Farewell, Morels…

What we’re exploring: DC’s Penn Quarter Farmers Market

What We Found: Morel Mushrooms

Cost: Extravagant

Why use them: Incredible taste, Short season

As late spring turns to early summer, we must say goodbye to another one of our dear friends, the morel mushroom. Earthy, precious, and kind of cute – alas, he is only around for so long. The morel is also terribly expensive, so when I do decide to shell out the cash for some, I also take to heart that age-old kitchen advice – “Don’t screw it up!”

Again, these are the days when it’s best to keep it simple and let the true flavors of the ingredient shine through. In fact, morels are so precious, I’d advise you to treat them like a top secret operation. That small paper bag handed over by the farmers market guy even suggests something covert. Just give him and a quick nod and rush home – hide that bag in the fridge until you have a moment alone. I’d advise just a simple saute in butter – this is no time for margarine – finished with some sea salt and black pepper, best eaten alone in the kitchen. Enjoy them one at a time, standing up by the window, savoring the deep, dark flavors of the morel. Let yourself be transformed from the heart of the city to the deep woods in an instant. Mission accomplished. Until next spring…

Myself, I took it a step further and made a simple brunch dish for my buddy Matt and me, with asparagus and another fun farmers market staple, the quail egg.

Morel Mushrooms with Asparagus and Quail Eggs

Serves 2

10 – 12 Morel mushrooms, halved if large and cleaned

8 – 10 thin asparagus spears

1 Tablespoon butter

4 quail eggs

1 Tablespoon minced shallot

2 teaspoons minced chive

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Bring 2 pans of salted water to a boil – a small one to poach the quail eggs and a larger one for the asparagus. Trim the asparagus and blanche for 2 minutes, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Cut asparagus into 2-inch lengths. Dump the water from the pan and carefully dry it so you can use it to saute.

2. Melt the butter in the pan and add the morels and shallot. Saute for about 4 to 5 minutes, until they are just about cooked. Add in the chives asparagus, just to heat through, another minute or two. Divide the morel-asparagus mixture among two plates.

3. Now, poach your quail eggs in the other pan. They just take about a minute each – Carefully crack the quail eggs into the boiling water and and let them boil for a minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and dab the bottoms on a kitchen towel. Top the morel-asparagus mixture with two quail eggs each. (One would suffice, but why not two? They’re ridiculously small.) Finish with salt and pepper.

Ingredients like morels, ramps, the mysterious fiddlehead fern and garlic scape (both of which I have yet to figure out) are all the more precious because of their elusiveness. They’re here and then they’re gone. Joyfully, we can count on them like old friends to return next year for their all-too-brief visits.

I’ll be waiting.