Cream of Watercress soup and 'Patriot's Celebration' Soup - 'From Tunnel to Table' - two new recipes for Spring

 8a. Cream of Watercress soup, garnished with a swirl of cream and some tiny watercress leaves  8b. 'Patriot's Celebration' Soup - garnished with cream, a Parmesan wafer & a clover leaf.
Cream of Watercress soup, garnished with a swirl of cream and some tiny watercress leaves 'Patriot's Celebration' Soup - garnished with cream, a Parmesan wafer & a clover leaf.
First I must explain my invention of the 'Patriot's Celebration' soup! I wanted to come up with a really colourful and spring-like, healthy, seasonal recipe that anyone could make for part of a Centenary celebration meal perhaps, or for Easter Sunday. I also wanted it to be easy and also freezable so that it could be made ahead if necessary. 
 
The Patriot's Celebration Soup - with the garnish of cream and a parmesan wafer - reflects the 'Green, White and Gold' of the Irish flag and would be a starter with real 'wow' factor for a meal to celebrate the Centenary!  The ingredients apart from the Parmesan would definitely have been available in 1916 if you want to keep it authentic. (You could alternatively use mashed egg yolk sprinkled on top for the 'gold' part of the garnish.)
 
Both soups would make a lovely starter for an Easter meal too or a very satisfying lunch with some nice crusty bread. They would also be a great supper with perhaps with one of the fritatta recipes which we made for Tunnel to Table in March 2015 - the recipe for those is elsewhere.
 
At this time of year home-grown produce is often running short - but we always have spinach and watercress available all year round, either outside or in the polytunnel.  All the ingredients are easily available everywhere - so you could also make either of them all year round.
 
Both of these wonderfully fresh-looking and tasty spring soups are really easy and start from the same base.  
 
They're both suitable for vegetarians, if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
 
They also freeze extremely well. A 500 ml or 1 pint container can be taken out of the freezer, put straight into a pan or microwave and it will slowly thaw as it heats. Bring to the boil, stir well and you have an easy, no fuss lunch or supper in only about 20 mins!
 
The recipe is very flexible and the same base can be used to make many different nutritious green soups. Lettuce and lovage soup, which I make later on in spring or summer with any bolting lettuce, is one of my particular favourites - but baby leaf kale, chicory, broccoli and most green veg work well in it too.
 
Lastly - They're both really healthy! Both watercress and spinach are two of the most nutrient-rich vegetables you can possibly eat. The butter in the recipe helps your body to absorb those nutrients - and tastes great too! If you're worried about the carbs in the potato - an occasional potato doesn't matter so much if you're not eating them all the time. However if you're being very strict - you can substitute cauliflower if you like - it won't affect the flavour too much and will give good results - although not quite as creamy.
 
Equipment:
 
You'll need a large, heavy based saucepan to cook the soups and a food processor or stick blender. 
 
Cream of Watercress or Cream of Spinach Soup
 
Serves 4 greedy people or 5-6 daintier people! - But as you've probably already guessed - we don't do 'dainty' in this house!! 
 
We don't do calorie counting either - because it's the quality of calories that counts - not the number! Never worry about eating natural, wholesome, nutritious food or butter!  It's the empty, unhealthy calories in factory-made, highly-processed low fat spreads and sugar-filled processed foods that damage your health and clog your arteries - you should avoid them like the plague! Why eat out of tins and packets when home cooked food is so easy? And - more importantly - you know exactly what's in it!
 
As usual all the ingredients are organic. Organic ingredients are scientifically proven to be more nutritious and of course contain fewer chemicals. They also contain NO genetically modified ingredients! (We've used nothing but organic here for 40 years since my daughter was born with many allergies - but it's up to you - non-organic alternatives are easily available):
 
Ingredients : 
 
This is a very flexible and easy recipe - like most of my recipes (except baking) exact amounts don't really matter too much so don't worry - it always works! 
"If in doubt always add more is usually my philosophy" - but be careful not to add salt until the end as some stock cubes can be a bit salty.
45g (1- 2oz) butter (you can use a tablespoon or so of olive oil instead if you prefer or if you're vegan - but butter tastes far better!)
 
175g (8oz) peeled and chopped onion (if you're lazy like me and want to avoid too much chopping - it's dead easy to blitz the onion finely in a food processor!)
 
225g (8oz) peeled and diced potato (I like a floury Record or Sante for this, but whatever you have is fine. It is best to dice this as blitzing releases the starch and it tends to stick to the bottom of the saucepan when first cooking)
 
600ml (1 pint) home made (preferably) chicken stock (stock cube made chicken stock/vegetable stock is OK - but home made stock or broth made from bones is healthier and contains many health-giving ingredients not in stock cubes). I use either with equally good results. Kallo organic chicken or vegetable stock cubes are excellent.
 
600ml (1 pint) full fat milk (or 3/4 full fat milk and 1/4 cream, or whatever mix you like - I prefer to use all milk and then add more cream afterwards)
 
225-340g (8oz-12oz) roughly chopped watercress (or landcress) or spinach (for the very green 'Patriot's Soup') or even a mixture of the two - (about 1/2 loosely filled carrier bag when picking - or a bit more if you like it stronger - I use 12oz. With veg I always think if in doubt definitely add more!) A couple of bags of baby leaf spinach (organic is available in most supermarkets now) are about the same weight I think.
 
