The Magic of Morels
Of all the many heralds of springtime eagerly anticipated through the cool winters of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, the morel mushroom stands out as a true gourmet prize for chefs, home cooks, and happy eaters alike.
The morel is a picky fungi, largely evading modern attempts at factory cultivation by successfully guarding its natural secrets and maintaining the mystical relationship between mushroom, tree, and season.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, morels can be found flourishing on conifers like pine and fir, while other climes in North America and across the world in Europe and around the Mediterranean find morels growing on a wide variety of trees, including elm, ash, olive, apple, sycamore, and chestnut.
Without technology to cultivate morels, we are at the mercy of the vernal mushroom hunt to provide us with that quintessential deep, nutty, meaty mouthful, and all the iron and vitamin D that comes with it!
To celebrate these exquisite springtime offerings, a simple, savory pasta dish can satisfy hunger for nourishment and emerging freshness.
Roasted Morel and Asparagus Penne
1⁄2 lb morel mushrooms
1 lb asparagus
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 cup vegetable OR chicken broth
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 lb penne pasta
1 tbsp fresh thyme
Grated Parmesan-style cheese, to taste (optional)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 450F.
In a large pot, bring 4-6 quarts of well-salted water to a boil.
While the water is heating up, rinse asparagus and trim woody ends for compost. Slice asparagus into 1” pieces, about equal to the length of the penne. Dry on a towel and lay on a baking sheet.
Clean morels by brushing away any dirt. Try to keep them dry--if you find a big stubborn glob, briefly dunk the morel in cold water to loosen it, then pat the mushroom dry.
Slice morels in half length-wise. If they are particularly large, slice again into long
quarters. Add sliced morels to asparagus on baking sheet.
Chop shallots finely and add with thyme to baking sheet.
Drizzle olive oil over asparagus, morels, and shallots. Add salt and pepper. Mix with your hands until everything is coated in oil. Spread evenly on the pan.
Place baking sheet in oven for 10-15 minutes, until asparagus is lightly browned and morels are dark brown.
Once morels and asparagus are in the oven, cook penne pasta in boiling water
according to instructions. Drain and place in a large bowl.
Pour roasted morels and asparagus into pasta and gently mix in immediately to prevent pasta from sticking.
Add broth and balsamic vinegar to baking sheet and lightly scrape remaining oil,
shallots, and caramelized flavor to create a light dressing. Pour over pasta and mix in gently.
Top with optional grated Parmesan-style cheese and any additional salt, pepper, thyme, oil, or vinegar to taste. Smell the rich, deep, earthy springtime freshness in your bowl.