When Cambria asked Faith and myself for some help coming up with a main course for her Spring Vegetarian Dinner Party for Six, at first we couldn't decide. Faith thought it should be creamy and green. Cambria wanted a vegetarian dish that wasn't just another platter of pasta. I advocated for something satisfying and hearty, but still light enough for a spring meal. The final vote was unanimous: a pureed soup of peppery spring watercress served with warm goat cheese dumplings. Done and done. This recipe is a winner.
This is the kind of dish we love serving at dinner parties. It's so pretty on the table — soft green soup, brilliant white dumplings — and it feels like something you'd order in a restaurant. I love the way the earthy spiciness of the watercress plays against the richness of the goat cheese in the dumplings. Lemon juice in the soup and lemon zest in the dumplings ties the whole dish together and makes it taste bright and sunny.
This is also a great soup for dinner parties because is very easy to make and many of the components can be prepared ahead. The soup a straightforward affair of simmered and pureed vegetables. It can be made the day before and warmed just before dinner. The dumplings are best if made the same day of the party, but they can be refrigerated for a few hours before being simmered in boiling water and served with the soup.
Whether you're throwing a spring dinner party of your own or just want something easy for a special night at home, put this creamy watercress soup on the menu. Vibrantly colored and tasty enough for seconds, this dish won't let you down.
A Few Notes and Addendums:
When we first discussed this recipe, the idea of spinach-goat cheese dumplings sounded mighty fine. But back in the kitchen, it felt like a little too much green, both in color and in substance, so we left it out. The menu for Cambria's party was written from an old copy of the menu that still included the spinach.
If the idea of spinach dumplings sounds good to you, however, you can certainly add it in! Blanch about 10 ounces of spinach in boiling salted water until wilted. Wring the spinach as dry as you can and then chop it up. Add the spinach to the dumpling mix. You may need to use a little extra flour to bring the dough together.
Also, I made an copying error when I gave the recipe to Cambria, so she used twice the amount of milk than necessary. Woops! My fault. This is why her dumplings look a bit billowy and less neatly dumpling-shaped than normal. The recipe below calls for the corrected amount of milk.
Creamy Watercress Soup with Lemon-Goat Cheese Dumplings
For the soup (makes about 10 cups):
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine, sauvignon blanc or chardonnay
1 pound (about two medium-sized) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 cups vegetable stock
1 pound watercress
1/2 cup heavy cream
Juice from 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
For the dumplings (makes about 24 dumplings):
2 - 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Zest from 2 lemons
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
2 large eggs
2/3 cup (5 ounces) goat cheese
To prepare the soup, warm the olive oil in a 4-quart sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and cook until the unions are translucent. If they start to brown, lower the heat. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant. Pour in the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes, until it has reduced by about half.
Add the potatoes, vegetable stock, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are very soft, 15-20 minutes.
Chop the tough white ends and roots (if still attached) from the stems of watercress, and run the watercress under water to rinse away any dirt. Drain in a strainer, but don't worry about drying the leaves.
When the potatoes are cooked, add the watercress to the soup in handfuls. Stir for a few seconds until the watercress is bright green and wilted. Remove the pan from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. (Alternatively, transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor and puree. Return the soup to the pot.)
At this point, the soup can be served immediately, kept over low heat for a half an hour before serving, or refrigerated for up to 24 hours and warmed over low heat before serving. When ready to serve, stir the heavy cream and lemon juice into the soup. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Prepare the dumplings while the soup is warming (if serving immediately, the dumpling dough can be prepared while the potatoes are cooking and then cooked after the soup is pureed).
Combine 2 cups of flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in a medium mixing bowl, and whisk thoroughly. Whisk together the milk and eggs in a separate bowl and pour over the flour mixture. Stir with a stiff spoon or spatula until the ingredients come together into a shaggy dough. It will be floury at first, but keep working the dough and mashing it against the sides of the bowl until the flour is incorporated.
Crumble the goat cheese over the top of the dough. Work the cheese into the dough with the spoon, then knead it a few times with the palms of your hands directly in the bowl to thoroughly combine. It's ok if a few streaks of visible goat cheese remain. If the dough isn't coming together enough to form balls, knead a tablespoon of flour at a time into the dough until it does. The finished dough should be smooth, soft, and slightly tacky. At this point, the dough can be covered and refrigerated for up to three hours before cooking.
To cook the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a rapid simmer over medium to medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Pinch off a wad of dough and roll it between your palms into a ball 1- to 1 1/2-inches in diameter. Continue shaping the rest of the dumplings (you should end up with about 24 dumplings).
Drop as many dumplings into the simmering water as will fit in a single layer in your pot. Cook the dumplings for 2-3 minutes: they will sink to the bottom and then float to the top of the water. When they have puffed and look like they are just barely starting to dissolve on the edges, they are done. (If they start to break apart, they are slightly overcooked; cook the next batch for slightly less time.)
Transfer the dumplings to a clean bowl and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Continue cooking the remaining dumplings.
To serve, ladle 1 - 1 1/2 cups of broth in each bowl. Use a spoon to set 3-4 dumplings in the middle of each bowl. Serve immediately, topped with a sprinkle of dill and a dollop of crème fraîche.