The close of the school year, summer holidays stretching forward, teasing, taunting with promises of endless sunny days and ideas of tackling a multitude of time consuming projects. Last year saw up-cycled furniture; a weary 1980’s pine dining table, chairs and cupboards were transformed and together with a little upholstery and re-arranging, there was an injection of new life into our home. However, after a hectic year this particular summer held no plans but, motivated by a 50% sale at a local garden center and the purchase of a very pretty seat, there is daily expanding heap of garden debris to be dealt with – shrubs, bushes, branches, tree-tops, a mass of ivy and so much so that the garden space has quite literally doubled in size.

This surge of energy is great for the garden and is gradually transforming into a much wanted sanctuary but, not quite so good for getting supper on the table. Recipe ideas roll around by the dozen and by golly, the creative, meditative effect of heavy gardening is amazing. Minutes roll into hours and loose, supple, pre-summer yoga-limbs become taught and very sore, the only effective relief being a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine.

Happy times but this gardening plus an exciting birthday gift - a new camera, has left little free time. But yesterday, alone in the house for a few of hours, I was able to experiment by photographing new season Cep mushrooms for an old favourite dish, Conchiglie al Pomodoro e Porcini Secchi. The original recipe can be found in the River Café Blue Book, and is truly delicious though this adaptation includes fresh as well as dried mushrooms:

Reconstitute about 20g of dried mushrooms according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using Porcini/Cep if available but equally, any favourite variety works. Clean and slice a couple of handful of fresh mushrooms.

Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a pan and sauté a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, chopped fresh parsley, a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves and a pinch of chilli flakes before adding the porcini liquid, a little at a time followed by all the mushrooms.
Add the juice of a lemon and whole tomatoes from a large (800g) can (not the liquid which can be chilled as a refreshing juice). Bring to a gentle simmer, bubbling away for 20 minutes or so or until the mushrooms are tender, occasionally stirring to breaking down the tomatoes as the sauce cooks. Add a splash of white wine if necessary.

Pour in around 100ml cream; reduce a little by bringing to a rapid boil. Remove from the heat; add about 50g grated Parmesan and season with salt and pepper before stirring in cooked pasta such as the suggested conchiglie but, any favourite works well. Serve topped with a flourish of freshly grated Parmesan.

This dish freezes well but, reheat gently and without boiling.