Alex Hely-Hutchinson turned a passion for flavour-packed porridge into the perfect pop-up, and now serves deliciously healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner in her Covent Garden restaurant. Here she shares her recipe for mushroom walnut pappardelle.
The chef: Alex Hely-Hutchinson, founder of 26 Grains restaurant in London’s Covent Garden.
The story: As one of five children growing up in a foodie household, Alex has fond memories of favourite dishes. The family loved to cook – rituals included blueberry bagels for Saturday breakfast and maple pancakes on Sundays. From a young age, Alex was familiar with the concept of seasonal eating, mostly via the flavours of quiche her mum cooked – whether it was asparagus in May or mushrooms in September.
In 2012, Alex spent a year living in Copenhagen as part of a university degree in Economics. Inspired by the quality of seasonal eating that pervades Danish culture and the city’s love of porridge in the colder months, Alex decided to pursue a career in food. On her return to London she launched a month-long 26 Grains pop-up in Old Street tube station, serving delicious porridge pots to commuters. Old Street marked the first of many 26 Grains pop-ups across London.
In September 2016, Alex opened her first bricks and mortar site in Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, open all day and serving breakfast, lunch and dinner – and not just porridge!
The philosophy: For Alex, it’s all about simple, seasonal dishes. Whether that’s a bowl of porridge with hazelnuts, butter and apple for breakfast or a warming aubergine and chickpea stew for lunch, Alex uses the best quality ingredients to create dishes packed with flavour. More recently, 26 Grains has opened its doors for dinner, serving a daily set menu of simple starters and fresh pastas.
The plan: ‘At the moment we’re working on developing our pasta recipes for evenings at Neal’s Yard but maybe one day there’ll be a second site.’
The can’t-live-without ingredient: ‘Good quality olive oil and lemons – they completely transform dishes. A squeeze of lemon on green beans with black pepper is delicious!’
Easy way to impress: ‘Throw a quick and really tasty fresh pasta dish together at home in front of your guests; it’s easy to do and fun to get them involved. One of my favourites is fresh pappardelle with pumpkin, sage and chilli. Start by roasting chunks of pumpkin with garlic, sprigs of thyme, olive oil, salt and a little water until soft and creamy – around 40 minutes in a hot oven.
‘Make pasta dough (100g flour and one egg per person) and roll it out with a machine. You can hand cut the pappardelle to the width you prefer.
‘Make a sage, butter and chilli sauce by melting 2 tbsp of butter over a low heat and adding a chopped chilli and a handful of whole sage leaves.
‘Make your pasta by cooking it in well-salted water. Scoop the pumpkin into the saucepan and toss with the butter sauce. Add a squeeze of lemon to serve, with a little ricotta or pecorino.’
How to perk up your lunchbox: ‘In our cookbook, 26 Grains, we make a gado-gado recipe that I was taught by a friend. It is made up of lots of steamed vegetables and a really delicious spicy peanut sauce. Just blend together peanuts, brown sugar, tamarind, lime, chilli and hot water to a thin nut butter paste. It’s great with everything – fresh fish, veg, salad, chicken.’
Why we love Alex: She started out with a brilliant pop up making the best – and most delicious – porridge ever, and has translated that passion for exciting, flavour-packed take-outs into breakfast, lunch and dinner in her restaurant. Her creations are delicious, healthy and fun (the zesty juices are a wonder too!) and 26 Grains in cute and colourful Neal’s Yard feels like a real London find – a ‘secret’ spot you’ll definitely want to share with friends.
The recipe: Mushroom walnut pappardelle
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely sliced
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 glass white wine
4 tbsp mascarpone
4 tbsp toasted walnuts, crushed
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and black pepper
200-300g fresh pasta (100g per person)
1. Start by making your mushroom and walnut sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil and chestnut mushrooms. Cook until they start to colour, around 6-8 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and fresh thyme, and cook for a further minute or two.
3. Add the white wine. Cook off the wine for 2 minutes.
4. Add the mascarpone, walnuts and lemon zest. Cook for a minute longer and then take the sauce off the heat.
5) Now cook your pasta in a pan of salted boiling water. After a minute, add a ladle of the pasta water to your mushroom sauce and turn put the sauce back on the hob on ahigh heat.
6. Add a good grating of parmesan, some black pepper and lemon juice to the sauce.
7. Once the pasta is cooked, after roughly 3 minutes for fresh pasta, 9 minutes for dry, add it to the sauce on a high heat and allow it to thicken by stirring it frequently in the pan. After 1-2 minutes it should start to emulsify and turn beautifully glossy.
8. Divide between your plates and sprinkle with grated parmesan, lemon zest, a few remaining walnuts; season with salt, black pepper and chopped parsley.
Words by Rosalind Lowe