MOREL MADNESS

MOREL MADNESS

A couple of Saturdays ago my neighbor Ryan dropped in and said that he had gotten some morels at the Farmer’s Market that morning and asked if I had any suggestions about how to prepare them. I, too, had found some at the market that morning and was thinking of what would be the best way to show off the morels. It seemed natural to combine them with pasta and we checked a few cookbooks to see how other people prepared morels.

We quickly decided that roasting them would be the best way to showcase their flavor. The next question was what kind of sauce would allow the morels to shine. We decided to go for a simple but flavorful sauce made with shallots, garlic, vegetable broth, lemon juice and lemon balm. Ryan sautéed the shallots and garlic with a delicious Pinot Grigio and then added the vegetable broth. The sauce was thickened with some of the pasta water. Colleen prepped and made the salad. Jim made sure the wine, an Oregon Pinot Noir, was OK.  Ryan served the linguini and morels with roasted asparagus and a green salad. The dish was a great success. The morels shone and the asparagus complemented the pasta and mushrooms.

Naturally, we made the dish again the following week just to make sure it was as good as we remembered. We tweaked the recipe a little, this time using a small amount of cornstarch to give the sauce just a little thickening so it would cling to the pasta more. We used Walla Walla sweet onions in place of the shallots, increased the amount of lemon balm and added the lemon juice at the end of the cooking rather than the beginning. We sprinkled some fresh chives over the plate before serving. We also increased the amount of morels.  Morels are expensive but they are hand-picked in the woods and only come once a year. The meal was very good and we think you will like it. This recipe serves four.

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 oz. morels
  • 4-6 medium-size garlic cloves, minced – about three tablespoons
  • 1/3 cup of finely chopped Walla Walla onion or shallots
  • ¼ cup finely chopped lemon balm (parsley if lemon balm is unavailable plus a teas. lemon zest)
  • ¼ to ½ cup of dry white wine
  • 3 cups of very good vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 teas. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 teas. minced chives
  • 8 ounces of linguini
  • 12 asparagus spears, about ½ inch thick

METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the morels in half lengthwise and put in a big bowl of water and swish them around to remove any dirt. Lift them from the water and drain on paper towels. Pat the tops with more paper towel. Empty the water from the bowl and dry it. Then put the morels back in the bowl with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently toss them to coat with the salt and pepper. Transfer the morels to two cookie sheets that have been covered with parchment paper. Spread the morels so they are in one layer on each pan. Put them in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and turn the morels over. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Set aside.

Fill a big pot with 8 to 10 cups of water and add about one tablespoonful of salt. Turn the heat to high until the water boils. At 3200 feet altitude it takes about 15 minutes to get that much water to boil.  Add the linguini. Cook for 9 -12 minutes, depending upon your altitude.

Put the asparagus spears into the big bowl with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently toss to coat with the oil and salt and pepper and spread on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Cook in a 400 degree oven for 7 minutes or until al dente. Remove from the oven.

Sauté the onions or shallots in a dry, non-stick pan over medium heat and as they begin to turn brown on the edges and stick to the pan add some wine, a spoonful at a time, and gently stir with a wooden spoon.  Shallots have a sharper flavor than the sweet Walla Walla’s so which you use  depends upon your preference.  Once the onions have started to soften, add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Be careful that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the wine, a spoonful at a time, to keep the vegetables from sticking. When the onions and garlic are a little mushy and caramel-colored, add about two cups of the stock to the pan and stir to combine. Add the lemon balm. Combine ½ cup of cool vegetable stock and one level tablespoonful of corn starch in a measuring cup and mix thoroughly until all lumps dissolve. Add that to the pan with the rest of the stock. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the morels and let simmer for 5 minutes until the mixture is slightly thickened and the cornstarch is cooked. Add the lemon juice.

When the linguini is done, drain the pasta into a colander and then return the linguini to the pot. Pour the remaining ½ cup of stock into the pot and stir the linguini to distribute the stock. This will keep the pasta from sticking and the pasta will absorb the stock and its flavor.

Divide the pasta between four rimmed plates or shallow bowls and then divide the sauce over the pasta. Add the asparagus to each plate and sprinkle with the minced chives.

We had this with sliced Brandywine tomatoes, green salad, focaccia from a local bakery and a bottle of Sangiovese.

MORELS
MORELS

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