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Morels in Cream Sauce

Prep Time: 18 min. | Cook Time: 4 min.
By Tom Dickson

This story is featured in Montana Outdoors May-June 2013 issue

After 20 years of picking and cooking morels, I still never tire of the sport—or the taste.

Finding these forest mushrooms can be difficult. I’ve spent hours searching the charred floor of a burned forest without finding a single one. Usually the weather has been too dry; morels like a soaking rain followed by a few warm days before deciding to poke their heads up through the duff. During hot weather when the ground is dry, I’ve learned to look along forest pools, seeps, and stream banks.

Then again, sometimes morels blanket a forest floor and you and a partner can fill a pillowcase in just a few hours.

The biological conditions that create morel growth is little understood. The mushrooms pop up in late spring and early summer when soil temperature reaches a certain level. Morels also respond to soil disturbance, such as a fire or flood. Experienced pickers key in on areas burned the previous year. Or they search the islands of big rivers in early summer after water levels drop.

Most morels in Montana are picked west of the Continental Divide because of the moister soil conditions. Peak picking is generally around Mother’s Day weekend, later at higher elevations.

If you’ve never picked morels before, go with people who know what they’re doing. Or visit a popular site, like those in large burned forests, and ask other pickers for advice. Morel hunters may be secretive, but we’re friendly.

Picking morels in national forests requires a free permit available from ranger stations. Offices are open only Monday through Friday, so if you want to pick on the weekend, get your permit ahead of time.

Morels have a wonderful nutty flavor and are simple to cook. The easiest way is also the tastiest: Slice them in half and sauté in butter, drain on paper towels, salt liberally, and eat as you would french fries. I like to put sautéed morels atop grilled steaks right before serving.

Another favorite is this easy recipe for morels in cream sauce. I usually serve it as a side dish over pasta or in puff pastry, sometimes adding asparagus or peas for color and nutrition.Bear bullet


Morels in Cream Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz. morels, rinsed, dried, and sliced
in half lengthwise
1 T. minced shallots (or onions)
1 T. butter
¼ c. dry white wine
1 c. half-and-half (not fat free)
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried pasta
2 T. chopped parsley
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS
Add at the end:
8 oz. steamed asparagus, cut into
2-inch pieces, or
8 oz. frozen peas, thawed

PREPARATION
Melt butter in a saucepan. Saute shallots and morels for about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Add nutmeg and half-and-half. Simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste. If desired, stir in asparagus or peas.

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil and add pasta. Cook, drain, and top with morel sauce, parsley, and grated parmesan.

Tom Dickson is editor of Montana Outdoors.

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