I have been searching for the mother lode of morel mushrooms for more than 40 years. So far, I have been unsuccessful.
Every spring I traipse through dense, deciduous forests and valleys of fiddle head ferns, bent low as I walk, squinting almost painfully through bi-focals as I seek the elusive creatures - conical fungi, colored like dead leaves with their gentle ridges curving upward, hiding in the hubris of leftover winter, also known as spring.
"They'll run away from you," I remember my father saying long ago, while we walked through the woods, hunting morels at dusk, the dying sky casting strange shadows, even in the waning light.
"You get one in your sight, take your eye off it for a split second and then bam! It's gone."
Dad loved morels. He claimed this particular wild mushroom, more than any other organic food, encompassed "the taste of the woods." A small bite of a morel held every sensational nuance a forest had to give, as far as he was concerned - from the musky smell of moss and leaves, to the flavors of morning dew and a rainy spring breeze.
Of course, Dad preferred the "taste of the woods" thoroughly washed, cleansed of bugs and fried in butter.
Folks who know where the morels are will never tell. Their secret sanctuaries are as sacred as that special fishing hole harboring 10-pound walleyes. Evidence has it that I am not the person in the know. So far this season, I have found two pop cans, a rusty tobacco tin and a pretty cool rock.
Since it is my task to offer recipes in this space, I will do so. But I must say, Dad was right about one thing - the best way to prepare wild mushrooms is to simply saut them in butter. For those who like things a little more complicated, I offer the following.Roassted Asparagus and Wild Mushroom Fricassee
1 pound medium asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, minced
12 ounces wild mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
Meanwhile, melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and saut 1 minute. Add mushrooms and saut until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Cover and cook until mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook uncovered until wine is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir in parsley and tarragon and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide asparagus among four plates and top with mushrooms.
Potato and Wild Mushroom Gratin
5 ounces crumbled blue cheese
2 1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms (such as morel, crimini, shitake or portabella)
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
Melt butter in a heavy, large pot over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and herbs and saut until tender and the liquid cooks away, about 8 minutes.
Arrange half of the potatoes on bottom of prepared dish. Spoon 3/4 cups cheese sauce evenly over. Top with mushroom mixture, 3/4 c. cheese sauce, then remaining potatoes. Top with remaining cheese sauce and cover with foil.
Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until potatoes are tender, top is golden brown and sauce is thickened, about an additional 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Serves 6-8.
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