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Farmer’s Table: Pasta with Morels and Ramps

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By Susan Maslowski

Many of my friends are ramp and morel enthusiasts. Both are in season now in our area.

Morels are one of the most desired wild mushrooms in the world. They are shaped like miniature pine trees. They are hollow and have a honeycomb texture above the stem.

The date when morels arrive is not predictable. There must be a week of daytime temperatures in the 60s and night temperatures in the 40s. Morels flourish when ground temperatures reach the 50s.

Morels are often found in moist areas around dying or dead elm trees; living sycamore, hickory and ash trees and in old apple orchards. I have had success finding morels in small depressions and run-off areas in our woods. They can also be found in pastures and meadows.

Morels often come back in the same spot year after year. Serious morel hunters secretly guard their spot. From my own experience, morels may just disappear from an area with no apparent reason.

Some hunters think the optimum place to find morels is on the south and southwest sides of the hills, since these areas get early sun that warms the soil. As the days get warmer, morels can be found in deeper wooded areas.

The growing season for morels is fairly short, lasting about four weeks. There have been many years when I have miscalculated, and I have completely missed the season.

I have mentioned in several columns the sustainable method for harvesting wild ramps. Gathering morels is sustainable, because there is no damage to the mycelium, which is underground.

Like many foraged mushrooms (and some cultivated varieties), morels should not be eaten raw. They contain a toxic substance that can cause cramps and digestive problems. Cooking destroys the toxin. Some people have an allergic reaction to morels.

It is advised not to consume alcohol with morels, as the combination causes gastrointestinal problems for some. Most people do not experience any problems, and many morel recipes call for wine.

When trying morels for the first time, do so with moderation. And, if you have problems finding morels, commercial varieties can be substituted in this recipe.

Pasta with Morels and Ramps

Ingredients:

12 ounces fresh morel mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped*

4 ounces ramps, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup diced cooked ham

3/4 cup chicken broth

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, snipped

Salt and cracked black pepper

10 ounces linguine pasta

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Shaved Parmesan cheese, optional

Directions:

In a very large skillet over medium-high heat, cook and stir morels and ramps in hot butter for 4 to 5 minutes until just tender. With a slotted spoon, remove mixture to a bowl.

Add ham to skillet. Cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes until just starting to brown. Add chicken broth to skillet. Return to heat and cook for 1 minute. Add cream. Cook and stir occasionally for 6 to 8 minutes until sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. Return morels to skillet, and add peas and thyme. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until peas are just tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted water, cook linguine according to package directions. Drain. Combine linguine and morel/ramp sauce and cook over low heat to warm. Add parsley and toss until well combined. Transfer to serving bowl. Serve with shaved Parmesan, if desired.

* If morels are unavailable, use shiitake, cremini or button mushrooms.

For questions about recipes or other information, contact Susan Maslowski at mudriverpottery@aol.com or go to our websites at metrokanawha.com and putnamreview.com. Susan also has a Farmer’s Table Facebook page.


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