Posts tagged ‘watercress’

May 13, 2009

Creamy Watercress Sauce over Pasta with Asparagus

What the heck do you do with watercress? Let alone, what is watercress?

I know this short, leafy plant likes to grow in wet, swampy areas and it has a very short growing season. At first I was throwing it into salads, mixing it in with other greens, but you don’t get a very clear idea of its unique contribution. Occasionally I would nibble on a leaf and notice it was kind of spicy (like the aftertaste of a radish or the kick of a leek – but not pungent, more fresh). At a loss for what to do with my watercress, I hunted through the internet for some delectable recipe.

I was inspired by a recipe I saw for Pasta with Creamy Watercress Sauce but lacked many of the key ingredients (namely the creme fraiche). I decided, however, to throw together my own version of a creamy watercress sauce based on a household favorite, the Bernardi Sauce.

The Bernardi Sauce is a basic butter, milk and flour roux, which Eric learned from his Italian teacher back in undergrad. It cooks up fast, and with that flour in the pan – you can barely leave its side. It’s fairly high maintenance, as far as sauces goes. It’s good to have your ingredients ready to go before you turn on the heat.

I started by roughly chopping up all of my watercress and putting it in the blender. I let it sit there, waiting for the Bernardi Sauce.

After thoroughly washing the asparagus (removing the gritty, sandy soil that gets caught in it), I cut the stalks into two inch pieces. I placed these in a small sauce pan and added olive oil. I sauteed them over a medium high heat for four or five minutes then added salt, pepper and garlic powder and reduced the heat.
With the asparagus well under way, I started on the Bernardi Sauce. Once I seasoned the white sauce to taste, I poured it over the watercress in the blender. In order to obtain a creamy sauce with a smooth consistency, I let the sauce blend for quite a long while. Meanwhile, I mixed the pasta and asparagus. Beautifully green, and blended to perfection, I poured the sauce over the pasta and sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top.

My only regret: sour cream. I wish I had added sour cream to the watercress before adding the Bernardi Sauce. Watercress’ peppery taste is a very back-of-the-mouth flavor, and I think a hint of tartness or sourness would have rounded out the flavors nicely. Otherwise – delicious! and repeatable.


May 8, 2009

A Use-Every-Green Stir fry

In this Photo: dandelion greens, crimini mushrooms, bok choy, ramps, chives, mustard greens, parsnip, mung bean sprouts, radish greens

In this Photo: dandelion greens, crimini mushrooms, bok choy, ramps, chives, mustard greens, parsnip, mung bean sprouts, radish greens

When the new box of produce arrived from Vermont Valley, a sense of panic came over me as I took stock of what remained from last week’s harvest. The good news is, those leafy greens really cook down. I pulled everything left over from last week’s delivery (except the spinach) out of the fridge and decided on a stir fry. I called Eric, who was on his way home, and let him know that if he wanted to add anything else to the stir fry he had better pick something up at the store.

We are lucky to live nearby what I consider to be the best grocery store, ever. The Willy Street Co-op is one of the reasons Eric and I moved back to Madison, WI. It’s that great. As a locavore (of sorts), I appreciate how Willy Street highlights their local produce with purple signs. “Local” can be a rather controversial label – how many miles away is local? Willy Street defines local as anything produced in Wisconsin or anything produced 150 miles away from Dane County. During the height of Wisconsin’s growing season, Willy’s produce department becomes a sea of purple tags. Guided by the purple signs, Eric located some crimini mushrooms, mung beans from Troy Community Farm, as well as a parsnip.

Meanwhile, I was plotting a side dish: Watercress and Radish Salad.
In this photo: sunflower oil, white wine vinegar, radish, fennel, watercress

In this photo: sunflower oil, white wine vinegar, radish, fennel, watercress

I was inspired by a red cabbage coleslaw I had at Marigold Kitchen. Fennel was the eye-opening ingredient, and I was excited to try combining it with watercress. A relative of the mustard greens, watercress has a rather unique flavor – somewhat musky. After cutting the watercress into thin slices, I added grated radish. The dressing was simple: white wine vinegar, sunflower oil, fennel, salt and pepper. Perhaps I got a little too excited about the fennel – it’s flavor dominated the salad. Nonetheless, the flavor combination was de-lish, worthy of being repeated and perfected.

