Morels in Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Morel mushrooms are some of the most sought after mushrooms in the United States, and in upstate NY they often mark the beginning of mushroom foraging season. Unfortunately we don’t have very many here in the Catskills, so few that even my local mushroom guru only finds them rarely. The speculation is that the soil isn’t right here and doesn’t encourage the same large flushes as seen in other parts of the country. Fortunately there are decent flushes of morels across the river in Dutchess and Columbia counties, and people there who know how to find them.
On Saturday I met up with my friend John to learn how to forage morels. I’ve read plenty about it, but had only found once myself, but John was committed to teaching me how to scope out a likely patch and then spot them camouflaged in the leaf litter. To work towards this goal he had already identified a swath of forest that had morels growing and took inventory of what was there so that we knew how many to expect to find. Then he brought me to that spot and turned me loose, letting me work on training my eye to see them on the ground.
As we tromped through waist high alfalfa (I’m short, waist high is subjective!) on the way to his spot he explained what to look for in identifying a morel grove. Morels are mychorrizal, meaning they rely on relationships with trees to thrive. You usually won’t find morels without finding their host trees growing very close by. While apples, ash, and sycamores are classic morel hosts in the northeast, that day we were looking for elms, and specifically dying elms. Using the hedgerows across the field John pointed out a large dead elm that is too far gone to produce morels, but noted that a younger elm growing next to it had taken up the mantle for morel production.
Even once we got to the spot it was hard to spot the mushrooms growing amongst the leaves. I nearly stepped on one early on because I didn’t see it, but as I found more mushrooms my eye started to get better at picking them out. John taught me about some tricks to help spot them, including leaving the first one you find in the ground and scanning your eye over it back and forth while looking on the forest floor around it to train yourself to notice the shape and form and tracing imaginary lines between elms with your eyes, trying to spot mushrooms growing where the tree roots may intersect. At the end of the day I left with nearly a pound of morels to play with, a prize certainly worth the soaking wet hike through the wet fields.
Like many mushrooms, morels are enhanced by the use of fat and/or dairy. There are exceptions to this rule, most notably matsutake, a mushroom prized in Japan that has a spicy flavor and aroma that’s been compared to “dirty socks and Red Hots”. Matsutake is best served in a broth or other water based dish rather than something fatty, but morels love fat. Deferring to their wishes, I decided to serve them with nettle gnocchi in a gorgonzola cream sauce. While this was a perfect accompaniment to my gnocchi, the sauce would also be wonderful over pork, with other pasta, or spread over some puff pastry and baked as a rustic tart.
Morels in Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
“Gorgonzola dolce” is a softer, creamy gorgonzola with a milder flavor, and I prefer to use that in this recipe, but gorgonzola “naturale” will work as well
4 oz fresh morel mushrooms
1 T butter
2 T minced shallot, approx. 1 medium shallot
¼ c white wine
2 bay leaves
1 c cream
1 T minced fresh sage
¼ c gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
salt and pepper
Start by soaking the morels in a bowl of cold water for 20-30 minutes to loosen any soil that is trapped inside of them. Swish them around well then remove from the bowl and pat dry. Halve each mushroom and set aside. In a skillet melt the butter then add the morels and saute until browned, approximately five minutes. Add the shallots and cook until translucent and aromatic, approximately two minutes. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates, stirring occasionally. Add the cream, sage, and bay leaves, and cook until it reduces by approximately one third. Stir in the gorgonzola and add salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is too thin keep reducing it, and if it is too thick add a splash of water to bring it to the proper consistency.