It’s the time when rain’s ferocity turns soft, when leaves unfurl, blossoms emerge, and below, mushrooms push through pliant earth. Amble through a stand of ash trees or a dying apple orchard after a downpour and you’ll find them—pods of creviced, yellow morels, their hollow caps a ruse for delicate, loamy flavor. Just be mindful of a bigger ruse, the possibility of toxic duplicity. A guide, whether an expert forager (inquire at comafungi.org) or an expert reference, like Edible Mushrooms of North America, is indispensable.
Morels, like all wild mushrooms, may be coy in the woods, but certainly not in the kitchen. They’ll strut in risottos, in omelets, in sautés with their springtime pea and ramp brethren. Dry them in a warm oven, seal them in jars or plastic, and they’ll keep for years. Or freeze them—but don’t defrost them or you’ll have a spongy mush. Just throw them frozen into a buttery sauté pan and watch them revivify.
Harvest on Hudson (1 River St, Hastings-on-Hudson 914-478-2800) Executive Chef Vincent Barcelona discovered the virtues of morels as a young cook at Manhattan’s four-star Le Bernardin, where, he recalls, they were considered the Rolls-Royce of mushrooms. “They have a unique, organic, slightly mineral flavor,” he notes, extolling the honeycombed pits that “hold sauces and give texture. They can be sliced and chopped and still maintain their integrity.” His one caveat: they must be cooked quickly.
There’s plenty of morel integrity, and, rainy weather permitting, abundance, on his menu. Consider them partnered with bone marrow and in-house double-smoked bacon, the lusty mélange crowned with tarragon, chives, and chervil fresh from the Harvest garden. Or perhaps you’d prefer them as a bed for a seared diver-scallop pillow, with fiddlehead, ramp, and spring pea adornments. And, of course, they’ll suffuse a luscious risotto. So let it pour out there, let it blow… at the table, it’s sure to be all sunshine.
Morel and Spring Pea Risotto (Courtesy of Vincent Barcelona, Harvest on Hudson)
(Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer or side dish)
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, peeled, in small dice
2 cups fresh, cleaned morels, sliced crosswise
1 lb Arborio or Carnaroli rice
½ cup dry white wine 1 qt chicken stock, warmed*
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1 tsp white truffle oil (optional) salt and fresh-ground black pepper,
In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil and melt butter. Sauté diced onions and morels until golden. Add rice and stir 2 minutes, to toast. Add wine and stir until evaporated, about 2 minutes.
Decrease heat to low. Add enough warm stock to cover rice. Simmer, stirring constantly, until stock is almost absorbed by rice. Repeat with more stock, stirring with each addition. Rice is done when firm but tender to the bite, about 30 to 40 minutes. Before stock is completely absorbed, remove risotto to bowl, add cheese, truffle oil, and salt and pepper. Stir until risotto reaches a creamy consistency. Serve immediately.
*For vegetarian risotto, substitute vegetable stock