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Magical Morels

May 16, 2012

My goal for the month of May was to go morel hunting in some deeply mythical forest where I would find hundreds of morels growing from dying elms. My plan was to find the morels, bring them home and create lovely morel-laden delicacies.  I couldn’t find the forest, but I found the morels—at first at Metcalfe’s in Hilldale Mall and then at the Farmers’ Market. It would have been less expensive (and more fun) to hunt the morels in the forest, but I was happy with the delicious morsels I purchased, albeit at a hefty price.

Metcalfe’s charged $50 a pound, whereas the Farmers’ Market (Driftless Organics, to be specific) was a bit less expensive at $40 per pound. Both outlets provided delicious, delicate mushrooms that I used in several recipes that we paired with champagne. The idea for pairing morels with champagne came from the book “French Women Don’t’ Get Fat” by Mirelle Guilliano. In the book, Guiliano emphasizes the importance of eating foods in season, and by way of example, she offered a simple recipe for mushrooms—sautéed in butter and oil with some shallots, lemon juice, parsley and salt and pepper. Guiliano used chanterelles in the recipe, but I thought the simplicity of the recipe would work for morels, so I prepared them as she suggested but omitted the lemon juice. Morels are so delicate and light in flavor that I was concerned that the lemon juice would be too over powering. I paired the morels with Piper-Heidsieck champagne made from 50 different crus, made into wine separately, then carefully blended to create a crisp, dry, clean champagne. Piper-Heidsieck brut champagne tastes like spring and seemed an appropriate pairing with the first harvest of morels. The aroma is initially floral, but then opens to crisp apple and pear. The flavor has a hint of citrus and was a perfect counterpoint to the woodsy, light flavor of the morels.

The next dish I prepared with the morels was a wild mushroom ‘pizza’. I bought prepared whole-wheat pizza dough from Metcalfe’s and rolled it into a rough circle. I brushed the dough with black truffle oil and sautéed the morels in the truffle oil until they were just beginning to crisp. Next, I sprinkled a generous amount of the morels on the dough and topped the whole thing with about 4 ounces of smoked Gouda cheese. I baked it in a 450º oven for about 18 minutes. I paired this appetizer with Henkell Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine from Germany.

The crust of the pizza was delicious—light, delicate and crisp on the outside, soft and moist on the inside. It was a little too thick for the delicate flavor of the morels, and the next time I would use less dough. However, the combination of the black truffle oil, the morels and the smoked Gouda on the crispy crust was delicious. There was a woodsy, earthy taste that melted in our mouths. The Henkell Blanc de Blanc—a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling wines—contrasted with the flavors of the morels. Henkell Blanc de Blanc is crisp and fruit forward. There are subtle flavors of minerals and spice on the back of the tongue. These subtle flavors provided delicious hints of earthiness that seemed to complement the morels.

The next dish that I prepared with the morels was a morel and asparagus frittata for Sunday brunch. The recipe is easy, the frittata is delicious and paired with a crisp clean glass of Pol Roger Brut Reserve champagne celebrates the bounty of the springtime. To make the frittata, I sautéed the morels in butter and added some shallots and fresh asparagus (from our CSA) in an oven-safe frying pan. I use All-Clad, but a cast iron pan can also be used. I then cracked 8 eggs into a bowl, mixed them with salt and pepper, and poured them over the sautéed vegetables. I baked the frittata in a 350˚ oven for about 20 minutes—or until the eggs are fluffy. I then sprinkled a cup of mozzarella cheese and returned to the over for 5 minutes—or until the cheese has melted.

I served the frittata with freshly baked croissants and the Pol Roger Brut Reserve champagne. Pol Roger “white foil” champagne is made from Pinot Noir (Montagne de Reims), Pinot Menuier (Vallee de la Marne and Petite Valle d’Epernay) and Chardonnay (Cote des Blancs). It is a rich and elegant champagne that was said to be the favorite of not only Winston Churchill, but the British royal family as well. The champagne is bright straw in color, the nose is fruity, and the taste is reminiscent of butterscotch and savory tarts. It complimented the frittata and accentuated the flavors of not only the morels, but also the asparagus.

I began experimenting with morels in late April this year. Due to the rather warm March we experienced in Wisconsin, the morels arrived a bit earlier than usual. However, the annual Muscoda Morel Mushroom Festival (http://www.muscoda.com/event-morels-2012.html)  starts this Friday, May 18th and runs through Sunday, May 20th. Morels will be on sale starting at noon on Friday. I plan on being there….

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