Friends Char and Butch with a morel harvest.
One place there’s no worry about social distancing during these challenging times is when my friends, Charlene and Butch Castle and I go foraging for wild morel mushrooms.
We start out at the bottom of the hill. By the time we reach the top of the hill we have kept our distances naturally — in fact, sometimes it’s hard to catch up. And we check for mushrooms along the way.
After a recent hunt, we left empty handed. “A little too early”, Butch said. Charlene noted that the may apples and trillium were not yet blooming, another sign that we were a bit early.
That was last week. Today I got a note from friend and chef Chris H., who found morels near his home. That means one thing: I need to finish this column so I can call my friends Char and Butch to let them know it’s time…
Well, all this talk about morels had me hungry for something, anything with mushrooms. The “something” turned out to be a really yummy pasta dish calling for a blend of wild mushrooms. Nothing like that at my house (at least now) but I had some common, button mushrooms in the refrigerator. Just enough to lend an earthy, flavorful taste to this pasta.
Pasta with mushrooms and rosemary cream sauce
This recipe originally called for 12 ozs to a pound of pasta. All I had was half a pound. I also didn’t have many mushrooms, but it turned out really saucy and good. If you have morels, by all means sub them in!
8-12 ozs pasta
6-12 ozs or so mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil or to taste
1 tablespoon garlic, minced (3 nice cloves)
2 sprigs rosemary, about 1” long each, or a teaspoon or so dried, minced
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup cream (optional but good)
Parmesan or Romano cheese
Parsley or torn greens (opt)
While pasta is cooking, make sauce:
Heat olive oil and add mushrooms, garlic and half the chicken broth.
Cook until mushrooms start to wilt, then add everything else but rest of broth, cheese and parsley.
After mushrooms are cooked, add rest of broth and cook until mixture thickens a little.
Stir in cream if you’re using it, cook a bit more, then adjust seasonings.
Pour over pasta, give it a good shower of cheese, and a sprinkle of parsley or greens.
No red pepper? Use whatever you have.
Know the facts about morel mushrooms!
- Morels grow in the spring. Expensive to buy, a prized wild edible.
- A true morel has a cone-shaped cap and sponge-like texture. The cap is ridged and pitted inwards. The cap will be connected to the stem all in one piece.
- It’s totally hollow inside from the tip of the cap to the bottom of the stem. It sort of looks like a “morel mold”.
- Make sure you have a positive identification. For your first ventures, tag along with an expert.
- Not sure? Don’t pick/use. (There is a non-edible morel).
- Clean by cutting in half from cap at the top to the bottom of the stem, vertically. Swish around in cool water and remove any critters lingering inside. Drain and dry gently before cooking.
- Saute mushrooms in butter with a bit of garlic and maybe a few herbs and maybe some lemon juice and you’ve got a feast.
- Clean morels can be dried just like the dried mushrooms at the store. I like to lay them out on a rack and dry them thoroughly. Turn every few days. They will be able to “crackle” when dried properly. Store in pantry away from heat and light in covered jars, or in freezer.