This virus has ironically been good for catching up with people. Being stuck at home in the evenings I have been having drinks with friends and family who are similarly stuck at home. We have been swapping stories of our childhoods and our families, my favourite is when I tried to open a bottle of prosecco and it foamed up and drenched me.
We have shared many cups of tea and biscuits over virtual coffee tables. During one of these chats with a friend, we started talking about bulking out food using other ingredients. This is how I was introduced to monk’s beard or agretti. It’s a plant that’s from Italy and mostly grows in swamps or marshlands. And from its appearance, it looks like the green hair of a water nymph who lives in a swamp. It has a briny taste with a bitter after note.
I had to hunt for this plant in several shops and finally found it in one of the big supermarkets. I have used it to bulk out my spaghetti dishes while giving the familiar dish a twist with a new ingredient. My family and I have fallen in love with this recipe, the lemon helps keep the dish fresh and the two textures of the pasta and monk’s beard play off each other, one is soft and the other crisp.
I enjoy using this plant but it does not keep well. Even after one day in the fridge, it starts to wilt and become slimy. Be sure to wash it before use, pick out all the bits that have been bruised or have started to go off and rinse of the sand.
Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 4 portions
30ml olive oil
1 onion (diced)
1 garlic clove (minced)
150g chestnut mushrooms
100ml white wine
250g monk’s beard (washed)
Zest of a lemon
100g parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
1. Into an empty pan add the spaghetti with water, bring to the boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook for 10 minutes or until just soft. Drain and put back in the empty pan with a bit of olive oil until needed.
2. In a large flat pan, place the olive oil and diced onions. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat until soft.
3. Add half of the mushrooms to the pan and cook until golden brown, then add the other half. This will ensure that each will have space to brown up nicely.
4. Stir in the garlic and add the monk’s beard. Cook for 2 minutes and then add the wine and cover and allow to steam for 3 minutes.
5. Once the wine has reduced, lower the heat and add the cream. Stir occasionally to prevent burning or splitting. Once the cream starts to thicken slightly, add the cheese, lemon zest and butter.
6. Stir in the spaghetti making sure it’s coated with creamy sauce and mingled with the monk’s beard.
7. Serve hot with extra cheese sprinkled on top. Start twirling those forks!