A celebration of British seasonality from Rosie Birkett
Spring is a bit of a show off really, bursting onto the scene like it does, jazz hands waving, brandishing fat leaves of pungent wild garlic, deep purple violets and perfect tips of fresh asparagus to lift our winter-worn spirits. There are some really lovely ingredients to get excited about at this time of year, and with their delicate, truffley savouriness and miraculous honeycomb texture (ideal for capturing delicious creamy sauces), morels might just steal the show. Eating them always feels rather special and reminds me of formative meals at fancy French restaurants with spotless white tablecloths, which first introduced me to these little delights in my twenties.
They’re often showcased alongside fresh peas, a seasonal bedfellow whose inoffensive sweetness allows the subtlety of morels to shine while providing a jolly pop of brightness. Here I’ve folded both through pasta licked with cream, parmesan and wilted pea shoots, with pink peppercorns offering a vivid, floral spice. The tarragon lifts the dish with a hint of sweet anise, but if you’re not a fan, replace it with flat leaf parsley or chervil. Like their truffle cousins, wild morels are hard to find and so don’t come cheap, but they’re worth their weight in gold. Grab a bag from the Market, invite a special person to join your table and celebrate the start of spring together with this dish.
160g fresh peas
A sprig of mint
300g morels, cleaned and sliced in half
10g salted butter
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
½ lemon, zest and juice
8 pink peppercorns, crushed
2 cloves of garlic (or a small handful of wild garlic leaves)
50ml double cream
200g fresh tagliatelle
A handful of tarragon, roughly chopped
A small block of parmesan, grated
1 bunch of pea shoots
Bring a pan of water to the boil. Blanch the peas with the mint sprig for a couple of minutes until just tender, then drain into iced water and set aside.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the morels and fry them for a few minutes, until they have released their moisture, shrunk a bit and are caramelising at the edges. Tip onto a plate.
Put a pan of heavily salted water on to boil. Wipe out the skillet and return it to a medium heat, then add the butter and a further 1 tbsp olive oil.
Fry the shallot, lemon zest, peppercorns and garlic for a few minutes, until softened and aromatic, then add the cream. Return the morels and peas to the pan, tossing to coat with the sauce.
Once the water is boiling, cook the pasta for a couple of minutes, until al dente, then drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.
Add the pasta, parmesan and a good slosh of the cooking water to the frying pan and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to emulsify and combine the sauce. Add in half the pea shoots and the tarragon and stir until the pea shoots are wilted. Season with salt and lemon juice and divide between plates. Top with more pea shoots and a further sprinkling of parmesan.
Read Jane Parkinson’s advice on the perfect wine pairing for this dish
Recipe: Rosie Birkett
Images: Issy Croker