Freshly ground black pepper to season - you may not need salt so add at the end. For the spinach soup, some freshly grated nutmeg is a delicious addition.
 
To garnish - reserve some small watercress leaves, or for the basic spinach soup some chopped chives, garlic chives or parsley are nice.
For the 'Patriot's Soup' - some freshly grated Parmesan from a block or wedge of fresh cheese (Parmesan wedges are available in all good shops now and I stock up on organic from Sainsburys on my occasional car-sharing trips up to Newry 50 miles away. Please don't use the pre-grated stuff in a packet - it tastes disgusting, is bitter and 'gone-off' already!)  I used double cream and a home made parmesan wafer - the cream disappointingly started to bleed a bit into the soup as soon as it was served so I didn't get a nice, crisp edge - but if I'd had time to half-whip it before garnishing the soup, it would have behaved better.
 
Method:
 
1. Heat the butter in the large saucepan. Remove tops, tails and skins from the onions, chop finely or blitz in a food processor and sweat gently in the saucepan, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until translucent. (putting the lid on for the first couple of minutes creates a little steam which prevents it from sticking too easily. but remove lid when onions are half cooked) Tip - don't wash the food processor - you can use it for chopping the watercress.
 
2Add the peeled and diced potato and stir around to coat. cook for another few minutes.
 
3. Add the stock and milk and bring it all to the boil, adding a few grinds of black pepper at this stage but not salt as the stock may be salty enough.
 
4. Simmer gently over a low heat, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking or burning, until the potato is soft enough to crush easily with a fork or potato masher.(about 15 mins)
 
5Chop the the watercress or spinach finely or (easier) blitz it finely in a food processor.
 
6.  Add watercress or spinach to the stock/milk mixture. Cook for 5-6 minutes with the lid off the saucepan, as doing this preserves the lovely fresh green colour. 
 
7. Process to a creamy green puree with a stick blender, or decant it to a food processor/liquidiser, if you don't have a stick blender (These are much safer and save a lot of messing about as you don't have to decant boiling soup!). If you want a slightly thinner soup just add a little more stock or milk, then taste and season with a little more pepper, and salt if necessary. Stir a light sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg into the spinach or 'Patriot's' soup.
 
8. Serve in warmed bowls and garnish with a blob of creme fraiche or cream - adding watercress leaves, chives or parsley as you wish. This makes it look really swish and is delicious! If you have access to pale yellow wild primrose flowers - these would also look really gorgeous and spring-like on either of the soups, and are edible.
 
9. If you want to make the Parmesan wafer for the 'Patriot's Soup' - just finely grate some and sprinkle it in a band across a heavy ceramic non-stick frying pan. Cook until pale golden brown. As it's cooking, it becomes malleable and you can neaten up the edges if you like with a spatula. You can turn it to brown it more if you like but it's not necessary and they're easy to burn if you're not careful - when they will taste bitter. Alternatively you could use a shamrock or clover shaped cookie cutter if you have one. When they're golden enough, lift out of the pan carefully with a thin silicone spatula to keep their shape and put on a cooling rack or a cold plate. I added an edible fresh white clover leaf at the end onto the cream bit in the middle for a final flourish! 
(These Parmesan wafers also make a really easy fab 'cocktail nibble' - or a great no-carb, high-protein munchie for when you feel like crisps! The only problem is that they're so delicious you won't resist demolishing the lot! They're also great broken up roughly sprinkled onto salads as a garnish.
 
Serve with some fresh, warm, crusty bread. A home-baked additive-free traditional Irish soda bread, or perhaps sourdough loaf would be nice.
 
1, 2. Chop onions  finely or blitz in food processor, sweat in butter or olive oil until transluscent, then add diced potato 5. Blitzing the spinach or watercress in a food processor just before adding to soup
1, 2. Chop onions  finely or blitz in food processor, sweat in butter or olive oil until transluscent, then add diced potato 5. Blitzing the spinach or watercress in a food processor just before adding to soup
6. Stirring the chopped watercress or spinach into the simmering stock & milk mixture 7. A light sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg stirred in at the end gives a lovely flavour to the spinach or 'Patriot's' soup
6. Stirring the chopped watercress or spinach into the simmering stock & milk mixture 7. A light sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg stirred in at the end gives a lovely flavour to the spinach or 'Patriot's' soup
8a. Cream of Watercress soup, garnished with a swirl of cream and some tiny watercress leaves 8b. 'Patriot's Celebration' Soup - garnished with cream, a Parmesan wafer & a clover leaf.
8a. Cream of Watercress soup, garnished with a swirl of cream and some tiny watercress leaves 8b. 'Patriot's Celebration' Soup - garnished with cream, a Parmesan wafer & a clover leaf.
9. The Parmesan wafers cooling to crisp on a plate  
9. The Parmesan wafers cooling to crisp on a plate  

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