M de Lambert’s rabbit with wild mushroom tagliatelle

M de Lambert is a small, quiet but imposing man, watching out for those under his roof, providing advice and a dirty joke or two when the situation needed. While I can’t remember any of the jokes, I can remember laughing so hard I almost prolapsed.

Patricia, Liz, M de Lambert, Kate and Harriet... pre-party photo opp
Patricia, Liz, M de Lambert, Kate and Harriet… pre-party photo opp

He played a small but significant role in my year abroad in Avignon. My besties Harriet and Kate had just ‘escaped’ from some terrible social housing to rent rooms in M de Lambert’s palatial duplex, complete with pool table, in the heart of Avignon.

Why did he play a big role?

He let the girls throw parties when they wanted; and they threw parties, many, many parties. The most memorable ending with the arrival of firemen who stayed to party with us.

M de Lambert let all this pass with a discreet, yet pronounced, Gallic shrug.

M de Lambert gave me this recipe when he overheard my panic… While staying with Claudie (she of the vinaigrette fame), it was my turn to cook on the Thursday night which I always spent with the family. I wanted to prepare a  dish with local ingredients and one they wouldn’t expect – remember Britain at this point had a terrible reputation for food – I had something to prove.

Rabbit is not a popular meat, and you can swap it out for chicken, but do give it a go. If it’s your firstly, get farmed rabbit, it’s much more tender than wild.

So thank you M de Lambert, for the house that help shape friendships that have lasted over 20 years.

Christmas party time at M de Lambert's. Avignon 1993
Christmas party time at M de Lambert’s. Avignon 1993

Music to prepare this dish to: ‘Sit Down’ by James

Ingredients

  • 25g dried wild mushrooms
  • 3 large portobello mushrooms, sliced lengthways
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 350g fresh tagliatelle (fresh for no other reason than convenience and quick cooking time)
  • 150g mascarpone cheese
  • 400g rabbit fillet lightly flattened (usually four pieces) (If your butcher is willing get leg fillets)
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs of fresh time and leaves from one more for garnish
  • Salt and lots of black pepper
  • Lots of  grated Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in a large mug of boiled water for 30 mins.
  2. While these are soaking, pan fry the sliced portobello mushrooms and get a good colour on them. Do not use a lot of oil and do not shake/move too much around the pan. This will help keep them firm and golden, not beige and flaccid.
  3. Remove from pan and place to one side on a flat plate.
  4. Strain your soaked mushrooms (keep the liquor) and chop into small pieces.
  5. In your pan, fry off the garlic. Do it gently for about three minutes. If the garlic has caught, start again. Burnt garlic is bitter and rabbit is a delicate meat.
  6. Once sweated down, add your mushrooms, all of them, into the pan with a good 1/2 tablespoon black pepper and a good sprinkle of salt. Add the mushroom liquor and cook gent gently for 10 mins
  7. During this time, put a large pan of salted water on the go for your pasta.
  8. Back to your mushrooms… after 10 mins the liquid should have reduced by half. On a low heat, add your mascarpone cheese and heat and mix through. Once mixed, turn off the heat but keep the pan to hand.
  9. In another pan, heat a good plug of oil and once hot, start frying your rabbit. Season well and add the thyme leaves after the first turn. These should take no more than three mins either side. Once cooked, leave to rest for the three minutes the below takes to do.
  10. This is when you chuck in your fresh pasta – it should take no more than three minutes.
  11. Once the pasta is cooked, add a tablespoon of the pasta water to the mushroom mix.
  12. Strain the pasta and add it to the mushroom sauce. You should have a good solid coating over all the pasta. If you’re fussy about your pasta-sauce ratio then add the pasta in a it at at time till you get your preferred ‘wetness’. If it’s looking a little dry, you can add a splash of olive oil while eating.
  13. Plate the pasta, and rest one of the fillets on top of it.
  14. Sprinkle each serving with the left over thyme.

Serve with parmesan for those that want it and a crisp Vouvray Sec for everyone.

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