Foraging and Risotto

Fresh morels, ready to be used!

My family has a tradition of foraging for morel mushrooms in the spring.  When I was a kid, my parents would force me to go out into the forest in the spring and hunt for these mushrooms.  We had to dodge devil’s club and stinging nettle and stay out for what seemed like hours!  Plus, I never wanted to actually eat the morels, because they looked like something kids don’t want to eat.  But… needless to say, it was a memory.

Now, as an adult, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to doing.  The morels are only up for 2-3 weeks, and I missed going out with my family.  So, last night, after our early family Easter dinner, my dad took my husband and I out. 

It was my husband’s first time going morel hunting, and it was pretty exciting!  The morels hide under fallen leaves and are camouflaged incredibly well.  My family has secret morel picking spots, and you have to know what kind of areas are good to forage in.  My dad told me that I am the fourth generation of our family that has picked morels in the forests around my childhood home.  That’s pretty exciting!

This was the first time that I have actually picked morels with the purpose of cooking something with them.  It’s incredibly gratifying to go walk around in the forest, picking mushrooms, and then use them to create an amazing meal!

I decided to make an Asparagus and Morel Risotto.  I looked online for some ideas, and I ended up adapting one of Jamie Oliver’s recipes to make my risotto.  This is the same base recipe that I used for the Daring Cook’s Challenge last month.  If you would like to try the risotto, but don’t have access to fresh morels, you can substitute other varieties of wild mushrooms as well.

Now, I read up on morels last night, as I don’t really know a lot about them.  Basically, they are a wild mushroom that grows throughout North America, concentrated in southern Canada and the northern US.  They also grow in Europe.  They are ready to be picked in the West (where we are) first, and continue to ripen throughout central and eastern North America during the spring and summer.  They are difficult to cultivate in farms, and so as a result are very expensive to buy.  Now, this may go without saying, but please don’t go out into the forest and forage for mushrooms, unless you are with an expert.  There are many mushrooms that are poisonous, and it’s just not worth the risk!

To clean the morels, I rinsed them in a bowl of cool water, and then I ran them under water to make sure all of the debris and bugs were off of them.  My family always soaks them in salt water, and maybe that would have been a good idea, but I decided not to.   My grandma always sautéed the morels in butter with salt and pepper, and I have some left over that I am planning to saute for dinner tomorrow.

Asparagus and Morel Risotto
Serves 6-8
Recipe adapted from Jamie’s Italy

6 cups chicken stock (you can substitute veggie stock if you prefer)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
a dollop of butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 bunch of thin asparagus, cut into one inch pieces
2 cups morels, cleaned, halved or quartered if large
2 cups risotto (Arborio) rice
2 wineglasses of dry white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 Tbsp. butter
approximately 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the stock.  Put the first amounts olive oil and butter in a separate pan, add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the asparagus and morels.  Stir and cook for a minute.  Add the rice and turn up the heat.

The rice will begin to lightly fry, so keep stirring!  After a minute, it will look slightly translucent.  Add the wine and keep stirring. 

Once the wine has cooked into the rice, add a ladle full of hot stock and some salt.  Turn the rice down to a simmer, so it doesn’t cook too quickly.  Once the stock is absorbed, add another ladle full.  Keep stirring the rice, and waiting until all of the stock is absorbed before adding the next ladle.  After about 15 minutes, check the rice to see if it’s cooked.  If not, keep on adding stock until the rice is cooked.  If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, you can add boiling water in place of the stock.

When the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and add the 5 Tbsp. butter, Parmesan and parsley.  Stir well.  Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes.  Season carefully to taste.   Serve with grated Parmesan to garnish.

 Have fun celebrating Spring!
The Hungry Teacher

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