When I found out I was going to receive a couple ounces of dried morels, I couldn’t have been more excited. I had just gotten married and gone to dinner at my favorite Athens restaurant. I was lucky enough to be there when they had gotten some morels, and I had an amazing first course of morels on toast. It was woodsy, earthy, and had that special morel flavor. The next day, I was doing a little internet surfing and threw my name in to get 8 oz of dried morels. If the recipe I create with them wins, then I will be the lucky recipient of two pounds of fresh morels.
I knew I wanted to do two things immediately: make a simple recipe that would really let the flavor of the morels shine, and bribe my readers.
Yes. If I win the contest over at Marx Foods, then I am going to share my bounty of morels with you. I will be giving away 1 lbs of fresh morels to one lucky reader. How do you get these morels, you ask? Easy. Comment on this post, then go over and vote for my recipe, if you like it, at Marx Foods. If I win, I will use a random integer generator to choose the lucky winner from the commenters. Quid pro quo, friends. Quid pro quo. Please note that to be eligible for this delightful prize, you must reside in the continental United States. Otherwise, I just can’t afford to ship these to you! Voting begins on April 16, and I will post the link here.
So, let’s talk morels.
Eight ounces is plenty of morels for just the two of us to consume a couple of times. So, I decided to make two recipes and post the better of the two here. I’ll post the recipe that didn’t make the contest cut later, which was farfalle pasta with a seasonal sauce of morels, peas, and mixed herbs. I liked it, and The Hubz declared it a winner. But, I just didn’t feel satisfied. The flavors weren’t quite what I wanted. I decided to simplify even more and use some of my favorite flavors to bring out the best the morels had to offer. In this recipe, I combine the smoky, hammy flavor of pancetta with the woodsy yet bright notes of thyme. I finish the simple sauce with a spritz of lemon. The morels are, of course, the shining stars of the dish. I felt like every flavor in this sauce accentuated the flavor of the morels, playing off the unique notes of their flavor and enhancing every bite. Delicious. You could serve this dish with a number of different pasta shapes, but I think either spaghetti or maybe farfalle would be the best choices.
Spaghetti with Pancetta and Morels
- 2 oz dried morels
- 8 oz spaghetti
- good extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 lbs pancetta, diced
- 1/2 C shallots, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 T thyme, minced finely
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Set a couple of cups of water to boil in a small pot. Place the morels in a small bowl, and pour about a cup of the boiling water over them. Make sure the morels stay submerged in the water; you can rest a ladle or wooden spoon on top of them to keep them under. Next, set a pot of salted water to boil and cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
While the water boils, heat a splash of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the pancetta. Brown the pancetta gently, rendering out the fat for about 4-5 minutes. When the pancetta is golden brown add the shallots and saute them until they are translucent. Meanwhile, remove the morels from their soaking liquid, reserving the liquid. Slice the morels about 1/4″ thick. Add the garlic and the red pepper to the pan and saute very gently for about another minute. Then, add most of the thyme, reserving a bit to garnish at the end and spritz about a quarter of a lemon over the dish. Add the morels and saute until they start to become tender. Pour in about a half cup of the morel soaking liquid, and bring the dish to a bubble. Simmer quietly and reduce the liquid by at least half.
After the sauce has reduced, season it with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Remove the sauce from heat. Drain the spaghetti, reserving a ladleful or so of the starchy water. If you feel the sauce needs a bit more liquid, you can stir some of the pasta water in. Toss the spaghetti with the sauce. Garnish with the remaining thyme and spritz the remaining quarter of the lemon over the dish.
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a first course.