Finding Morels in New York City…

The urban jungle yields up these majestic forest treasures

I find it somewhat ironic to encounter the majestic morel in great quantity and at an accessible price in the Chinatown area of lower Manhattan.  Here I was to express love through cooking, a whistletop visit to a fallen friend, I encountered these treasures whilst shopping for ingredients.

Morels are the uncrowned kings and queens of mushrooms.  Unrivalled in their meatiness in terms of flavour, ethereal through their honeycomb and hollow structure, but slightly woody and with bite in the mouth, they are ever-so-complex and divine.

What to do with them?  With pasta, polenta, risotto, pureed potatoes they are divine in sauce…a white wine sauce, a cream sauce laced with shallots.  They are divine with ramps in a souffle.  Equally majestic cooked hole into a shimmeringly light quiche or souffle omelette. 

Morels are also beyond delicious just lightly fried in brown butter with garlic.  Dressed with lemon juice to brighten them, they lay beautifully beside a pounded veal cutlet or with a lightly roasted or fried breast of pheasant.

They can also be eaten on their own, dredged in seasoned flour and lightly fried.  It is best when treating them so to fry them first in a small quantity of unflavoured oil, remove from the pan and reserve, and then toss in the butter to melt, in order to control the browning of the butter.  Add garlic and cook to golden.  Be generous, and return the morels to the pan only to finish, dust with freshly chopped parsley and serve.

Fresh morels, found in late Spring, and dried, found year round, must be very, very thoroughly cleaned as they tend to hold grit.  Submerged and gently swished in warm water, even cut vertically in half, so as to remove any accumulated debris.  A morel filled with sand is enough to ruin even the most divine dish, so take care.

What did I do?  The simplest preparation of all.

Tagliatelle with Morels

  • 500 g fresh tagliatelle
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled, garlic minced fine
  • 1 pint of fresh cream
  • ½ cup of dry white wine
  • 1 cup of freshly grated parmigiano
  • 12 dried morels, rehydrated in warm water
  • 2 morels, cleaned, but left dry
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil on high heat. Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a wide, heavy-bottomed saute pan.  Toss in the garlic, and cook to sweat and lightly colour.  Pour in the wine and add the rehydrated morels, and cook thus for a few minutes.  Add the cream and cook gently, stirring, and cooking on medium to reduce slightly.

Boil the pasta, following the instructions, testing for doneness all the while.  Note that fresh pasta only takes a very short cook, as little as 3 minutes.  Reserve about a half cup of the cooking water.  You should pour out the pasta before it is “done” as it should retain some texture and bite, and also, should still be able to absorb moisture from the sauce.

Toss in the parmigiano cheese to the pasta sauce, season to taste with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly and mix together with the cooked pasta.  Add some of the reserved cooking liquid to ensure the ideal consistency. Take the reserved dried two morels, and using a micro-plane or the smallest holes on a box grater, grate them into a fine dust over each plate before serving.

Serve with liberal dustings of parmigiano.  Serves 4.  Enjoy.

And there we were, dispensing love in the urban canyon.

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