One of the great pleasures of food, for me, is having the opportunity to use ingredients fresh from the earth. Spring is the beginning of the season where Mother Nature’s bounty becomes accessible to us once again, and for many people, seasonal spring foods are a bit of a celebration.
This weekend, we spent some time in the woods, searching for our favorite spring treat, Morel mushrooms! Because of the weather, we’ve had a very early season for them, and the gray morel variety is already out. Morchella Esculenta is a very distinctive fungus, as are the earlier, darker, Morchella Elata. The morel mushroom is one of the most easily recognizable varieties that people hunt, but care still needs to be taken to have a full understanding of all look-alikes before foraging in the woods, and it’s a very good idea to accompany a seasoned mushroom hunter if possible. (Please see Northern Country Morels website for more information.) Also remember that while the morels are edible and choice for most people, it is always possible that someone could have intolerance to a new food, so only eat a small amount to begin with, until you know that they are safe for you. There’s a saying … “You can eat ANY mushroom, once.” We definitely want to live to taste another day! Personally, I have been hunting morels since I was a child, going on many trips into the woods with my parents to hunt for the elusive fungus of my dreams! Now I go out with my husband, and we very much enjoy the time walking the woods, even when we come up empty-handed. And when I say fungus of my dreams, I mean it literally… every spring I have dreams of finding groves of lush morels growing, just waiting for me to find them… unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to reality very well most of the time 😉
The good news is that even if you aren’t planning to hunt your own mushrooms, you can purchase dried morel mushrooms at many larger grocery stores, as well as order them online. We are lucky, even though our weekend hunting didn’t result in a basket full of ‘shrooms, we have a friend who shares with us the morels he finds when mowing his yard! What a guy, huh?! Since he is so generous with one of our favorite treats, I return the favor when we make fresh sushi rolls at home, and send a few in his direction.
So now that I have a gorgeous bowl of fresh morels, I have to decide what I want to do with them. I usually sauté them in butter and often make them part of a cream sauce, because I like to keep the contrast mild, to preserve the unique morel flavor and texture as much as possible. I started to look around to see what else I had on hand that would go well with them… a package of crimini mushrooms that need to be eaten soon (thinking I can stretch the flavor a bit by using the oil left from sautéing the morels for the criminis)… remembering I have some nice sized leeks in the garden that wintered over (when cooked, leeks are so mild and sweet, perfect complement to the mushrooms), still have some of my parmo wheel, heavy cream of course because of the low-carb diet… wishing I had beef filet, but I do have some very fresh ground chuck and thick cut bacon from the meat market…
Morels with Creamy Mushroom Leek Soup
- ½ lb thick cut bacon, ½” dice
- ½ to1 lb morel mushrooms, soaked, rinsed, dried off, and otherwise free of dirt
- Butter as needed for sautéing
- 1 lb sliced crimini mushrooms
- 2 medium leeks, thoroughly cleaned and sliced
- ½-1C heavy cream
- ¼ C finely shaved Parmesan Cheese
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
I prefer to work with either an enameled cast iron skillet for this, or Caphalon because they are nice and heavy, but use whatever is comfortable for you. Cook the diced bacon down slowly until it begins to crisp, and the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon to a plate using a slotted spoon and set aside, reserving the bacon fat in the skillet for sautéing the morels.
With the fat heated over medium, carefully add the cleaned morels, minding them closely and turning as needed until they brown up a little and seem done, about 10 minutes. Remove morels and set aside.
If there is enough fat remaining in the pan, add the sliced crimini mushrooms, or add a Tb or so of butter first. (If you are wondering why I didn’t cook both mushroom varieties together, it’s because I don’t want the morels cooking down into the soup, I would rather layer them on at the end, as the spotlight of the dish.) Cook the crimini mushrooms for 5-10 minutes, until they begin to look done.
Add a little more butter if needed and add the sliced leeks, cooking for an additional 5 minutes or so, until they begin to soften. Slowly add the cream to the pan, not quite covering the mushrooms and leeks, and simmer over low heat for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon. Add the shaved Parmesan to the pan, stirring to allow it to melt. Add salt and fresh pepper as desired. Dish into bowls, top with morels and bacon, or serve over a small tender burger, as we have done. Makes 2-3 servings.
As always, this recipe is free from gluten, free from wheat, and low-carb, though it is quite high in fats. While I do use fats in my gluten-free lifestyle, this is not the kind of rich meal we would eat every day, but what a treat it is for a springy Sunday afternoon! The servings are smallish, and every bite is worth savoring, mmmm.