Getting in touch with my Irish heritage and with St Patrick's day just around the corner, I've been researching Irish culinary traditions and ingredients. Inspired by my research, I headed off to the Ramsgate Organic Market on the weekend, for a huge bunch of watercress.
Watercress is an ancient food, absolutely packed with health benefits. It contains large amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid, vitamins A and C. It is even suggested that watercress has strong anti-cancer benefits. Commonly used in ancient Ireland, watercress was also a favourite among the ancient Greeks. Known as "Nerokarthamon" the ancient Greek's thought that watercress would cure insanity and apparently it was regular staple for soldiers. In more recent times, watercress was suggested by military surgeons to be an excellent preventative for scurvy.
While there is no threat of an outbreak of scurvy in our house, the slight chill in the weather on the weekend was an excellent reason for a huge bowl of this traditional Irish soup. It is deliciously thick and warming soup and the cheering green colour is a happy reminder of the bright rolling hills of Ireland.
If you are making this soup for a main meal, a lovely accompaniment is traditional "boxty bread".
A potato based bread, boxty hails from Northern Ireland and has it's own charming little rhyme:
"Boxty on the griddle, boxy in the pan; if you can't make boxy then you'll never get a man."
700g potatoes, peeled
350g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons butte, melted
salt and white pepper
milk to mix
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Divide potatoes in half. Add one half to a saucepan of boiling salted water and cook until tender.
2. Take the other half of the potatoes and grate into a clean tea towel or muslin, wring out the liquid over a bowl. This is to capture the starch, which should sink to the bottom of the liquid in the bowl. You need to drain off the liquid and reserve the starch.
3. Drain the boiled potatoes, mash and season to taste. Then add the grated potato and mix well.
4. Sift in the flour and baking powder to the potato mixture.
5. Add the reserved starch and melted butter to the potato and mix well.
6. Add a little milk if the potato mixture is dry and mix well.
7. Turn out the dough on a floured surface and knead gently.
8. Shape into four flat, round cakes and mark each with a cross. Brush with a little milk.
9. Place on a lined, greased baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 mins, until well risen and just golden.
10. Divide into quarters and serve with the soup and extra butter on the side.