Is there such a thing as a new recipe? This zesty salad of watercress topped with anchovy fillets and croutons may fit the bill. I created it one day when I’d been to the market and had a bunch of fresh watercress in the fridge. How was I inspired to add the anchovies and croutons, along with a drizzle of olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice? Don’t know, but when I surfed the web afterwards in search of a similar salad, I found none.
Cresson-anchois-croûtons / Watercress with anchovies and croutons
Recipes have been developed and shared since early humans began using fire for cooking, hundreds of thousands of years ago, or possibly well before — think mixed berries or oysters on the half shell. If you look into ancient history, opinions vary widely on what may have been the first food shared in common by our ancestors. Bread is mentioned, but its invention came long after anatomically modern humans began farming. Honey is a candidate for the first shared food, but it would have been gathered, not cooked.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, in her fascinating book The Old Way, describes the virtues of the ostrich egg: ‘This useful item is first a meal and then a water bottle’. It would have taken many millennia for people to go from eating a raw ostrich egg to making an omelet, but when somebody finally was inspired to scramble the egg and cook it, or more likely did so by accident, this discovery would have been communicated and passed along.
Almost every dish we prepare these days is derivative in one way or another. When I write about French onion soup, for example, I’m drawing on recipes developed over the centuries that I have adapted by trial and error to make the dish my own. Ditto beef bourguinon or cheese soufflé. Every now and then a new recipe comes along, for instance Caesar salad, which was invented in 1924 by an Italian-American chef at his restaurant in Tijuana and is now popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
But it is rare to find a truly original recipe. Which is why I was all the more delighted to (apparently) invent the watercress-anchovy-crouton combination. It makes a lovely lunch, accompanied by crusty bread and a full-bodied red. You could follow up with cheese and a light dessert — mixed berries, for example — to make a balanced meal perfect for spring.