Cooking Local With Francesca



When I was a little kid my dad and I used to wander around our garden looking for bunches of wild rocket as he loved it. As much as I liked the look of it and the wonderful yellow flowers, for me it was too bitter. As a grown-up, I made up for lost time by eating lots of rocket and the like: just like my father, I love it.

Rocket or ‘Arugula’ is related to watercress and they both have a lovely hot and peppery taste. In fact Arugula or ‘Rucola’, as we call it in Italy, is also known as Italian cress.

Here in Vanuatu, watercress grows abundantly in the clear water streams as an aquatic or semi-aquatic fast growing vegetable and it is a wonderful alternative to rocket. It is sold in beautiful bunches at the Port Vila market for only 200 VT and I enjoy it even more than rocket because of its thick and juicy stalks.

I like using watercress in delicious dishes, salads and soups. One of them is the famous Italian ‘Carpaccio’, made with thinly slices of raw silverside, shaved parmesan cheese and rocket. In Vanuatu, rocket is not as readily available as watercress so in the restaurant, we use the latter as a perfect replacement for the authentic flavour of the dish. In a bowl, season fresh watercress leaves with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Good quality scotch fillet is a suitable alternative to silverside, which is a rare cut to find fresh, if not for corned beef. Slightly freeze the meat before slicing it about 2mm thick with a slicer or by hand using a sharp knife. Arrange meat slices in a single layer on your serving plate. Sprinkle with good extra virgin olive oil to coat the meat and with fresh lemon or lime juice to your liking. Arrange the parmesan cheese slices over the meat without covering it all, season with salt and pepper and finally scatter the seasoned watercress over the top. Eat it cool, it is simply delicious!

I also use watercress to garnish my fish version of Carpaccio, made with thinly sliced raw yellow fin tuna. In Italy we call it ‘crudo’ which means ‘raw’ and you can make it with raw yellow fin tuna or other fresh fish like wahoo. Marinate the raw sliced fish with olive oil, chilli, garlic and parsley and just before serving really cold, sprinkle a few drops of lime juice and garnish with seasoned watercress leaves on top. The slightly bitter taste of the watercress adds texture and flavour to the fish, making it a real pleasure to the palate.

For my favourite green salad, I mix together fresh iceberg lettuce, curly green or red leaves, watercress, thinly sliced red onion, sliced cucumber and corn. Seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, a few drops of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, it makes a lovely and healthy kick.

Watercress is a good source of Vitamin C and always believed to be helpful as a coagulant to stop bleeding. It also contains Vitamin A, iron, calcium and folic acid and it is a good dietary supplement for lactose intolerant people and for pregnant women. Watercress is beneficial as an antioxidant and for the prevention and cure of cancer, which is a good reason to enjoy these tasty greens!

Last but not least, watercress is believed to stimulate sexual desire. It is said to be one of the most ancient green vegetables known, and its use dates back to the Persians, Greeks and Romans. Apparently, they used watercress to improve sexual drive and to make their armies stronger… True or not, it is definitely worth a try!

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