The other day, a box of beautiful, fresh morels arrived at my doorstep, sent to me by my friends, Bob and Carolyn, from a wonderful source for wild mushrooms based in Wisconsin (www.morelmasters.com).
Morels are a rare treat and are typically associated with spring, but there are actually harvests of morels across the country at various times of year, including late summer. These mushrooms came (most likely) from the Pacific northwest and were truly cause for celebration.
Since it’s a fabulous season for corn here on the East End of Long Island, I knew exactly what I’d do with these mushrooms. Corn and morels have a natural affinity for each other, the earthiness of the mushrooms adding a deep, nutty dimension to the sunny sweetness of the corn. This sweet/earthy side dish was, not surprisingly, the show stopper of the evening.
The other component to the dish was fregula, a Sardinian pasta. Fregula is similar to Israeli couscous, only toasted and rougher in texture.
I often combine fregula with corn, and I knew the morels would take this dish to new heights.
This preparation begins with cleaning the morels. Although I’ve prepared morels before, I’ve always only given them a brief rinse under running water right before cooking. This has sometimes resulted in a gritty finish.
I asked my friend Bob how he cleaned his. He confirmed that morels benefit from a soaking in a deep bowl of salted water, much like leafy greens. Their honeycomb texture promotes the retention of large amounts of soil and grit. I took his advice, and, based on the amount of black soil left at the bottom of my soaking water, I was glad I did. They are definitely an exception to the rule that water should touch mushrooms as little as possible prior to cooking.
To give the morels maximum flavor, I cooked them alone first, in a combination of scallions, butter, olive oil and white wine. Then, I gently folded the corn and cooked fregula into them. The preliminary step of cooking the mushrooms separately is a worthwhile exercise in extracting maximum flavor from them.
As a main course, I served roasted chicken marinated with sage and lemon, along with sauteed swiss chard from my neighbor Beppi’s garden. This was summer at its finest– truly a memorable meal.
Fregula with Corn and Morels
serves 6 – 8
1 lb fresh morels
6 ears corn, shucked
2 bunches scallions
2 cloves of garlic, split
4 tbls butter
4 tbls olive oil
1/2 c white wine
1 c chicken broth
1/4 c fresh chopped chives
1 lb fregula sarda
Slice morels lengthwise in half and place in a deep bowl of water with a couple of tablespoons of salt added.
Allow them to soak at least 20 minutes, then drain and repeat. Dry on paper towels and set aside.
In a large, broad mixing bowl, with a large sharp knife, slice corn kernels off the cob and set aside.
Remove the roots and outer papery layers from the scallions and slice into tiny rings, discarding all but about an inch of the greens. These scallions were purple at the base, rather than white.
While morels are soaking, drop fregula into boiling salted water and cook, uncovered, for approximately 15 minutes, or until al dente.
Drain and set aside.
In a broad skillet, place half of the chopped scallions, garlic, and butter plus 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Bring to a sizzle and add the morels. Saute on high heat to evaporate the water from the morels and begin caramelizing them.
After about 3 minutes, add white wine. Continue sauteing and reduce wine for about a minute. Set aside. Add broth and chives and cook for another minute or so.
Remove garlic cloves, taste for salt and pepper, and set aside.
In a saucepot, place remaining scallions and oil and bring to a sizzle. Add corn and reduce heat to medium.
Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and cover. Simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until corn is crisp-tender. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.
Add corn and fregula to skillet with morels and gently stir to combine. Sprinkle with remaining chives and perhaps a bit more raw olive oil.
May be served hot or at room temperature