18 MAY 1962, Page 30

Consuming Interest

Ways with Watercress

By ELIZABETH DAVID POTATO and watercress soup is familiar enough, and very nice too; as the sole adornment of a roast chicken or a steak, a few sprigs of water- cress at either end of the serving dish are symbolic almost of the simplest kind of French restaur- ant cooking; and there, except for its occasional appearance as decoration for an English restaurant plate of hors-d'oeuvre when lettuce leaves are off duty, the uses of watercress ordinarily come to an end, and that seems a pity, for it is as good cooked as in its natural state. This past winter, if past it is, while there was so little salad or greenstuff worth buy- ing and even fresh parsley was scarce, I found watercress a thoroughly loyal standby. The only trouble about it is that it keeps so badly (pre- sumably watercress growers, like the mustard producers, make their profits from the wastage rather than from what is actually consumed). By immersing .a bunch of watercress, stalks up- wards, in a deep bowl of cold water the yellow- ing of the leaves can be staved off for about a day, not much more. Another solution, sup- posing that one has used only a few sprigs out of a bunch, or has been obliged to buy it ahead of time for soup-making, is to rinse the water- cress and cook it very briefly, stalks and all, in a little butter. In a few seconds it reduces down; and in this state retains its flavour and colour and can be kept, if not to be used immediately, in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. Used ex- actly as parsley for a butter to go with steaks and grilled fish, I find it delicious. As an alterna- tive to sorrel, which so many people find too acid even when they can get it, which is not often, watercress provides a more interesting flavouring than the obvious spinach for the soups and purées made from brown lentils and dried white haricot or green flageolet beans which need something a little enlivening and sharp to retrieve them from flatness. And a soup which has much fresh charm is made simply on a basis of the kind of light chicken or meat broth one likes to know how to use up to the best advan- tage. Proportions as follows: To one pint of clear stock, one small bunch of watercress, two tablespoons of grated Par- mesan and the yolk of one egg. Having cooked the watercress in butter and chopped it up very finely add it to the hot stock; stir in the cheese; mix a little of the soup into the beaten egg- yolk: return this to the saucepan, and stir, without letting the soup boil, until the mixture is as thick as cream and no thicker. My article of April 27 about ricotta cheese ended on a tantalising note which was unintended. Here is the recipe which should have completed it and for which there was not then sufficient space.

For a first course of the lightest of Italian cream cheese gnocchi for two or three people beat lb. of ricotta (which for cooking purposes keeps well in the fridge, but allow for loss of weight) with a fork and add 2 oz. of softened or barely melted butter, two whole beaten eggs, 14 oz. each of Parmesan (three heaped tablespoons) and flour (three level tablespoons), seasonings of salt, freshly milled black pepper and plenty of nutmeg. Keep in the refrigerator overnight, of for at least two hours, until firm and therefore easy to manipulate. Take heaped teaspoons of the mixture, and on a floured dish or board roll them into small cork shapes. Poach them for about ten minutes in a large wide pan of barely simmering, lightly salted water. Take them out and into a colander, one by one, with a draining spoon. Transfer them to a shallow heated dish containing melted butter. Sprinkle them with Parmesan and let them stay in a low oven for five minutes. Worlds away from the popular conception of Italian cooking as all bulk and bright colours, these little gnoccni (dumplings' technically, but the word gives too plodding an impression) have finesse, elegance, delicacy; they are worth a try, even when you cannot get ricotta, using unsalted double cream cheese, or sieved home-made milk cheese; so-called cottage cheese will not do.

Exchange of civilities at a Chelsea green' grocer's :

'Those broad beans don't look very fres'h' Haven't you any others?'

'What's wrong with them? They're only tdr eating, aren't they?'