spring harvest in Paris : 9


 MAY  ::   watercress — bruschetta w/ watercress pesto recipe

WATERCRESS is one of the earliest known leafy vegetables eaten by humans. A quick growing cool-weather vegetable, it flourishes in spring and autumn. And it is quite an amazing source of calcium, iron, folic acid... I make a watercress pesto and put a dollop on lightly grilled toast... bruschetta style.

Here's the recipe:

 = best to use a high quality extra virgin olive oil, to let the pesto sit a couple of hours to infuse before using, and to serve at room temperature 
= also the idea is to balance the portions of bread and garnish so that neither overwhelms the other, creating a layering of flavor and texture…. 

50 gr / 1.75 oz fresh watercress
1 garlic clove, peeled, cut in half and the sprout removed

2 – 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled and the sprout removed, for rubbing the toasted bread
50 gr / 1.75 oz freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
50 gr / 1.75 oz freshly blanched almonds (or try a mixture of ½ sunflower seeds, ½ pumpkin seeds)
60 - 70 ml extra-virgin olive oil + extra for brushing the toasted bread
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Dense baguette or rustic bread

||| for the pesto 
Cut the stems off the watercress. Wash and spin dry, then lay out on a kitchen towel until completely dry. Remove any stem nodules that remain, but you can leave an inch or so of the stems. Crush the watercress, garlic, and a pinch of coarse unrefined sea salt in a into a paste in mortar (or use a chopper) Add the almonds and crush or chop until finely ground. Add the grated Parmigiano and ½ of the olive oil. Work with the pestle (or chopper) until smooth. Add the remaining olive oil, and feel free to add a few extra drizzles if you wish a more unctuous pesto. Season to taste with unrefined sea salt.

||| for the bruschetta
Turn on the broiler. Cut the baguette into 30 - 40  slices, depending on density of the bread from 1/4 - 1/2-inch thick (or the bread into 2-inch square slices). Toast under broiler on both sides until golden. Generously rub each toast while still hot with a whole garlic clove then brush generously with olive oil. Top with a spoonful of watercress pesto and a twist of freshly ground pepper. You might wish to garnish each bruschetta with a small spoonful of roasted hazelnut olive oil (below), pressing down on the pesto with the spoon to make a slight well and a pinch of chopped black olives.

||| Roasted Hazelnut Olive Oil
1 handful hazelnuts (15 gr / 0.5 oz)
30 - 45 ml good extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt

Preheat the oven to 160 ˚C (325 ˚F)
Spread the hazelnuts out in a baking dish (bring to room temperature if keeping them in the refrigerator) and toast in the oven on the middle rack for 15 -20 minutes, or until the skins begin to blister and the aroma of roasted nuts seeps from the oven. Shake the pan once or twice during roasting. Wrap in a dishtowel and set aside to steam for 5 – 10 minutes.
Vigorously rub the towel between your hands to loosen the skins. I then take them out of the towel by handfuls and rub them between my hands to remove any more skin that is willing. Don't worry about those that refuse to surrender. Coarsely chop and transfer to a small bowl. Drizzle on the olive oil to just cover the nuts.  Set in a warm place (or very lightly warm the olive oil and pour over nuts) and let infuse for 3 - 4 hours. Just before using season with unrefined sea salt to taste. You can also make the oil the night before and leave it out, covered with a kitchen towel. 
Flavored olive oils are best used right away, but can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 days. Do not store longer as dangerous anaerobic bacteria may survive and multiply.

 history : Bruschetta is a typical dish of la cucina povera, eaten by poor rural families. Today, of course, it is served throughout Italy as a savory appetizer, offering itself to an endless variety of toppings. It is sometimes called fettunta in Tuscana, elsewhere panunto. A very regional variation, soma d’aj, from Monferratto in the Piemonte region goes like this: grill your bread slices then rub with garlic while still warm. Top half of the slices with diced tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt, then cover with a second slice to form a sandwich. Soma d’aj was traditionally eaten for lunch by grape pickers during harvest time, accompanied by a bunch of Dolcetto or Moscato grapes.
I like this definition of la cucina povera I found on an Italian website and translated… La cucina povera can be described as the true “art of gastronomy” wherein the simplest of ingredients, all grown on one’s patch of land, were turned into ingeniously savory dishes through the resourceful, instinctive aptitude of peasant women, mothers and housewives, in the quest of nourishing their families.

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