5.06.2009

earned

morel and pea pasta from above

One of the best things about spring this year has been Charles-hugging walks through Cambridge with my friend, Varina. (Charles, as in the river, folks. Though I have been known to spontaneously hug my walking companions, so if your name is Charles, and we happen to go for a stroll along the water one day, "Charles-hugging" may take on double meaning.)

When it comes to spotting the harbingers of spring, Varina is an eagle eye. But that's not all. Varina is also an earnest cheerleader of all things newly green and budding. She notices every almost-blossom. Even the tiniest green shoot catches her eye as it reaches up between the red bricks in the sidewalk. The curling, tissuey tip of a new leaf is enough to stop her in her tracks. And then, she cheers. And applauds. Yes, literally applauds. All this clapping and "Good for you!" and "You can do it!" might be a little over the top, were it not for the fact that this is Varina we're talking about, a woman whose every move springs directly from her golden heart. She is genuinely moved by all of this brave new life around her, and she's not afraid to show it.

Varina explained her enthusiasm to me this way: "I just love living in a place where spring is earned."

Amen, Varina.

It was a long, cold winter, friends, and I'm as grateful as anyone to see the trees in full bloom. But it's something else that comes to mind when I consider what's well-earned this time of year. For me, it's the wrinkly brown and gray mushrooms that have taken up residence once again at my favorite market. I speak of morels. Morels. Their power over me is absolute. Never mind whatever I was planning on making for dinner. There are morels to be had! As suddenly as they appeared, they will be gone, so there's no time to lose. With the morel comes a directive: "seize the day." If you know what's good for you, you'll listen.

morels just washed

The price tag on these little guys can be off-putting, I know. But here's the thing: morels are really quite light. Pick up a couple in your hand, and you'll see. So even if they're going for twenty-something dollars a pound, you can still scoop up enough for two generously-sized portions and spend under $10.

I like morels best simply prepared - sauteed in butter, seasoned with a little salt and pepper. That's all it takes to get them into top form: brown and crisp around the edges, moist and earthy on the inside. Thanks to some spot-on "morel guidance" (couldn't resist) from Suzanne Goin via her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, I gussied up my first morels of the season with fresh thyme. And thanks to an open carton in the fridge that I was afraid might spoil, I added a splash of cream. The result was a recipe that I'll make as many times as I can before the season passes and morels slip away.

When my sister, Kasey, walked in the door and saw morels sliding around in the pan, she swooned on the spot. I don't think she fully came to until well after the meal, when all that remained in our mouths was the lingering memory of the mushrooms that announced, in no uncertain terms, "It's spring." As for me, had my mouth not been otherwise occupied, I no doubt would have taken my cues from Varina, stopped mid-bite, and cheered.

***

Spring cleaning: Before I get to today's recipe, I have a few quick housekeeping announcements. If you will kindly direct your attention to the sidebar, you'll see that I've been fixing up the place a bit for us.

Below the archives, you will find a link to the Sweet Amandine recipe index, which is now up and running, and up-to-date.

In my "about" section, I have listed my e-mail address. I truly love hearing from you, in both your comments and your e-mails, and hope that you will continue to write. Without your sweet voices, it would be awfully quiet and lonely around here.

Moving on down the sidebar, you'll find links to click if you would like to subscribe to Sweet Amandine by either RSS or e-mail.

This next announcement will no doubt seem improbable to those of you who know me best but, well, here goes nothin': "Tweeeet!" That's right, it's not only the birds around here who are doing the chirping this spring. I've decided to join in the fun on Twitter. You can follow me by clicking the badge on the sidebar, or by clicking here.

Next, I've listed a small selection of the blogs and sites that I turn to when I'm looking for inspiration. It's a joy to share with you the treasures I have found. I plan to rotate my favorites through this mini-list in the hope that some of you will click through, and enjoy what you see. There's so much extraordinary talent out there - writers, photographers, designers. It's really quite humbling. You'll find a longer, growing list of the folks I like to visit, here.

And now, patient reader, the recipe.

***

Lemony Pasta with Morels and Peas
inspired by the dish I enjoyed on my 27th birthday at Chez Panisse, and by Suzanne Goin's recipe for a sauté of white asparagus, morels, and ramps published in Sundays at Lucques.

4 oz. dry linguine (1/4 of a 1 lb. box)
1/4-1/2 lb morel mushrooms
1 c. fresh or frozen peas
2 T. fresh thyme, chopped
2 T. butter
1/4 c. heavy cream
Zest from 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (or more, according to taste)
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Boil the water for the pasta in a large pot. While you are waiting for the water to boil, clean the morels. The trick is to keep the mushrooms as dry as possible. If they soak up too much water, they won't brown as nicely and their texture won't be quite the same. Here's what to do: First, cut them in half, fill a bowl with water, and use a slightly damp pastry brush to sweep out the dirt. Clean the brush between sweeps in the bowl of water. You can also use the brush to coax out any grit from the spongy surface. Place the morels on a dry towel to soak up any excess moisture.

Chop the thyme, and zest the lemon.

