CRESS... water that is, and all green peppery spice.
According to Wikipedia... watercress is "one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed" by forest-treading, creek-trekking animals... us included. Actually Wikipedia only mentions us humans...but I imagine other cohabitants of this planet savored it, as well, way back when. No wonder, as it's packed full of vitamins and minerals. And it does speak its feisty mind, on the palate, as do all its relatives of that very populated cabbage family.
One of the participants of my cooking class on Sunday requested we make a watercress risotto, prompted by the photo she'd seen on my website. And since the bunches I've recently seen at my favorite organic markets (open-air and not) are plumply green and super fresh — watercress seems to thrive in spring and autumn, at least around here — and the weather certainly was calling for a menu full of warm comforting food, I decided a better idea was not to be found. So I pulled out my dusty recipe, having not made it in some time and needing to refresh my memory.
I checked to make sure I had my rice, a lovely organic Carnaroli riso, Acquerello, grown in the Vercelli province of the Po Valley in northern Italy. Traditionally used in preparing risotto in Piedmonte, it's plump, long oval grain is packed full of starch and holds its form and crunch during the slow cooking process required for a risotto far better than Arborio rice, the more commonly sold variety of the class of rice in Italy known as "superfino."
I'd find the rest of the ingredients — a part from olive oil I buy from an Italian producer, direct form the hills of Puglia, and wine which I personally carry away from my many adored natural winemakers in the Loire Valley — at the Raspail organic market. Certainly among the jewels there is Philippe Grégoire (l'eléveur du Corbier : in French, but with photos that speak) and his sublime goat cheese... shortly to dwindle with winter's arrival, as the does are dried off (stop producing milk) for 2 months before their next freshness (giving birth) in February.
While there, I couldn't resist buying a beautiful cèpe (porcini mushroom), as they were abundant at the various stands and more than tempting... with all the rain and clement temperatures they seem to be pointing their heads en masse in wood and forest everywhere and there is no lack of willing bodies to bend and feverish hands to gather them.
A few links :
— a friend sent me a Youtube video link this morning on geoengineering : Why in the World are They Spraying,
the sequel to What in the World are They Spraying. Whatever your thoughts, certainly a good thing to be aware of.
— being that it's World Food Day, here is Via Campesina's press statement on agribusiness investments. And here is their video on land grabbing.
— and finally a link to Michael Pollan's article in the NYTimes magazine on Proposition 37 in California, requiring that genetically modified foods carry a label. A good read.
In short, there's never a dull moment ! So keep trekking and go out and buy some watercress and stir up my "Cress-otto" recipe below. We drank lovely white wine, a dry blend of Chenin blanc and Menu pineau, slightly oxidized: Ametrine from Domaine de Bel Air and Joel Courtault, one of those adored winemakers in the Loire Valley.
300 gr / 10.5 oz watercress (leaves and small stems)
350 gr / 12 oz carrots, cut into smallish dice
400 gr / 14.5 oz yellow potatoes (Charlotte, Binje, Yellow Finn…) cut into a bit larger dice – peeled or not
1 large garlic clove, peeled, cut in half, the sprout removed
300 gr / 10.5 oz Carnaroli rice
1 1/4 liters vegetable broth
1 red onion (80-ish gr / 3 oz), coarsely chopped
125 ml dry white wine (room temperature)
45 gr / 1.5 oz butter, room temperature (or 30 ml extra-virgin olive oil)
50 gr / 2 oz Parmigiano Reggiano (freshly grated, room temperature)
50 gr / 2 oz fresh goat cheese, room temperature
Generous handful hazelnuts
Zest of ½ lime
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper
||| Wash the watercress and cut off any long stems and nodules (you can spare the young, tender stems). Spin dry and lay out on a kitchen linen.
||| 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 damp dishtowel and set aside to steam for 5 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 set aside.
||| Turn the oven up to 200 ˚C (400 ˚F). Toss the diced carrots lightly with olive oil to coat then roast on the middle-upper rack until the edges are golden, 15 or so minutes. Remove and salt immediately, and generously. Roast the potatoes in the same manner. Set aside.
||| In a chopper, coarsely pulse the watercress along with the garlic clove and a pinch of sea salt. Add a good drizzle or two of olive oil, just enough to lubricate the mass, and give a quick whir of the chopper. (You can also do this in a mortar and pestle, adding the olive oil at the end, with a more vivid result in flavor...) Set aside.
||| Heat the broth to just below a boil and keep at a simmer while cooking the risotto.
||| Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat until translucent, 2 - 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally and scrapping down from the sides, until the kernels take on a pearly appearance. Do not let the rice burn or you’ll compromise any ability to release its starch. Add the white wine, turn the heat up slightly and and stir until absorbed. You should begin to see the starch forming on the bottom of the pan as the kernels release it. Reduce the heat, add 1 ladle of simmering broth and cook until almost absorbed, stirring occasionally (when you see tracks as you drag the wooden spoon along the bottom of the pan, you're there). Add more broth one ladle at a time, stirring with each addition and allowing it to be mostly absorbed before adding the next ladle. (You can also add the majority of the broth at the beginning, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 10 – 12 minutes, without stirring. Uncover and add more broth as needed…).
||| After 13 – 15 minutes — test for doneness, the rice should still be nicely al dente — add the carrots and potatoes. Stir well and cook for another minute or two, adding a bit more broth as needed — the risotto should be quite liquid or “all’onda” (wavy). Add the watercress purée and cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh goat cheese, lime zest, and butter (or olive oil… butter will, of course, give a silkier texture). Cover the pan and let stand for 2 minutes Remove the lid and stir rapidly (or mantecare) with a wooden spoon to create a creamy consistency. Season with unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
||| Serve immediately in soup plates. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts. (And if you have a few late harvest tomatoes around, chop them up and add to the garnish!)
bon appetit !