MorelMadness

Come, gentle Spring! Ethereal mildness, come. -- James Thomson

The poet James Thomson was undoubtedly urging on spring as a relief to the harsh Scottish winters, but as mycophagists we wait impatiently for spring because we know that spring brings morels. There is nothing finer than a walk into the spring woods with its clean air, green grass, and beautiful wildflowers. Nothing finer except a walk out of the woods with your basket laden with morels!

morel

Because of their sporadic appearance in the Bay Area, morel collecting for us usually means a trip to the Sierras. Look for morels in areas where the night temperature has generally risen above freezing and where there is still some moisture left in the ground. But especially look for morels in areas affected by a burn the previous year. Morels have long been so sought after and have such an affinity for burned areas that the practice of slashing and burning to produce a morel crop the next year was banned by royal decree in medieval Germany.

Morels are at their best when firm and fresh. Specimens that can be cleaned with a brush are preferable to those that have to be washed since washing tends to reduce the intensity of the morel flavor. If you haven't tried morels before, cook them simply the first time--sauteed slowly in butter with a little cream added at the end and served on toast will allow you to experience the essence of the nutty, refined morel flavor. Many edible fungi have a spice or herb that seems the consummate culinary accompaniment. Many believe that marjoram is the perfect complement for porcini and freshly grated nutmeg is perfect with chanterelles. For morels, I have a special fondness for cardamon followed by tarragon and I think you will find the combination interesting in this stuffed morel dish.

Morels Stuffed with Lamb

Try to select morels that are about the same size so this dish will cook evenly. Clean the morels and slice longitudinally (the number of morels required varies from 6-20 depending on size). Put the remaining ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Stuff each half morel with the lamb mixture. Place the morels in a glass baking dish and bake in a 350 oven for 25-35 minutes or until the meat mixture is barely done.

Stuffed in smaller morels this dish is a delicious appetizer, larger stuffed morels make an excellent main dish served with a rice and wild rice pilaf and a green vegetable. Accompany the meal with a good red wine.