Thursday, April 28, 2011

OMG, morels

The pecking order of gourmet foods goes something like this:

1. Truffles
2. Foie gras
3. Morels
4. Anything really old (wine, scotch, aged cheese, balsamic vinegar, etc.)
5. Unicorn

And so on. Not surprisingly, those ingredients are the most expensive, and among the rarest.

Morels are the truffles of the mushroom world: they only grow wild, only during the spring, and only in very specific environments. And they have to harvested by hand, which is why Whole Foods will charge you upwards of $40 a pound for them, when they're in season.

Fortunately, they are in season right now, and I have a supplier.

A friend of mine lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia--which, it just so happens, is one of the favorite hiding places of morels. She went harvesting with her grandmother, like she does every year, and found herself with several pounds of morels she was willing to offload. Naturally I jumped at the chance, and had her overnight the stash to me. (Even with overnight shipping, it's still cheaper than going to Whole Foods--and I know exactly where they came from. Don't worry--morels are very distinctive-looking, and it's almost impossible to mistake them for a poisonous variety of mushroom.)

So I have the happy problem of needing to get through several pounds of morels this week.

I'm having some friends over for dinner on Saturday--I sorted through the haul, and set aside the morels I thought most likely to make it to Saturday.

The rest, I sliced and sauteed in butter.

That's it. They taste so good, it would be criminal to drown them in a cream sauce or a soup. You can't eat them raw, but it only takes a few minutes over medium heat in some butter to bring them to full deliciousness. I served them over a bed of fresh-picked spinach.

The perfect spring meal.

Morels taste much deeper than other mushrooms, almost meaty (dare I say...bacony?). They're are often paired with asparagus, since they're in season at the same time (but I wasn't going to go out and buy asparagus specially). Peas, fava beans, lamb, and arugula are other common pairings, for the same reason. I ate my morel salad with a glass of pinot noir and a glass of viognier, to see which went better, and the pinot noir won hands down.

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