Spring spaghetti with morel mushrooms, lemon and chervil
Wild foods signal the arrival of spring. In the Pacific Northwest, our temperate forests will begin to send up wild onions shoots, wild ginger root and the prized morel mushroom. Here in Oregon, the first morels have made an appearance in the southern coastal region, which was spared the winter snows that blanketed the majority of rest of the state. (There will be a slow start to the foraging season in the Cascades, while we await the melt of record snowfalls.)
Coastal morels sometimes include sandy grit, which makes its way inside the mushroom. Examine morels carefully, as you would any wild mushroom; they are harvested from soil, and pickers don't always deliver them clean. For more information about how to clean wild mushrooms, including morels, watch this short demonstration of the method I find most effective.
Once they've been cleaned and are ready to cook, brown the morels in separate pan in order to control the color and texture. Morels brown beautifully, taking on a caramel-y tones when sauteed in a small amount of oil, and benefiting greatly from the addition of a small knob of fresh butter at the end of the cooking time, to lightly coat and flavor them.
Many grocery stores stock fresh pasta in their cold deli cases. I gravitate to this product when it's available, but am equally pleased with the result when I use a high quality dry pasta. Egg pasta is particularly good in this recipe, but if you prefer a deep earthy flavor to enhance the morels, look for--or make your own!--pasta made from dried mushroom powder.
Makes 4 servings
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 large shallot, finely minced
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces fresh morel or other wild mushrooms, cleaned and dried
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound fresh or high-quality dry pasta, your choice of shape (I used spaghetti, pictured at right)
4 ounces pea tendrils or baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup chervil or flat leaf parsley leaves
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
Add half of the minced shallot and the wine to a heavy-bottomed sauté pan and begin to reduce the mixture over low heat. Once the shallots are dry, add the cream and reduce the contents of the pan until you have a sauce-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat.
In a separate pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally to ensure that they color evenly. When they have browned nicely, add the remaining minced shallot and butter and turn off the heat, continuing to stir the contents of the pan until the ingredients are well incorporated.
Drop the pasta into the boiling water, bring the water back to a rolling boil and cook 2 to 3 minutes for fresh pasta. (Dry pasta will usually take 7 to 10 minutes; refer to the package for cooking instructions.) Test the pasta for doneness by removing a single strand and biting it between your teeth; it should be soft, but still offer a bit of firmness and resistance. This measurement of doneness, al dente, is Italian for "to the tooth."
Set aside some of the cooking water, drain the pasta and allow it to sit in the colander briefly before adding it to the pan with the shallots and cream. Any starch still clinging to the pasta will cause the sauce to thicken a bit more; add the pasta cooking water to thin it if necessary. Add the spinach and chervil leaves, along with the lemon juice and zest. Fold the ingredients together carefully, adding more salt and pepper, or pasta water, if necessary.
To serve, divide the pasta among four bowls, or arrange it on a large platter. Top the pasta with the mushrooms and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.