When the water is ready, boil the pasta according the directions on the package, typically about 9 minutes. (The cooked pasta will spend a minute or two in a hot pan later on, so better to undercook it slightly than to overcook it.)

Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium-high heat in a heavy pan. When the butter foams, add the morels. Sauté the mushrooms for 4-5 minutes, stirring often. Turn down the heat to medium, add the chopped thyme, and a few grinds of salt and pepper. Allow the morels to cook for another 8 minutes, or until the released juices have evaporated. (Don't forget to remove your pasta from the heat and drain it when the time comes!) The morels are done when they are crispy and lightly browned on the outside, but still tender.

Add the peas to the pan, and cook for another minute. Turn down the heat to low, and stir in the lemon zest. Add the cooked pasta to the pan, and stir to mix with the morels and peas. Pour in the heavy cream, and swirl it around the pan. Remove from heat. Stir in the olive oil, and squeeze the 1/2 a lemon over top. Mix gently, and serve immediately.

Serves two.
morel and pea pasta up close

17 comments:

koshercamembert said...

Yes, there is a beauty in a place where Spring is earned (like many of the best things in life)! I'm with you on the East coast seasons and (and Russo's, when I can get there). - Zahavah

jonathan schleifer said...

May 6, 2009 NY Times Crossword: 61A: "Morel morsel" (4 letters).

Gabi said...

Check in your backyard - there's a good chance you will find a morel habitat!

That's what we discovered in your Chicago NW suburb home!

Cheers!

Gabi.

Jess said...

Hi, Zahavah. Thanks for your thoughts on our East coast spring and the lovely Russo's!

Jonathan - Oh, fun! Thanks for this. Uh, is the answer, "stem?" Not being an expert in morel anatomy, I can't think of anything else. Though I'd like to think it might be something like "oyum" or "sigh." I do believe you were at our table the first time I ever prepared morels... xo

Gabi - Wow, lucky you! We're apartment-dwelling city folks, so I'm not sure I would have much luck hunting morels a few feet from my doorstep. But you never know. There are, in fact, successful morel hunters living in the Boston area. Maybe the little treasures are closer than I think...

Pink of Perfection said...

as soon as i laid my eyes on this, a slow "ooooohhhh" came tumbling out of my mouth. yum.

jacqui | happyjackeats said...

oh, this looks lovely! i'm a big fan of peas and mushrooms. never tried morels, though -- it's now officially on my list of foods-to-eat.

found your site through Shannalee on twitter. i'll be back for more! :)

Jess said...

Hi, Pink of Perfection. Thanks for stopping by. I'm with you on the "ooooohhh." I think the morel may be the most swoon-worthy mushroom.

Nice to meet you, Jacqui. I love the thought of someone trying morels for the very first time. I'm excited for you! I like knowing that you found me through Shannalee - I'm a big fan of her site.

Jen said...

I've passed by Russo's often, having no idea that it was a treasure trove of culinary delights! My eyes have devoured your pasta pics, now I'll work on the real thing...

Rebekka said...

That is beautiful, if not PERFECT! I love how gorgeous peas are with pasta. So bright and verdant. LOVE your blog!

Jess said...

Thanks for your note, Jen. Oh, are you in for a treat. Russo's is the best. I can't wait for you to step inside!

Hi Rebekka. It's a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for your very kind words. I agree - there is something quite beautiful about pasta and peas.

jose said...

fantastic recipe for a warm spring evening, thanks for sharing. this was a hit with myself and my wife. thanks!

Jess said...

Hi, Jose. I'm thrilled that the recipe was a success in your kitchen, too. Thank you very much for leaving a note to let me know. I hope you will stop in again soon. Enjoy those warm spring evenings, in the meantime.

kasey said...

Hey Jess - I made this with a friend last night and used Russo's homemade linguine. Mmmmmm mmmmmm. This glum weather makes the day drag, but I'm happy to save the Summer days and hold on to Spring, so long as it means morels are still in season.

Jess said...

Thanks so much for reporting back, Kasey. I'm very pleased to hear that the recipe earned some contented humming at your house, too. You certainly bumped this dish up a notch with that homemade linguine. That sounds amazing. Seriously - amazing! I'm with you, by the way: I would gladly hang back in springtime for a little while if I could have a few more morels on my plate.

Steve said...

100% with Kasey on this one Jess- it was amazing. The morels were absolutely fantastic (yeah the pasta was pretty good too), and I love that this goes from simple cooking to complex chemistry. I can't believe the citrus doesn't curdle the cream. They definitely never taught me that one in chemistry class.

Jess said...

Hi, Steve. I'm so glad to hear it. And about this citrus and cream business - I know! I was nervous about combining the two for fear that the cream would curdle. But I knew that I had seen recipes in the past that called for both lemon juice and cream. I have no idea why it works here but not, say, in tea. Can anyone out there shed some light on this for us?

Kasey said...

I made this dish for dinner tonight and was blown away by it. I mean, the flavors were incredible--lemony, creamy, nutty--everything that a spring dish should be. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. I will definitely be making it again! Also, I made it with whole wheat spaghetti and thought it worked just fine. Next time, I'll play around with different pastas--and maybe throw in some pancetta as well.