Watercress Soup Again - april 28, 2010

Watercress is growing on me. Its flavor is still a bit unfamiliar, which doesn't happen all that often now that I'm old, so I'm really enjoying it. 

My husband and I ate this soup again tonight, with some yummy corn cheddar bread from Arizmendi Bakery, one of my favorites in SF. They also have the best pizza in the world and are absolutely the top place for english muffins, though they go stale quickly. I wish they would sell them wrapped in a big plastic bag, so I could keep them longer in the fridge. For some reason ziplocs just don't seem to work as well as professional bread bags. Another gripe I have about Arizmendi is that they don't have a bread slicer. I'm sure its not correct on some level to slice your bread ahead of time and make it go stale quicker, but its just so practical. I am unable to cut slices of bread properly for sandwiches, and it drives me nuts. So I wish for pre-sliced bread. Is that so wrong?

Tonight my kids ate leftovers, which freed me up to cook my soup alone and in peace. What a wonderful evening! I even didn't have to give them a bath. I cannot remember if they ate the watercress soup last time we had it, I'd bet not, as it has lots of green stuff in it, but sometimes they surprise me. I'm sure the bread would have been popular.

Most of the meals we cook are simple and usually fast and easy, with a few exceptions. They tend to rely on a somewhat fully stocked pantry - onions, olive oil, herbs, spices, nuts, dry beans, etc. - but you can usually substitute in other items if you don't have all of the ingredients. I make many things from scratch like chicken stock, breadcrumbs, and salad dressings  because they just taste better than what I've found in the stores. You don't have to, but I'll try to include recipes for those things too.

I cook seasonally, since we get two locally grown produce boxes (one is mostly fruit, one mostly veg) every week and have our own garden. But that said, the seasons in San Francisco are a bit different than other places, so I am lucky enough to get to eat a lot of produce typically grown in the spring and always have fresh salad. I don't though, grow my own tomatoes or melons. Its just too cold here.

If you're wondering what to do with one of those odd seasonal (or un) items you may happen to have, you can use the search feature on my blog page to look for recipes containing a particular ingredient (watercress, for example). Sometime soon I'm hoping to have the recipes I've written about available in recipe-box notecard format, so you can download and print them out for yourself. I'll do that in my copious spare time, of course.

One last thing, I'm always looking for feedback on the recipes I post and also for new recipes. So if you happen to have a favorite, please post it as a comment, with a few words about what makes it great. When I get the ingredients your recipe requires, I'll give it a try.

Now for the watercress soup - really the only thing I have to say since making it last time is that the parsley makes a difference and that chopping the onion and leaves finely is a good thing to do. This time I got a little lazy, and the larger bits weren't quite as nice as really small ones. 

The chicken stock in this recipe is a major flavor player, and its really easy to make your own.  After we roast a chicken or cut one up for parts (I always buy whole chickens so I can make stock) I just dump the bones in a crock pot full of water along with a peeled and quartered onion, one carrot cut into about four chunks and two pieces of celery also cut into chunks. Then let it cook on low overnight. In the morning, I strain the stock into wide mouth jars and freeze it, or just leave it in the fridge if I'll be using it within the week. Its so much better than the funky organic stuff that comes in cartons, or the MSG laden super salty stuff that comes in cans.


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.


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