The stir fry took very little time – once all the ingredients were chopped. The mushrooms, parsnip, bok choy and ramps went in the HOT frying pan first, with a little sunflower oil. Once the parsnips softened a bit, I added all the greens and sprinkled soy sauce over the top. Using tongs to keep the ingredients moving, I let it cook for only a minute or two. Once on the plate, I sprinkled some mung bean sprouts on top and served it with basmati rice and watercress/radish salad.

May 8, 2009

Finding the Community in CSA

On Thursday evenings, sometime between 4 and 7pm, Rosie and I take a short walk to our CSA pickup location. It’s only six blocks away. When we arrive at our neighbor’s house, we head straight back to their open garage, where 8 white bins filled with the week’s produce are stacked on top of each other. With a pencil, I scratch “Mahollitz” off the list of family names, and transfer the greens from the reusable bin into my cloth grocery bag.

In this Photo: tatsoi, radishes, spinach, scallions, sorrel, Claremont lettuce, watercress, salad mix

In this Photo: tatsoi, radishes, spinach, scallions, sorrel, Claremont lettuce, watercress, salad mix

Inevitably, during this time Rosie and I meet someone new. Last week we met the young family who lives at our pickup location. A girl in her early teens was carrying a violin case. Her school-aged brother was clearly intrigued by my little Boston Terrier, but too wary to pet her. The littlest was a thumb-sucking, waddling girl. Dad was shuffling his family into the house, mumbling something about getting dinner started.

Yesterday, we met Betty. Betty thought Rosie was awfully cute, and wanted to know all about Boston Terriers. We chatted a little bit about radish greens, which I confessed to being unfamiliar with. She told me her daughter, with whom she shares her CSA, likes to saute them in stir fries. We said we would see each other next time.

These short experiences of connection with neighbors are just as life-giving as the food itself. Our friendships are small, nascent at best – but like all things in Spring, there is time to grow.

When I joined our CSA (community supported agriculture) through Vermont Valley Community Farm I was not only looking for great tasting food that supports a local economy and reduces gas consumption – I was looking for connection. Here is a quote from the Slow Movement website that resonates with me:

We are searching for connection. We want connection to people – ourselves, our family, our community, our friends, – to food, to place (where we live), and to life. We want connection to all that it means to live – we want to live a connected life.

Thankfully, eating locally provides several opportunities for connection. Eating locally, for me, is an act of cultivating community. I talk with the folks at my CSA drop off point. I return to the vendors at the Farmer’s Market and let them know how last weeks purchase went. My friends and I share stories of how to prepare ramps, or we rejoice in the appearance of asparagus at the Market. Food easily becomes the center around which we come together, and when it’s local – you don’t have to sit at the same table to share in the same sense of abundance.

May 1, 2009

May Day and Fresh Greens

Spring is officially here, and with the arrival of our first CSA box(community supported agriculture) we are excited to return to a more locavore way of life. Thank you Vermont Valley Community Farm!!

I’m not one to drool over a salad, but when I saw these fresh greens I about cried.

In the Photo Above (from left to right, top to bottom):

Red Oakleaf Lettuce (Oscarde variety),
Saute Mix (spicy Red Giant Mustard, Southern Giant Mustard, Green Wave & Mizuna),
Salad Mix (green lettuce, endive, red beet greens),
Dandelion (Catalogna and Red Rib varieties),
Bok Choy,
Arugula, and

It is a bit daunting to see our fridge full of greens (and a few radishes) that I have little idea of what to do with. What does one do with radish greens? What the heck is watercress? Vermont Valley has, however, posted some recipes to help us newly converted locavores eat all the food we receive.

This morning, we started off with something simple: a Chive Omelet stuffed with mushrooms, carrots and dandelion greens served with oven roasted potatoes.


Cut potatoes into small cubes and place in a bowl. Add oil, salt and pepper and fresh rosemary (if you’ve got some). Spread on a cookie sheet and cook in the oven at 400 degrees until brown on the outside and soft in the middle.

Sautee minced carrot(s) for 2-3 minutes in some oil or butter over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for additional 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and mix dandelion greens in just so they warm up just a tad.

When potatoes are almost done, mix 3 eggs with diced chives and minced garlic. Add salt and pepper and whisk briefly with a fork. Heat frying pan on medium-high heat and add the egg mixture. DO NOT futz with the eggs. Let them sit and cook for a moment, occasionally tipping the pan to let the runny mixture to slide to the edge of the pan. Lift up the edge of the omelet and let the runny bits drip beneath so they can cook.

When omelet starts to look brown underneath, add the stuffing in the middle. Gently fold over the egg on top of the goodies and let if cook a bit longer.

And Voila – you have got a yummy, partially locavore meal.