Fieldwork in March brings out the forager in me, as lush growths of the red alga Lemanea smother the beds of our upland rivers at this time of year. Considered a delicacy in some parts of the Himalayas, I started my own culinary experiments with it and, last year, had my first success (see “Freshwater algae on the menu … again”). This year, I have branched out a little further, and offer you my own variant of the classic Italian dish Spaghetti alla Carbonara, which you can find in most Italian cookbooks (interesting theory for the origin of the dish if you follow this link. The twist to my recipe is to replace the bacon or pancetta with hot smoked salmon.
Gently fry a crushed garlic clove in a little olive oil whilst the pasta is cooking, then, add the salmon, cut into chunks (about 50 g per person), and turn for a couple of minutes. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the salmon and garlic. Now take it off the heat and stir in a mixture of beaten eggs (two per person) and parmesan cheese (about a tablespoon per person) plus salt and pepper. The key to a good Carbonara is to make sure that the eggs thicken to form a creamy sauce, and do not scramble. I added chopped filaments of Lemanea, prepared as described last year, as a garnish on top of the pasta / egg / salmon mix, and served it with a rocket and water cress salad. The alga has a distinctive fishy taste that complements, but does not overwhelm, the salmon. Not only delicious, but also less than 20 minutes from putting the pasta into boiling water to sitting down to eat it.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara con Lemanea.
The photograph shows Lemanea growing on a submerged stone (about 20 cm across) in the River Ehen, Cumbria in March 2016.