These last two summers I have successfully grown watercress from seed in large tubs at home, starting the crop in the greenhouse and then moving it outside once the threat of a late Dorset frost has passed in May. When I first mentioned to friends and family that I was experimenting with this tangy, peppery green leaf, there was much raising of eyebrows and several snorts of derision. Watercress? In the garden of a country home? Doesn’t watercress need meadows and constant running water?
Well if my experience is anything to go by the answer to those questions is a resounding ‘NO’, but in the early stages I was inclined to think that these doubting Thomases might be right. For weeks after sowing the seed nothing happened. Finally a few specks of green appeared in the tubs, but I managed to convince myself that they were probably weeds. By July, however, a healthy crop of strong-tasting watercress was flourishing and replacing itself quickly after initial pickings. Admittedly my homegrown watercress does need constant watering, but this is a small price to pay for fresh, peppery salads, and the surprise on friends’ faces when presented with a pot of homegrown watercress pesto. My 14-year-old daughter, chief pesto taster and aficionado, claims it to be the best pesto I’ve made and I make a lot, be assured.
My recipe is below. We love to drizzle it over roasted salmon, but our most recent discovery is to boil a few new potatoes, toss them in a generous spoonful of watercress pesto, and top this mouthwatering mixture with a few freshly podded peas to finish. This warm potato and pesto salad idea comes courtesy of my cousin Belinda who told me about her potato and mint pesto salad – another delicious, summer combo that we shall soon be trying.
50g watercress, thick stalks removed
25g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
20g pecorino romano, finely grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
A pinch of salt 100ml extra virgin olive oil
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz on high speed for a few seconds to form a paste. Stir in more olive oil if you like a slightly runnier consistency.