On spring hiking trips, I find my eyes are naturally drawn to the forest floor, suddenly transformed by the arrival of wildflowers. While their pinks, purples, yellows and blues demand attention, epicureans know to look closer for the arrival of a less showy find: morel mushrooms begin making their appearance at the beginning of May each year.

These seasonal culinary delights can be purchased at upwards of $20 per pound, but I promise the meal tastes better for those who forage their ingredients. I apologize for the lack of specifics, but a morel hunter hardly ever shares her secret spots. Rather, I offer this advice: look for disturbed soil. This could be the site of a prescribed burn, an area scorched by wildfire the previous year, or even along the edges of new trail construction.

Morels could be the size of your pinky fingernail, or as big as the palm of your hand. Photo: Jennifer Hall

Morels could be the size of your pinky fingernail, or as big as the palm of your hand. Photo: Jennifer Hall

Then train your eyes. Morels could be the size of your pinky fingernail, or they could be as big as the palm of your hand. They are about the same color as the forest duff, and they closely resemble the cones of several conifers, so they’re never easy to pick out.

Once you spot your target, slice its stem at ground level with a sharp knife. It should look wrinkled and have deep pits, and when turned over, the cap should be attached to the base. Carry morels in a basket or mesh bag while hiking. At home, clean by soaking briefly in salted water, then rinse and place on a towel to dry. Use morels immediately or slice and dehydrate for later use.

At upwards of $20 per pound, the meal tastes better for those who forage their ingredients. Photo: Jennifer Hall

At upwards of $20 per pound, the meal tastes better for those who forage their ingredients. Photo: Jennifer Hall

Fettuccine with Morel & Asparagus

Ingredients:

2 Tbs. butter

½ c. minced Walla Walla sweet onion

2 cloves minced garlic

½ c. dry white wine

½ c. chicken broth (or double the wine for a vegetarian dish)

1 lb. fresh morels, sliced

½ lb. asparagus, cut into ½ in. pieces

½ c. milk or cream

8 oz. feta cheese

2 Tbs. minced fresh chives

sea salt & fresh cracked pepper to taste

1 lb. fettuccine, cooked according to package instructions

Directions:

1. In a heavy skillet, melt the butter and sauté the onion and garlic.

2. Add the wine and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer.

3. Add the morels and asparagus. Simmer for 6-8 min., covered.

4. Add the milk and feta. Stir over low heat until the cheese melts. Remove from heat and add chives, plus salt and pepper to taste.

5. Pour sauce over cooked fettuccine to serve.

No luck finding fresh morels?  Substitute 3 oz. dried morels, reconstituted by bringing the chicken broth to a boil, adding the morels, and then setting them aside, covered, for about 30 minutes. Adapted from “Gourmet Magazine.” //