Langdon Cook's Hunt for Morels
Call the doctor. I feel a sickness coming on. It’s May and that can mean only one thing: morel mushrooms on the brain.
Rudely shaped and tasting of earth-bound fecundity, morels are among the most beloved of mushrooms. Looking for them in the wild, as any seasoned morel hunter will tell you, is a disease. You might not see “morel madness” listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but the symptoms are well known: an urgent need to drop everything and head for the hills; a tendency to walk with eyes glued to the ground; a general cageyness.
Our local farmers’ markets usually carry the cure, and these fleeting signs of spring—along with asparagus, fiddleheads and Columbia River spring chinook—may also be found in any restaurant worth its locavore street cred (though even small doses come at a price). But if you want to heal thyself, here’s a basic piece of advice: Go east. Morels prefer the dry side of the mountains, where they march from river-valley cottonwoods up to fragrant mountain forests of fir and pine. The mother lode is often found among the scorched yet revitalized ground of the previous year’s wildfires.
First-time morel sufferers are advised to sign up for a Puget Sound Mycological Society foray for immediate attention (annual membership: $30). Otherwise, you can take your chances. Pulling off a logging road in the Wenatchee National Forest for a poke around might yield fruit—or it might be the first in a long string of goose eggs.
And don’t think that first score will be a palliative. Some sicknesses can’t be cured no matter how much you treat them. However, some spring risotto with morels and asparagus can provide temporary relief.
Spring Risotto with Morels & Asparagus
2 dozen thin asparagus spears
20 medium-size morels, halved
1 cup Arborio rice
1 small onion, diced
1 to 2 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
2 tablespoons butter, divided use
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Reserve 2-inch tops of asparagus, cutting the remainder into 1-inch pieces. Blanch asparagus (minus tops) for 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Blanch asparagus tops 1 minute right before serving.
2. Sauté onion and garlic in a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil over medium heat until soft, a couple minutes. Add morels and cook for 2 to 3 minutes before adding asparagus (again, minus tops). Cook together another 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Deglaze the pan with white wine. When liquid has nearly bubbled off, add rice, stirring to coat. Toast rice for 2 minutes over medium heat.
4. Add a ladleful of warm chicken broth at a time until rice is al dente.
5. Remove from heat; stir in a tablespoon of butter and the Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, garnishing with asparagus tops.