This eye-catching mushroom delivers memorable spring meals, writes STEVE MANFREDI.
Edible wild mushrooms are almost always found in autumn but some, like the morel, turn up in abundant quantities in spring. The morel (Morchella esculenta) is famous in Europe and North America but it’s in season now in parts of southern Australia.
Of all the edible mushrooms, the morel is perhaps the strangest looking. It has a hollow stem leading up to a head of crinkled, honeycomb-like cavities, making striking patterns ranging in colour from light grey to brown and even jet-black.
I remember my first taste, some 30 years ago. I was working at Jenny Ferguson’s You and Me restaurant in King Street. She’d poached the morels in cream and they’d absorbed the pan juices of the accompanying meat like a sponge. The texture was soft to begin but then had the most wonderful firmness and a deep, rich, mushroomy flavour.
Back then, local morels had not yet been found, so we used dried French ones. These dried imported morels remain the most intensely flavoured but when the fresh Victorian crop is around I like to use them in as many dishes as possible.
Morels are particularly good with roast veal or chicken, in a cream sauce tossed with pasta and in egg-based dishes.
MOREL AND ASPARAGUS BRUSCHETTA
This dish is adapted from Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food. It can be made up to a day in advance by omitting balsamic, adding it at the last minute.
Heat half olive oil in a pan and gently fry morels for 2 minutes until wilted. Place in a bowl with remaining oil, balsamic vinegar, chilli, basil and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Blanch asparagus in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and cut into 2cm-long pieces. Mix in with morels. Grill or toast bread slices and arrange 2 on each plate. Divide morel mixture evenly on top and serve.
Serves 4 as a first course
Wine: Light-bodied pinot noir.
MOREL AND SPRING PEA FRITTATA
If fresh morels can’t be found, use dried ones. Place dried morels in cold water for 15-20 minutes to re-hydrate. Drain and pat dry before using. Dried porcini or ceps can also be used.
Remove any twigs or dirt from morels. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook peas until tender. Drain and place in a bowl with 2 tbsp butter, salt and pepper. Mash with a fork, cover and keep warm. Heat remaining butter in a pan and gently fry eschalot and garlic for 30 seconds. Add drained and dried morels and fry, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Season and set aside. Beat 2 eggs in a bowl with 1 tbsp parmesan and a little salt and pepper. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a 15-18cm crepe pan or skillet and pour in beaten egg. Move egg around to cover pan. It will take less than 1 minute to cook through, and should be a little creamy. Don’t turn it. Add some cooked morels and peas on top. Place on a warm plate and quickly repeat to make another one. Serve immediately.
Serves 2 as a first course or breakfast
Wine: Chardonnay or viognier