We had a mild winter here on the Island, with plenty of rain and a tad of snow.
Spring came earlier, with daffodils starting their bloom by the third week of March.
Even though the air was still biting, peepers had started their spring chorus and I figured I should check to see if the wild watercress was coming in. The March sunlight was bright and strong and spring was pushing ahead. My hunch was right and the gorgeous emerald green and rust-tinged leaves were cranking away over the chilly babbling stream.
Many know about the watercress spots on the Island, but we do not advertise such knowledge; it’s the unspoken code to preserve the magic.
Watercress is a species of aquatic flowering plant in the cabbage family “Brassicaceae.” It is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans. The leaves are a deep emerald green, clean since they are growing in water, and have thick branch-like bunches. Watercress is very rich in vitamin C, and potent antioxidants.
I love the crunchy texture and the spicy, peppery, green flavor. Back in the early 1980s, I was cooking at the original Vineyard Ocean Club restaurant at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. Watercress was put on plates under grilled meats with some lemon and salt. It held up well, keeping its crunchy texture.
At the end of that decade when I was chef/owner of the Roadhouse Restaurant in West Tisbury, I had a very popular salad on the menu — watercress salad with baked goat cheese, delicious!
Watercress is a hearty, versatile green that can be the star of any salad, or even gently sautéed with eggs or as a side vegetable. Though a seasonal treat, watercress is available year-round at markets.
This watercress salad is filled with flavor; feel free to add some grilled fish or meat to make it a full meal.
Watercress Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts and Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
2 bunches of watercress, washed and spun dry. ⅓ cup pine nuts, lightly baked. (Pine nuts are not cheap, but worth it. They bake very fast, so watch them in the oven so they do not burn.) ½ cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
2 garlic cloves, peeled 1 shallot, small size, peeled and halved ½ tsp. salt Black pepper 1 cup basil leaves 2 Tbsp. lemon juice 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor, chop the garlic and shallot together. Add salt and pepper, and be sure to scrape the sides so everything is evenly chopped. Add basil leaves, chop. Leaving the machine on, add lemon juice and vinegar and slowly drizzle olive oil in. Stop and scrape the sides again. Turn the processor back on until completely combined as a liquid puree.
In a salad bowl, gently toss the watercress with basil vinaigrette.
To serve, top with pine nuts and plenty of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.