It’s the most wonderful time of the year – if you’re a fan of mushrooms, that is. Since relocating to Spokane more than five years ago, I can’t help but look forward to morel mushroom season, and, yes, I believe it deserves a season all its own.
Morel mushrooms are a highly regarded culinary treat by chefs and mushroom lovers. This is because they are only grown in the wild. Spring is the time when foragers hit the wilderness to hunt for this decadent delight, but the season is short and depends a lot on weather, elevation and climate.
Thriving in damp, yet warm environments make this season even a bit shorter than some in our surrounding areas. However, true enthusiasts will travel to their favorite and secretive spots to gather these beauties for some delicious eats.
It’s always a great time to get out in nature come springtime and hunt for the little gems, even if you don’t happen to find any (such as myself this year). Luckily, morel mushrooms are readily available at farmers markets in the spring, and although they cost a pretty penny, they are worth it for a nice treat to welcome the warmer weather ahead.
Morel mushrooms vary widely in size, shape and appearance, and they can be many different colors. However, common traits in all morels are their honeycomb exterior with many nooks and crannies, and the insides are white and hollow.
The flavor is earthy and nutty with a meaty texture, and they are a perfect application for a quick cook as they are thinner and more delicate than most mushrooms. They also don’t tend to become slimy as some mushrooms do.
Because of the honeycomb texture on the exterior of the mushroom, morels require a little more cleaning. The best way, I’ve been told, to clean them (by my true morel-loving friend Megan) is to get them into cool and lightly salted water as soon as possible.
She recommends letting them sit in this water and delicately jostling them about every so often for about 10-15 minutes to loosen and knock loose any dirt or sand that is hiding out in those crannies.
Then remove them from the water, give them a good rinse and lightly pat them dry with a soft cloth or paper towel. The addition of salt in the water helps to clean the mushroom and, in a way, sanitize and preserve them, as morels have a short shelf life and should be used within a few days of obtaining.
The recipe I’m sharing is a simple preparation, so make sure the ingredients are the best you can source. The mushroom’s true earthy flavor shines and is heightened by the black pepper and the woodsy flavor of thyme.
The butter provides a rich fat to help crisp and intensify the mushroom nuttiness, and the blank note of the ricotta helps to stretch the mushroom flavor further, with the creaminess providing a nice contrast in texture against the meaty morel with those crisped edges and nooks.
If you can’t find morels, other mushrooms can be used for another delicious version of this recipe. But I hope that you can try this with morels to see what the hype of this wonderful and special morsel is all about.
Morels and Ricotta on Baguette
8 ounces whole milk ricotta
¼ cup heavy cream
1 lemon, zested and juiced
½ pound fresh morel mushrooms (or other mushrooms, if morels can’t be sourced), cleaned and quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, depending on the desired level of heat
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium baguette, freshly toasted, cooled and sliced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (pick the leaves from the woodsy stem)
Kosher salt and freshly cracked ground pepper, to taste
In a medium bowl, vigorously combine the ricotta, heavy cream and lemon zest until fully combined. Season the ricotta with freshly cracked black pepper and set aside.
Heat the butter in a heavy bottom skillet over medium high heat. Once the butter is about 80% melted, add in the minced garlic and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.
Add in the quartered morels and immediately stir to move the mushroom pieces around in the pan. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until the moisture is released and starts to evaporate.
The butter should start to brown, and the edges of the mushrooms will start to crisp and brown. Add the reserved lemon juice and remove from the heat. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper, to taste.
Evenly top each baguette slice with the ricotta mixture. Top each toast with the morel mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with the picked thyme and a pinch of finishing or flake salt.
Yield: Serves 2-4 people
Ricky Webster, owner of Rind and Wheat and Morsel by Rind and Wheat, can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Webster on Instagram @rickycaker.
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