Storyboard: Morels

Morel Story Board

 

The Morel

Genus Morchella, Season Spring

 

This elusive mushroom is found in diverse habitats:

woodlands, especially those affected by forest fire

urban ares: hiding in plain sight along sidewalks, haunting abandoned railroads.

Morels appear after a spring rain, and disappear just as suddenly- a major frustration for mushroom hunters who say luck has a lot to do with finding morels.

 

Flavor

smoky, nutty, earthy


According to The Complete Book of Mushrooms, by Peter Jordan and Steven Wheeler, “…Morels have a rich flavor that combines well with other rich ingredients such as eggs, cream, and Madeira.”

Butter & Cream

The rich, earthy flavor of morels is best suited to cooking in butter or cream, rather than olive oil.  However, I recommend  a peppery extra virgin olive oil drizzled over  morel soup or pasta just before serving.

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Cook in the Moment: Spring Recipe

Spring Soup with Dried Morels
Serve alongside slices of ham and warm, crusty buttered bread

 

This is a light and refreshing spring soup which depends on a high quality homemade broth for its flavor.  If the broth is the star, store bought chicken stock will result in a disappointing soup.  The ingredients mostly provide color and texture: brown morels, green peas, orange carrots.  Just as chicken soup treats a cold, this soup is a sure antidote for spring fever.  It makes for a lovely alfresco lunch or serves as an elegant first course at supper time.  Serves 4

 

Ingredients

a small handful of dried morels (however much you feel like buying)
hot water from the kettle
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, sliced into cute little discs
1/2 cup baby peas, frozen is fine just take the chill off before adding them to the soup
2 quarts homemade chicken stock **
3/4 cup ditaloni pasta **
1/2 bunch watercress, just the tender little leaves
1 lemon

 

Start by pouring hot water from the kettle over your morels.  Let the mushrooms relax in their bath while you prepare the soup.  Put the frozen peas in a bowl and cover them with warm water to thaw.

 

Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat.  Sweat the garlic and leeks in the oil for a few minutes, until they are translucent.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

 

Add the carrots and chicken stock, and coax the soup to a gentle simmer just long enough to take the crunch off the carrots.

 

Now pour the uncooked ditaloni pasta into the soup pot and simmer the soup until the pasta is al dente.
Once the pasta is cooked, stir in the peas to warm them through.

 

Remove the morels from their soaking liquid and strain the liquid of grit.  Rinse the morels to remove any grit and slice them in half if you like.  Add the morels and their juices to the soup and simmer for a few minutes.

 

Now is a good time to taste for seasoning and ask yourself, “What does the soup need?”  Sprinkle in some salt and freshly ground pepper.

 

Just before serving, toss in the watercress leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice to garnish.  A dollop of crème fraîche adds tang and body to the soup, if you feel like adding it.
**I take the River Cottage Meat Book. READ MORE...

10 Ways Tuesdays: Morels

Now that you and the morel have been introduced, it’s time to get to know one another. Out in the world you will find many recipes for fresh morels, which I think is funny because most of us regular people do not have access to fresh morels. We do have access to dried morels, though.  I believe dried morels can be used in any recipe calling for fresh, you just have to get the dried mushroom re-hydrated and ready to rock and roll.

Follow the instructions on the package for re-hydrating dried morels. This means pouring a bit of hot water from the kettle over the mushrooms and allowing them to sit and plump up for a few minutes. Both the mushrooms and their soaking liquid can be added to a dish for flavor – just strain the liquid of any grit first. Morels are very delicate. Be gentle with them, and use them to finish a dish by raising the level of presentation with their unique texture and smoky, nutty flavor.

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Ingredient of the Week: Morels

This is a tough time of year. The calendar says spring, but I’m still waiting for veggies to pop their little green heads out of the soil. March is historically Colorado’s snowiest month, there will still be frosts in April and the farmers markets won’t really get going until May. I’ve got spring fever so bad – I’m sick of “hearty winter comfort food”. My body is craving fresh salad, ripe fruit, hand-picked herbs…

Magazine covers are still featuring soups and stews and cozy fires. I don’t have a cure for spring fever (other than spring) but I do have a way to treat the symptoms. Get through by cooking creatively with what’s in the pantry right now. The ingredient of the week is dried mushrooms – specifically morels.

 

Morels are in season during springtime, though not exactly growing in everyone’s backyard. However, dried morels are pretty easy for anyone to find. Chances are your local spice shop or cheese shop carries them. If not, dried morels are readily available through online merchants. These dried mushrooms may seem pricey, but a little goes a long way.  Their intricately honeycombed texture combined with colors of gray and brown make a striking visual impact displayed in a glass jar on the counter.  I also find it interesting that morels are often described as having a smoky taste. Spring morels are found in areas affected by forest fires in the previous year. Coincidence or terroir?

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