Morel mushrooms are being found and picked in the Kenai National Wildlife refuge by the bagful.
The savory mushrooms are best cooked fresh in a variety of ways, but especially with simple ingredients like butter or eggs. If you have managed to fill your fridge with the delicate fungi or just got a handful from a lucky friend, you can make meals so good you’ll be thinking about them until you can explore the burn area again next spring. That’s what happened to me at least.
Last summer, exploring a previous burn area off Skilak Lake Road, some friends and I found eight morel mushrooms. Enough to make a great dinner with. On our way home we talked about how we wanted to eat them that night, and the consensus was pasta. Always extra, my boyfriend and I decided to impress our friends by pulling out the pasta attachment for our KitchenAid and make some fresh fettuccine. The noodles cooked quickly, but we dressed them simply like carbonara, with butter, egg and cheese, with the mushrooms cooking amongst the flavors.
We ate our pasta with beer in the backyard on the picnic table. It was decadent. When the Swan Lake Fire started, we knew we had an opportunity to get even more morels and we talked about it all winter.
Last week, after hiking deep into burn areas south of Cooper Landing, we found nothing but footprints. After hours of walking through ash and over trees burnt black and crisp, I felt defeated.
Luckily, the next day, we hit the Farmers’ Market in Anchorage, where a vendor sells morels from the valley. We got the morels, the easy way. My aunt and uncle generously gave us some they found in the refuge too, along with some that were dehydrated and some finely crushed morel powder that will add a savory umami flavor to anything it seasons.
Pasta sounds good, but I feel paralyzed by the possibilities of my unexpected morel haul. I think we plan to just enjoy them simply, in butter or in eggs, maybe lightly fried. If I’m feeling really ambitious, maybe I’ll make pasta again. It was so good last time.
A savory, buttery morel pasta
This dish is decadent. Using fresh pasta makes it all the more decadent, but isn’t necessary. It’s not too hard if you want to try it and have a pasta machine.
Fresh pasta (if using)
2 cups flour
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1. Pour flour into a pile inside a large mixing bowl. Dig a well into the center of the pile and pour the egg and yolks into the center of the well.
2. Take a fork and start mixing the eggs, slowly incorporating flour into the egg mixture. Do this until the flour and eggs are mixing together into a shaggy dough.
3. With clean hands, begin to knead and press the dough together to create one mass of dough. If needed, add another yolk to help incorporate.
4. Once the dough is single mass, knead it on a lightly floured surface for several minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic and set it aside for half an hour in a room temperature spot.
5. Set up the pasta machine and flour the surface of your counter or several baking sheets to line the cut pasta on.
6. When the dough has rested long enough, unwrap it and flatten it out with the palm of your hand so it can fit into the rollers of the pasta machine. On the widest setting, begin to roll the pasta through the rollers. Take the dough and fold the two ends back into the center like a piece of paper being folded into thirds. Drive the dough through the rollers two more times, repeating the folding.
7. Once the dough has been pressed and folded three times, you can begin to roll out the dough, decreasing the width of the rollers, until the sufficient pasta thickness is achieved. I like to stop when I can see my hand shape through the pasta.
8. Once the pasta is thin enough, process the sheet of dough through pasta cutters on the fettuccine setting, or cut long strips from the sheet by hand using a knife or pizza cutter. Dust the fresh pasta with flour so the dough doesn’t stick to the pasta or the surface.
9. Fresh pasta cooks quickly in salted boiling water, just a couple minutes. Cook until the pasta is just barely cooked, extremely al dente. Have the sauce in the sauce pan ready on low heat to continue cooking the pasta in the sauce.
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup of grated pecorino cheese
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of butter
A good handful of morel mushrooms, however many you want (we used eight small ones)
Pasta, one third of the fresh pasta made or a 12 ounce box of pasta
1. In a mixing bowl, whip together the eggs, yolks and cheese. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper.
2. In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium/low heat and saute the mushrooms until they are tender and browned. Remove from the heat and set aside until it’s time to add the al dente pasta to the skillet, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
3. Over low heat, stir the pasta into the buttery morel mix for about a minute, or until the pasta is reasonably coated. Turn the heat off and take the skillet off the heat.
4. Slowly add the egg and cheese mixture to the pasta while mixing and incorporating it into the pasta. Add some of the reserved pasta water for added creaminess. Serve with more pecorino and grated pepper and serve immediately.