Colorado is undergoing a bout of Seasonal Confusion. It’s technically shoulder season for our two ski mountains as they both closed today until next Fall 2017. By the good graces of the atmosphere, we managed to nab a couple of powder days this past week at Eldora (thank you, upslope!) before closing day. It’s been a toggle from a snowy day to a sunny day to more snow to sun to snow. One day I’m trail running and the next I’m stepping into my powder skis. Makes my head spin.
jeremy gets first tracks in nearly a foot of powder
and it was the fluffy stuff
a half foot in the morning melted to an inch, then by day’s end it began to snow again
seeking fresh pockets the next morning
As the days get warmer, my mountain buddies and I are itching for mushroom season to start around here. Of course, if you want to speed the season up by a month or so, you merely have to drive 3000 feet down to the plains. So that’s what we did. I mean, lots of flatlanders come up to the mountains to hunt for mushrooms, so why shouldn’t the WAMPs (weird ass mountain people – that’s us) reciprocate? It’s early yet, but we were on a scouting run. There’s a reason we generally prefer to stick to our home turf in the mountains. We don’t have to worry about ticks, poison ivy, rattlesnakes, garbage, and a constant stream of people while we forage. And it’s hot on the flats. Oh man, I nearly lost my marbles when the morning sun emerged above the cloud bank to the east. My skin is still in winter mode. But the mushrooms beckon.
hello pretties! a little nursery of baby oyster mushrooms
my pal harvests some old oyster mushrooms to smear on a log at his house
these are western poison ivy stalks (pre-leaf) – don’t touch!
western poison ivy stalks with berries (again, don’t touch)
Since the Colorado high country will be among the handful of locations with the last morel flushes of the season, I’ve decided to share a recipe that I shot the previous spring for those of you with fresh morels in hand right now (or soon). It would seem that the sickness sets in earlier each year, but I like to think of it as diversifying my portfolio… of mushrooms.
there is much joy to be had in the hunt (from 2016)
Mushrooms and pasta are a no-brainer combination. Use your favorite kind of pasta. Mine is pappardelle. Because morels are the epitome of spring, I thought it appropriate to pair them with asparagus, which also sprout forth from the ground in the early season. Morels, more than the other wild mushrooms I forage, have that slight funk in flavor shared with the likes of stinky cheeses, well-aged full-bodied red wines, and cured meats. Therefore, prosciutto is a lovely companion to these delightful fungi, and hints of lemon zest brighten the whole ensemble.
pasta, morels, asparagus, cream, pepper, parmesan, prosciutto, butter, chicken stock, lemon, salt, garlic, olive oil
halve the morels
rinse and dry the mushrooms
The easiest way to clean morels is to first slice them in half. This allows you to inspect them for any hitchhikers (i.e. worms and other bugs, but mostly those dang little worms). I then swish them in cold water to remove any dirt or other debris and promptly drain them and set them on paper towels to dry out a bit. If you are fond of slicing the morels across the long axis to get rings, that works too. Some folks soak their morels in salt water because it is supposed to draw out (more) bugs. Thankfully, most of my morels were free of pests, so I’ve never used that method.
prepped ingredients – let’s cook!
fry the prosciutto
sauté the asparagus and some garlic
I cook the prosciutto and asparagus first because once the mushrooms hit the pan, they don’t leave until it is time to eat. I think both the prosciutto and asparagus wouldn’t fry up as nicely with an overcrowded pan. You could fry them in another pan, but then you wouldn’t get the lovely browned bits (the fond) from the prosciutto in your sauce and on your morels. Besides, I am all for reducing the number of pots and pans to clean. This way keeps us down to one sauté pan. I almost always dry sauté my mushrooms to encourage them to give up their water so the liquid can boil off. At that point, I add the butter which helps the mushrooms get a little sear and some extra flavor.
dry sauté the mushrooms
add olive oil, butter, and garlic
pour in the chicken stock
After the stock has boiled off, add the cream and let it come to a simmer. Then stir in the lemon juice and zest as well as the cooked prosciutto and asparagus. Give the sauce some salt and pepper to taste. I say “to taste” because that prosciutto packs some sodium. It’s best to adjust the salt after the prosciutto has been stirred back into the pan or else it might come out too salty. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and gently mix it all together.
add the cream
stir in the prosciutto, asparagus, lemon juice, and lemon zest
toss with the cooked pasta
The final dish is rich, yet delicate. The deep flavors of the prosciutto and morels balance with the freshness of lemon and asparagus. For me, this recipe represents a transition between the comfort foods of winter and the lighter offerings of springtime. Yeah, I’m ready for spring.
finish with a sprinkle of parmesan
Morel Asparagus Prosciutto Lemon Pasta
4 oz. prosciutto ends or thick-cut prosciutto, 1/4-inch dice
2 tbsps olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. asparagus, cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces
8 oz. fresh morels, sliced in half and cleaned
2 tbsps unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup cream
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb. pasta of your choice, cooked al dente
Parmesan cheese, grated
Heat a large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Fry the prosciutto until lightly browned. Remove the prosciutto to a medium bowl and set aside. With the pan still over medium high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is hot (20 seconds), add half of the minced garlic. Stir until the garlic is fragrant (10 seconds) and add the asparagus. Sauté until the asparagus is cooked and bright green. Remove the asparagus to the same bowl as the prosciutto.
In the same pan over medium high heat, add the morels and dry sauté. When the morels wilt and give up their liquid, allow the liquid to boil off. When most of the liquid is gone, add the remaining olive oil, minced garlic, and the butter to the pan. Sauté the mushrooms for a few minutes. Add the chicken or vegetable broth and reduce the liquid completely. Reduce the heat to medium and add the cream. When the cream begins to simmer, stir in the lemon juice, zest, prosciutto, and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the pasta to the sauce and gently toss to coat and heat through. Serve with Parmesan cheese. Serves 2.
more goodness from the use real butter archives
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