Morels with Asparagus & Potatoes
Serves 1 hungry person or 3 for tapas.
Spring is the celebrated season of the mushroom hunter. The Morel will lure prospective mushroom hunters from hundreds of miles in its pursuit. Their ability to camouflage into their environment make them a tough quarry to seek, and those keen of eye and swift of foot tend to have the greatest success. It is very rare that a mushroom hunter will share the location of a crop of prized Morels, let-alone share the bounty.
There is little agreement on the best places to find wild Morels but they tend to emerge as the snow recedes, they fruit most abundantly upon land which has recently been disturbed, cleared or burned, they are partial to a recently deceased Elm or an orchard. However, an abundant crop cannot be guaranteed year after year…the Morel is a fickle mushroom with a low boredom threshold and a penchant for travelling.
The Morel is sometimes referred to as the ‘Sponge Mushroom’ because of its pitted appearance. Morels will rapidly lose their flavour if soaked in water and their delicate structure doesn’t stand-up well to brushing. Therefore, if you feel the need to clean your Morels give them the briefest of washes under a running tap until they are clean then dry them gently on a clean tea-towel. Avoid using any spongey textured Morels as these will not taste very nice.
I was so delighted to stumble across a basket of wild Morels on Easter Monday in my local pork butcher that I almost forgot the ‘butt de porc’ I had gone to buy. Inextricably entwined with so many other flavours of spring, I could not resist these little treasures.
Luck was obviously on my side, as I browsed the local market stalls the first of the Rousillon asparagus was on display. The pencil-thin, crisp, stalks at their absolute finest during these first weeks of the short season.
Inspired by my basketful of spring bounty a recipe by Colman Andrews sprang to mind. The traditional Catalan dish ‘Patates amb Rabassoles’ features Morels braised with potatoes. Personally I prefer my dishes to include some colour, and Andrews’ ‘Catalan Cuisine’ was written in the era where Catalan food was traditionally brown in colour, so I have adapted and modernised the recipe to better suit my tastes.
This time of year also heralds the fresh green onion and fresh garlic which wilt quickly and add a wonderful sweetness to this dish. I use fresh chicken stock but a good quality ready-made stock will suffice and if you are vegetarian the earthy nuttiness of the Morels will give more than enough flavour without a need to substitute; perhaps add a knob of butter just before serving.
1 fresh onion- trimmed and sliced into 1cm pieces, including most of the green stalk (or 4 spring onions)
2 fresh green/wet garlic bulbs- trimmed and sliced into 1cm pieces, including most of the green stalk (or 1 dried garlic clove crushed)
2tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
200g Small New Potatoes- washed and cut into 1cm slices
200ml Chicken Stock (or water)
150g Morels- cleaned and cut into bite-size pieces (unless already bite-sized!)
100g asparagus- cut into 3cm pieces
Sweat the sliced onion and garlic in a frying pan with a pinch of salt and 3tsp of water until the garlic and onion are meltingly soft.
Add the potato slices and the stock/water, season, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 6 minutes; or until the potatoes are cooked.
Add the Morels and the asparagus and bring the pan back to a simmer and braise until everything is tender (this will take about 6 minutes). If the pan starts to dry; add a little more water. There should be enough liquid left after cooking to provide some sauce, but there doesn’t want to be more than 1cm of liquid in the pan.
Turn off the heat, allow the dish to rest for 2 minutes then check the seasoning.
Serve with a baguette or sourdough bread.
I enjoyed a cool glass of Cava with this dish (Gramona Illustros Gran Reserva 2005, from Cellar Del Tast, Torroella de Montgri of the Alt Emporda region of Catalunya).