Watercress is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, and the whole plant – the thin and thick stalks, as well as the leaves – is edible. To serve raw, pull into manageably sized pieces that are easy to eat with a fork. If any of the thicker stems are notably tough and fibrous, save them to make today’s “pesto”, or refine them to use alongside the rest of the bunch by piling them up and finely chopping across the grain.
Watercress is easily bruised and doesn’t keep for long, so it’s best to buy it in smaller quantities that you know you will be able to use up. To prolong its life, store in the fridge with the base of the stems in a bowl of water. If it does begin to wilt, give it a quick wash and cook it – watercress can be swapped out for or included alongside just about any green; I especially like it stir-fried whole with garlic and served with a splash of soy sauce.
Watercress pesto is divine, whether you toss it through pasta much as you would a basil-based one, enjoy alongside roast vegetables or use as the base for a salad dressing. Watercress, hemp, orange and blue cheese all go particularly well with beetroot, so dress cooked beets and watercress sprigs with this pesto to make a mind-blowing salad.
Watercress, hemp, orange and blue cheese ‘pesto’
Watercress is a hero ingredient of mine, and so much so that, in my first book, The Natural Cook, I included all of 10 or so recipes that featured watercress, including wilted watercress with mechoui lamb, watercress tempura and puy lentil salad with sundried tomatoes, feta and watercress pesto. Watercress is much more versatile than we give it credit for, and this vitamin-filled green is well worth experimenting with. As well as raw, it can be cooked and used like any other leafy green, simply wilted or mixed into curries, soups and stews.
This is a great recipe for using up an abundance of watercress, especially if there are lots of thick stems, because these need to be processed in order to render them more edible. It can be used in various ways: I love it tossed through homemade, worm-like trofie pasta or linguine, or as a condiment alongside roast vegetables. Here, I use it as a dressing for beetroot. I also like this pesto spread thickly on toast topped with a little extra crumbled blue cheese and a few watercress tops.
Makes About 250ml
2 tbsp hemp seeds (sunflower seeds or other)
50g watercress, washed, shaken dry and roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic, peeled
Juice and zest of ¼ orange
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp cider vinegar
50g blue cheese (or a plant-based alternative)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To serve (optional)
Boiled beetroots, watercress, blue cheese
Toast the seeds in a dry pan for three to five minutes, until they start to crackle and turn fragrant, then tip into a blender and pulse to a coarse meal. Add the watercress stems and leaves, garlic clove, orange juice and zest, oil, vinegar and blue cheese, blend to a smooth puree and season to taste. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to five days. Serve tossed through pasta, alongside meat, fish and/or vegetables, or as a dressing for boiled beetroots and watercress tops.