Morels have always been highly prized, especially in ancient times by Egyptian pharaohs who believed Mushrooms were food of the gods. A discerning bunch, the pharaohs forbade mere mortals to consume Morels.
There are seven distinct Morels in California, all in the family Morchellaceae (order Pezizales) but from three different groups: wood-chip habitat, naturals, and burns. They can be tan, yellow, or black in color, have short, thick, hollow stems and sponge-like, webbed caps that are either pointed or round. Their honeycombed tops are hollow and slice into beautiful rings and are perfect for stuffing.
Morels are one of spring’s most beloved ingredients, and like the pharaohs, today’s chefs revere their rich earthy quality.
In her seminal book Chez Panisse Vegetables, Alice Waters says,
“The morels’ earthy, nutty flavor goes perfectly with all the spring vegetables: asparagus, peas, new onions, potatoes, green garlic,” and she has a great recipe for potato, Morel, and onion Fricassee. For that recipe, she suggests cutting the Morels in half lengthwise before sautéing them, and substituting green garlic for the onions.
Her recipe for Wild Mushrooms Baked in Parchment seasons the Morels with salt, pepper, shallots or herbs, a little butter, and a squeeze of lemon. The parchment packages cook on a preheated sheet pan for just 5 minutes, and the deceptively simple preparation really lets the Morel shine. Chef Waters recommends making a package for each person so they will “have the pleasure of opening a package and inhaling the escaping aromas.” Lovely!
Always fully cook Morels. You will be rewarded with a rich, woodsy fragrance and flavor.
Those pharaohs knew a thing or two about food!
Morel mushrooms are available in the spring, generally from mid-to-late March and into June. They are generally a special order, so you will want to plan accordingly.
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Image and content contributed by Karen Beverlin, vice president of Specialty Sales at The Produce Hunter. Find the best of the Santa Monica Farmers Market every week with The Produce Hunter on Instagram. The Produce Hunter curates the farmers markets, and works with small, local family farmers committed to sustainable agriculture, responsible production, and propagation and promotion of fruit and vegetables with exceptional flavor.
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