Simple and Perfect: Velouté De Cresson
At sundown we'd balanced our yogurt jars on the window sill and lit candles in them. After supper, it was time to go for a stroll. My son was happy to do this and found the simple candle-lit homage to be as delightful as the booming music, hi-tech projections and effects we've been herded through in the past here in Lyon.
There was a simplicity to it, perfection. A little bit like the night we eloped in Los Angeles, months before the big to-do in France. That night, I put on a dress I'd bought during a lunch hour for $39.95, put my hair up in a chignon, tied it will a little bit of tulle, and quietly prepared to be wed. I dabbed a bit of perfume behind my ears, tied some more tulle around the stems of the white tulips found on sale at the grocery store on the way home from work that day, and went downstairs, where he was writing down a mathematical formula on a piece of scrap paper.
We got into the old Toyota with the dent and broken trunk lock, and drove into the hills from Westwood to Bel Air. Margie, my office mate, was waiting on the front steps, all dressed up. We were ushered into the officiant's home office, cluttered with books, where he said something about many rainbows, and after signing some papers, it was done. She'd bought us a bottle of champagne. We went straight home and opened the door, and he managed to lift me up and carry me 3 or 4 steps before he put me down again. There we were, a married couple, looking joyfully into each others eyes by the light of the street lamp that shined into the kitchen, feeling only love for each other.
Last night marked 16 years and one day of official marriage, and although we generally wait until summer to celebrate, I prefer the elopement anniversary even better, because there are no expectations, no stressful planning, just love. Last night, lighting the candles with my son, I felt that freedom and joy. Strolling through the neighborhood, it came again. How it just came together. No production.
With that, it is my pleasure to share with you a recipe that also fell into our market basket this week with my students, naturally coming together with barely any planning. My kitchen notebook states it came from Chef Pascal Roussy, who is just now wrapping up his first year under the title of Maitre Artisan in his field. Watercress is only available in the autumn and winter in Lyon, disappearing for about 8 months of the year. I wait until the local farmers start to offer it before making this soup.
Recipe: Velouté De Cresson
French Cream of Watercress Soup
1 bunch of watercress
250 g or a half-pound of potatoes
1 fresh medium leek
50 grams or 5 tablespoons of butter
750 ml or 3 cups of water
1 egg yolk
50 grams or a generous dollop of crème fraîche
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
lemon juice, optional
roasted seeds and nuts, optional
Remove the leaves from the bunch of watercress, and clean them in abundant fresh water.
Peel 250 grams of the potatoes, then cut them into 1 cm or 1/2 inch cube. Wash them under running water and strain. Clean the white part of the leek, by slicing lengthwise and rinsing to remove all sand and grit. Mince fine.
Melt 50 grams of butter in a 3 liter saucepan. Add and cook the leek for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, not allowing to brown. Add the watercress leaves, and cook them slowly over low heat until they wilt. Add 75cl or 3 cups of water, add the potatoes, stir to combine, and add 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to low. Cover, and let simmer for 20-25 minutes.
Remove from heat and blend the soup with a stick blender until it is smooth and velvety (velouté). Bring the velouté to a boil. In a separate bowl, whisk 1 egg yolk with the dollop of crème fraîche. Off heat, delay the egg yolks and cream into the velouté by pouring a bit of the hot soup into the egg and cream mixture, then transferring it back into the soup and whisking it in. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper if necessary, and brighten with a teaspoon of lemon juice, if you think it will improve it. Return to low heat and heat just to steaming. Do not let the soup return to a boil.
Dress the soup into warmed wide shallow bowls, sprinkle with roasted seeds and nuts if desired, and serve with crusty bread and a glass of crisp St. Véran. Note: you can replace the crème fraîche with a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream, if that is more convenient for you.