As I write, I am in Hampshire at a family wedding, and we are surrounded by watercress cultivation – hence my inspiration!

The other important thing is the ease of eating it. Watercress is long stems of wide flat leaves, and they can drip dressing down your front if you aren’t careful. I always snip my watercress in a salad, with good scissors this takes only a few snips – it makes all the difference to the ease of eating.

Watercress is packed full of iron and vitamin C and is delicious combined with citrus – the lemon in the sauce –with blood oranges in their season or with ordinary oranges at other times of the year, skin pared off and the oranges chopped – remove any seeds encountered.

A slick of olive oil, salt and black pepper is all that is required to dress any watercress and orange salad – the citrus juice adds enough acidity for most palates.
Watercress makes most delicious souffles and it can be cooked, but it then loses most of its vitamin content. But you can either accompany this souffle with parmesan and cream sauce, or with roast red pepper sauce.

Watercress is available year-round and a salad veg we can make the very most of if we buy it regularly.

At the same time we are contributing in no small way to our own health by eating it.


Watercress souffle

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 25g butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • Grating of nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • About 10 grinds of black pepper
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks, whites in a separate bowl
  • 120g watercress, chopped very finely
  • 120g parsley, chopped very finely
  • Handful of grated parmesan cheese for dusting

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180C Fan/200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. Thoroughly butter 4 large ramekins, then dust them out with grated parmesan cheese.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few seconds before adding the milk, stirring continuously till the small amount of sauce boils gently.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and add the nutmeg, salt and black pepper. Cool for several minutes – 5-7 – then beat in the yolks, one at a time. Lastly, mix in the finely chopped watercress.
  5. Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and whisk them up to a stiff peak. With a whisk, fold them quickly and thoroughly through the watercress mixture.
  6. Divide evenly between the prepared ramekins. Put them onto a baking sheet into the pre-heated oven and cook for 15 minutes.
  7. Serve with this a delicious parmesan or other cheese sauce.

Watercress soup

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, skinned and halved and chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
  • 1 stick of celery, trimmed at either end and very finely sliced
  • 4 small new potatoes, scrubbed and chopped finely – skin left on
  • 750 ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 level tsp salt
  • About 10 grinds of black pepper
  • 200g watercress
  • 150 ml single cream

Method

  1. Heat the oil and over moderate heat fry the chopped onion, sliced celery and chopped new potatoes for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the stock, salt and black pepper, and simmer for 10 minutes. Then take the pan off the heat and cool the contents completely.
  3. Using a hand held blender whiz the watercress into the cooled soup. Stir in the lemon, then the single cream.
  4. Store in a covered jug in the fridge till half an hour before serving cold.

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