After almost nine years at Gourmet Magazine, I need a new forum for adventure sharing. My heart is split between country I consider home and a city that keeps me excited. It's food and drink that tie them together.
I spent the better part of yesterday tilling winter rye into the garden. It's fragrant stuff. Not in a great way, either, but in a wheatgrass-juice way. In fact, I find it to be a little nauseating.
As the rye decays into the cool spring soil, it adds nitrogen and other beneficial elements that will help this summer's vegetables thrive. One of the local farmers calls the practice of turning young rye grass into the earth adding "green manure." Given the way it smells, I can see why.
The process requires some foresight. I sowed the rye last October. Now that the garden has been tilled, the ground there is a stark and empty contrast to the rest of the farm, which has (finally) taken on the most brilliant shades of pale green. Aside from the garlic and onions I planted last fall (again, foresight required), the garden is barren.
Luckily, there's a source of edible greens that will fill in the salad gap until the garden is ready. This was the well-thought-out work of my ancestors.
Every year, sometime around early April, watercress starts to pop up in a little spring that feeds into the pond. It grows slowly at first, but then kicks into full gear by the beginning of May. This week, there's so much of it that I could eat watercress for every meal and still not make a dent in the patch. Someone, generations ago, planted it; since then it's been flourishing in the same spot. My father tells me stories of its bounty. My grandfather told the same stories, as his grandfather did. In fact, no one in the family knows exactly when it was planted. A long time ago, for sure.
And it requires zero care. No need to add green manure (or any other kind) to the plot. No need for weeding or tilling or cultivating in any way. It's a gift from well over a hundred years ago, and it's still just as wonderful. Now that is foresight.
Watercress is an exceptionally peppery and crisp green and, of course, it's terrific in salads. But now that there's a ton of it, I like to cook it and serve it alongside roast chicken.
Here's a recipe for Creamed Watercress that uses the starch from a cooked potato for thickener. I add a little mascarpone cheese to round out the richness, but even without the dairy, this is a great version of poor man's creamed spinach.
Photos by Ian Knauer
Creamed Watercress Serves 4-6
1/2 medium waxy potato, peeled
1 Tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided 1 1/2 lb. watercress 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter 1/4 cup mascarpone Freshly ground black pepper
Cut potato into 1/2" pieces. Cover potato with water in a medium pot; add 1 Tbsp. salt. Bring water to a boil and cook until potato is very tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove potato with a slotted spoon and transfer to a food processor. Bring the water back to a boil and add the watercress. Blanch watercress until it's bright green, about 1 minute. Transfer watercress to a colander and press on it to remove as much liquid as possible, then add it and the butter, mascarpone, and 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper to the processor. Puree with the potato. Season to taste with salt and pepper.