Tarragon is a classy herb. Its leaves are delicate, its top note aniseed flavour underscored with citrusy and vanilla notes makes it elegant and complex. It is linked inextricably with classic French cooking, heavy creams and buttery sauces.
It’s aniseed flavour immediately and always takes me straight back to my late teens. I studied French at A-Level and was developing a taste for French literature and French Nouvelle Vague films. Anything directed by Jean-Luc Goddard and Francois Truffaut and any film starring Jean Paul Belmondo and I would tape it to video.
My emerging taste for French culture didn’t, unfortunately, cross over to other areas of my life. On the weekends, I would go to a local nightclub with my mates from the Saturday job I had to save money for uni. We would order Red Witch, a combination of Pernod, blackcurrant and cider. It was served in a pint glass and it would last all evening, the cider slowly going flat as we danced to Prince, New Order and Tears for Fears.
I haven’t drunk Pernod since those years, but a nibble on a tarragon leaf always reawakens those memories.
This recipe isn’t classy or refined either. It’s a mix of earthy chestnut mushrooms and a light pop of aniseed from the tarragon. The liquor from the dried porcini mushrooms adds depth and kicks up the umami. It’s not Nouvelle Vague, but it’s not Red Witch either!
500g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
25g dried porcini mushrooms
½ white onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1L vegetable stock
50ml cream, vegan
3tbsp chopped tarragon
1tbsp olive oil
Pour boiling water over the porcini mushrooms, making sure to cover them. Soak for about 30 minutes.
In a pan, add the olive oil, onions, and garlic and cook on a gentle heat until softened.
Drain the porcinis, saving the water you have soaked them in.
Add the porcinis and chestnut mushrooms to the pan and cook on a medium heat for five minutes.
Add the vegetable stock and the porcini juice and simmer for twenty minutes.
Blitz using a hand blender until smooth. Stir through the cream and tarragon, saving a sprinkle for serving. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.