Morels are basically awesome. Mushrooms in general are, but for me, morels are especially awesome.
In the woods around me, checking out areas that have previously burned after the spring rains kick in is a surefire method of success, but it takes some looking, even after you know what to look for.
As with all mushrooms, I would recommend getting someone who knows what they are looking for to take you out for the first time. Mushroom nerds aren't terribly hard to find in our community, but I would suggest you approach this carefully. Asking someone to take you out morel hunting is a bit like asking someone to take you to their favorite freezer-filler spot for deer season. Probably best not to ask.
The best approach after finding someone who knows about identifying morels is to let them know that you are planning to head out and the general area you are planning on heading to and ask if they wouldn't mind tagging along to give you a few pointers on identification.
If you are in a morel producing area, and are having trouble hunting a mushroom person down, never hesitate to call out to your local ag extension agent. They are there for a reason and can point you in the right direction.
Morels MUST be cooked. Like – seriously. Also, if you have never eaten any before, it is a good idea not just to cook them but also go with a small amount at first to make sure they settle fine with you. I have heard of folks who don't do well mixing alcohol and morels for whatever reason, so you might not want to go crazy on the wine with dinner until you know you are good. None of this is to scare you off. Morels are awesome, well worth it and really easy to identify once you know what you are looking at. If you are in doubt, you can snag some from a high-quality grocery store or beg a trusted friend. Personally I avoid dried ones, and don't, whatever you do, buy from an online retailer in this case.
Ingredients and Preparation
- Some kind of pasta – probably about a pound of dried pasta for every four people. (We went with a pappardelle but basically, any wide, flat and long pasta does well – take your pick. Don't feel the need to be perfect and make everything from scratch.)
- Morels – 8-16 oz – also known as a few good handfuls. (I generally soak mine a bit (around 5 minutes) in cold water with a tiny bit of salt and then wash them down GENTLY. After they are clean to your liking, slice 'em in half. If you have a really big one, consider quarters.)
- Some spices to taste. I like a good teaspoon or two of kosher salt, the same amount in black pepper, and thyme. Also add some finely diced onion or shallot (not too much) and a few cloves of garlic (if you have any handy – if you have to use the powdered stuff go heavy, but dissolve well in melted butter).
- A cup of cream, some flour (tablespoon or so), and a cup of finely grated parmesan. A note: don't feel bad if you are out of time and have to grab a jar of white sauce off the shelf – we are all human, it will also taste fine, but if you have the time and remembered the heavy cream at the grocery store, you will be happier.
- A stick of butter.
- A tablespoon or two of olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
Cooking It Up
- First off, get a good-sized pasta pot full of water, with a very healthy amount of salt in there, going on high.
- Once the water is approaching a good boil, you want to get a pan (cast iron of course) going on medium heat.
- If your pasta is going to take 7-8 minutes to cook, get it in the water now, otherwise wait.
- To this, add a tablespoon or just enough olive oil to get a bare coating on the pan. You do not want it hot enough to smoke, just below that.
- If using dried spices, add them now.
- Once the oil is a bit warm, add half a stick of butter cubed up.
- Once the butter is melted in, add the morels. Let 'em brown up a bit, maybe a minute, depending on your heat, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
- After that, move the morels around a bit so that they brown evenly, and add butter as required as the morels shrink up and absorb the butter.
- Total sauté time will be around 4-5 minutes.
- You are looking for even brownness but not overdone.
- Once this is done, crack the amount of black pepper you want over the top, and add salt to taste.
- (Optional: If you have a bit of stock or demi-glace handy you can add a quarter cup at this point and let it reduce a bit, but if you are going to do that, pull the morels out to a plate while you reduce to avoid overcooking, then pop those guys back in when things are thickened up.)
- If your pasta is of the 3-minute or so variety, get it going in the water now. At this point sprinkle a bit of flour evenly over the top, and as soon as the flour has evenly absorbed the butter, turn the heat up and pour in the cream.
- As soon as there is a bit of bubble going on the cream, back the heat off to low as things thicken. Once the sauce is thick enough for your preferences, add the parmesan evenly over the top and incorporate. I would recommend scooping a tablespoon or two of the pasta water into the sauce to aid in the sauce adhering to the pasta.
- Cut the heat on the morels and sauce; dash in a bit of olive oil and swirl it around.
- Drain the pasta (do NOT rinse) and combine the pasta and the sauce together. I normally just do this by dumping the drained pasta into the saucepan, and then into the pasta pot so it coats evenly without too much stirring and so that the morels wind up on top.
- Serve on dishes of your choosing, with a bit more parmesan on top, if you desire, and enjoy!