Pasta with Morel Mushrooms – If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some wild morel mushrooms you’ll wow your guests with this delicate, creamy pasta dish. It’s a rare spring treat.
I’ve become a mushroom-picking maniac, thanks to my mushroom-mentor friend, Alex. This post tells about what a scaredy-cat I used to be about foraging for mushrooms in the wild. But then along came Alex, and now my fungi-foraging world has ‘mushroomed’! There was last fall’s huge puffball extravaganza, and then the wild mushroom risotto made with honey mushrooms from our hunt. You can see that with her expert guidance I’ve now become quite comfortable picking those delectable little morsels from the forest floor.
When she called me up last week and said, The morels are ready, well I had rubber boots on and pail in hand before you could say ‘mushroom-mooching mama’.
We spent several hours tromping through the forest, often scrambling on hands and knees under bushes and low-hanging branches to spot these elusive spring mushrooms. Morels love moist, shady hollows, and are crafty little devils, camouflaging themselves amongst the carpet of brown leaves covering the spring forest.
These mushrooms are so funny-looking, with their wrinkly little caps on tall creamy-coloured stems. They make me smile. I have a hunch that when we lumbering humans aren’t around, those little morels get up to all kinds of shenanigans together with the wood fairies. They’re probably partying up a storm in the dappled shade of the forest, dancing and giggling, and laughing at us big people.
It was such a joy tromping through the trees on a spring evening. The forest was calm and smelled of wet leaves and new growth.
After several hours, a few twigs in our hair, and a rip in my pants, Alex and I had a modest harvest in our pails.
I brought the mushrooms home and picked them over (for critters that hitched a ride).
Trimmed off the longer stems, then a quick rinse in a colander under running water. I laid them out to dry a bit on a clean tea towel.
These early morels were very moist and juicy – quite different from the variety we had at the lake a few years ago. I sautéed a couple chopped shallots and a clove of garlic in butter, then added the mushrooms. When I cooked them up they released a LOT of water, but that’s okay – the liquid made a wonderful sauce. A few sprigs of thyme and a splash of marsala wine, and there it is – a taste of a spring forest in your pan.
Just cook up a pot of pasta so it’s nice and chewy – al dente. Top with a few spoonfuls of these creamy morels and you can close your eyes and hear the rustling of the leaves as you you amble down the forest path.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: I used gluten-free corn penne for the dish because the shape of the pasta echoed the shape of the morel mushroom stems, but you can use any other shape of pasta you wish. Spaghetti would be nice, too.
If you’re not lucky enough to find a cache of morel mushrooms, substitute any other wild mushroom, or even use button mushrooms – just tear them into irregular sized chunks with your fingers. If using other mushrooms, they may not give off as much liquid as these morels do, then add chicken or vegetable broth to make the sauce thin enough to generously coat the pasta.
The morel sauce can also be cooked ahead without the cream and cheese and refrigerated – just reheat gently and add the cream, cornstarch, and Parmesan just before serving.
And if you have it – a little drizzle of truffle oil over the top of the dish intensifies the delicate mushroom flavour.
Pasta with Morel Mushrooms in Cream Sauce
- 350 gms/12 oz penne pasta, gluten-free or regular
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 large shallots, finely chopped (or 1 cup onion)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 6 cups (500gms) fresh morel mushrooms (or substitute other mushrooms of your choice), rinsed and dried on a towel, long stems cut in half
- 2 tablespoons dry marsala wine or sherry
- several sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried thyme)
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (gluten-free if necessary)
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ cup (60ml) heavy cream/whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- a drizzle of truffle oil – optional
Set a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. When boiling, add the pasta and cook for the time recommended on the package for al dente pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, sauté the shallots and garlic in the butter until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the whole morels and stems, marsala, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook for 5 minutes, occasionally giving the mushrooms a gentle stir. (At this point, if using regular mushrooms, you may need to add up to a cup of broth – enough to almost cover the mushrooms while they are cooking.)
In a small bowl or cup, stir together the whipping cream, cornstarch, and Parmesan cheese. Stir into the bubbling mushrooms and cook for one more minute.
Divide the pasta between plates and top each serving with a few spoonfuls of the morels in cream sauce. Drizzle each plateful with a bit of truffle oil, if desired.
Serves 4 as a main course, or 6 as an appetizer course.
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