May It Please The Palate: Let's hope your hunt for 'MOR-als' is over so switch to 'mor-ELS'

I was not turned on to these babies until only a few years ago.

Staying at a buddy's cabin up north for a golfing and poker weekend, one of my friends kept looking for wild morel mushrooms every time he hit an errant shot.

Back at the cabin, we went foraging for them as well as another curious delicacy, the fiddlehead fern. We fried the morels and fiddleheads up in butter and bacon grease and enjoyed them with salt and pepper.

Varieties exist throughout the central and northern states, and in Europe. Minnesota has adopted the morel as its state mushroom.

Hunting societies abound. Boyne and Mesick, Michigan, have just completed their annual Morel Festival. Adding to the mystique is that they cannot successfully be cultivated.

Their taste is hard to describe, earthy and complex, perhaps a distant cousin to the porcini.

The morels' legend is no doubt enhanced by their rarity, and the thrill of the hunt. Otherwise there is no way to justify the fuss, or the expense.

For us in more urban locales, you can buy them at your local grocer. In Ann Arbor, I've found them at the Produce Station for a cool $50 per pound. Once in a while, though, it's hard to resist buying a few ounces for a recipe.

This weekend I decided to stretch my meager supply of morels with white mushrooms and porcinis, with a cream of mushroom soup. (Well, it was soup weather up until we hit 90 on Memorial Day.)

You don't have to get too fancy. Anything to showcase the delicate flavor of the morel.

I've adapted this recipe from several. I love a good cream of mushroom soup. Some recipes call for blending the mushroom mixture in a food processor to thicken the soup; sometimes potatoes or other root vegetables.

I prefer the sliced whole mushrooms. Also, you can use any kind of broth you want. I like the "Better than Bouillon" vegetable broth concentrate that is carried by most grocers.

Besides being delicious, your special vegetarian friends can enjoy this soup as well.

Mushroom Soup

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms (morels, porcinis, baby bellas, white mushrooms)

1 large leek, using everything below the green leaves

4 cups of vegetable stock, prepared according to recipe

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 - 1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper

A splash of Madiera or good sherry

Snipped chives for garnish

Asiago cheese toasts for garnish (good bread, grated Asiago cheese)

Preparation:

Boil 4 cups of hot water and make your bouillon. Set aside.

Wash your mushrooms gently. Some say to soak the morels in salt water to chase out stray bugs. Better to just gently wipe, or quickly rinse and dry. You want to preserve the texture. Slice them into attractive pieces.

Chop the dark green leaves and the roots off of the leek. Slice the stem lengthwise and chop finely.

Heat a medium sized saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. When the butter is sizzling, add the chopped leeks, the mushrooms, and a dash of salt.

Cook gently for about 10-15 minutes, making sure they don't dry out. Add some wine to moisten them.

When the mushrooms are nearly done add the rest of the wine and turn up the flame. Continue cooking until the liquid is nearly gone.

Add the bouillon and stir until well blended, and simmer over low heat while you make your Asiago toasts.

Asiago toasts

Trim the crusts off French or Italian bread, brush lightly with melted butter, and brown lightly in a 350 oven.

Flip over and top with grated Asiago cheese and broil for just a minute or two. Cut into small triangles.

While the toasts are in the oven, go back to your soup.

Add the cream to your liking. Add an ounce or so of Madiera.

Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle the hot soup into serving bowls and garnish with chopped chives. Serve with the Asiago cheese croutons, and a tossed green salad.

Surely it will be soup season again in Michigan, soon enough.

One final note: they're pronounced more-ELS. Hopefully you're not at the age where you still have to go hunting for MOR-als.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

Published: Thu, Jun 9, 2011

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