Yes, that's where we keep the salt.
I hate to admit it, but watercress is not one of those things I've spent a lot of time with. Occasionally at restaurants, in salads and sandwiches, but never in my own kitchen. In fact, I am horrified to say, I walked right by the watercress in Rainbow Grocery's produce section, assumed they didn't have it (for some bizarre reason - they always have everything) and purchased it from the Mollie Stone's where I like to buy fish. I was also pleased to find that Mollie sells bags of salted peanuts, a fabulous snack for the non-nut-averse set. But anyway, watercress is not my forte.
That said, I think this soup is great. Especially if, like me, you find you have only two cups of chicken stock instead of the required eight, because a little (er...maybe more than a little) salt can make up the difference. I like to throw it in by the small handful. Its what Campbell's has been doing for the past one hundred and fourty years, so why worry, right? The kids were not so big on the soup - one because he was passed out on the sofa, and the other because it had green things in it. Oh well, more for me!
We added sour dough toast with Ghost Town Farm Goat Cheese, which was delicious, to round out the meal. And now that I've gotten to know watercress, I think I'll plant some out back, since it seems a perfect cool weather green to grow in our foggy garden. When I get out there again, after the rain stops.
While we're on that pesky garden topic - here's my shout out for Urban Sprouts' Greens, Eggs and Jam Garden Brunch fundraiser, on May 1. You'll get to tour the garden at Ida B. Wells High School, located up on the Alamo Square hill, eat fabulous food prepared with ingredients from the garden by NOPA, Radio Africa & Kitchen and Contigo, meet some students and hear live music. How else can you combine such a great bunch of activities on a single San Francisco Saturday?
Urban Sprouts does a great job growing healthy schools and communities through garden based education, as they like to say. They have gardens at several middle and high schools in the city, and a few outside of San Francisco as well. See you there!
Watercress Soup (adapted from Canal House Cooking Volume 3):
2 bunches watercress, stems and leaves separated
8 cups chicken stock
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 waxy potato, peeled and diced
1 handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped
salt & pepper
Gently simmer the watercress stems in the stock, in one of your two big pots, for 15 or 20 minutes. Melt the butter and oil in your other big pot over medium low heat and add the onion, cooking until it is soft and translucent, but not brown. Add the potatoes. Strain the stock into the pot with the onions and potatoes, discard the stems. Add some salt, maybe a teaspoon. Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Finely chop the watercress leaves and add them to the soup with the parsley, season with pepper and taste it, adding salt if needed. Simmer for just a few minutes, then remove from the heat. Serve the soup garnished with a knob (I guess that is a small chunk, if you're British) of butter, spoonful of heavy cream or dollop of creme fraiche. My vote is for the creme fraiche, though we never seem to have any around.