Friday, August 28, 2009
A cool and peppery starter at summer's end
Being a Brit, I’ve always had a fondness for watercress sandwiches, the kind one has for tea with the crusts cut off, but I’ve always wanted to take their sophisticated, contrasting flavors from the tea table to the dinner table. Here, then, is my take on an old favorite, now transformed into an elegant cold soup for a lovely summertime lunch or dinner.
Choose your weapons
The hardware. A chopping/mashing machine of your choice—luddite that I am, I like to use a pestle and mortar, but this is not necessary. Also a hand-held blender/whirring machine, and You a couple of glass bowls.
The ingredients. A bunch of watercress, an avocado, and a ripe pear, three cups of light chicken stock, four-five thick slices of crustless country bread, a good dash of salt, a garlic clove, three tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar, and a lemon from which to squeeze a few tablespoons of juice. You’ll also need a quarter cup of olive oil, plus a teaspoon or two. If you feel so inclined, a tablespoonful of whipping cream won’t hurt.
Let’s get cracking
Peel and chop up the pear into very small dice, squirt with lemon juice, and set aside. Now wash and chop up the watercress leaves and just the tenderest stalks, put into a glass bowl, reserving a little for garnish. There, simple.
While your chicken stock is coming to a low boil, mash up the bread, olive oil, salt, vinegar and tablespoon of lemon juice in your pestle or other mashing implement. Drop the garlic clove in the stock, blanch for 30 seconds, then fish out and add to your sloppy bread mixture. Mash up well. Tip the just-boiled chicken stock over the watercress leaves; this blanches them and adds to the vibrancy of the finished dish. Mix in the bread mixture. Chop up the avocado and add to your mixture. Now whirr everything up with your hand mixer (or food processor). If your soup is too thin, add a bit more bread and whir it into the soup to thicken.
Now chill the concoction for a few hours, and you will end up with a vibrant, peppery, creamy soup. Check for salt, it may need a little more; if you’re concerned about salt add a little more lemon juice instead.
Serve up in little bowls and sprinkle with the tiny pear fruitions––voila! You make of course make bread croutons if you’d rather, but ripe pear adds a luscious contrast. Top with a sprinkling of chopped watercress and, if desired, drizzle on a little cream—et voila! You have a cold, elegant soup with a hint of teatimes past, just perfect for a warm summer’s eve.