Morels are not exactly the kind of mushroom you can run out and readily find in the stores. For the short season they make their appearance in the spring, they’re not that easy to find in the woods either, unless you know what to look for and where to look. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look. My brother Frank did. He’s an experienced mycologist from way back and knows his amanita from his boletus, if you know what I mean.
When he called and offered to bring me some morels, I grabbed the chance and offered to cook some for him, as well as some venison from his last hunt in December. It’s been in the freezer for several months and it was time to use it before the weather got really warm. Besides, I needed to show him my appreciation for his hunting/gathering skills so he’ll keep me in mind when he heads out deep-sea fishing for tuna this summer (Are you reading this Frank?) Yeah, my brother is one of those people who could easily live off the land (and sea) with the survival skills he’s honed over the years. But what would you expect from a guy who was holed up in a nuclear sub for months at a time (after his cushy stint on the USS Constitution).
I’ll save the details on the venison until at least the fall, when you’ll feel like braising again, but suffice it to say that after adding four cups of wine and simmering the roast for four hours, a couple of people at the table (who shall remain nameless) went back for seconds, and then for thirds. But more about that another time.
If it had been winter, I’d have served the venison with polenta, but in a nod to the season and in deference to the morels that were begging to be used, I made a risotto instead. It’s basically the same technique as any other risotto, but the ingredients this time were morels and zucchini.
The morels Frank brought in the photo above were dried, so I needed to rehydrate them first. Here’s what they looked like after an hour or so in room temperature water. Sort of like little brown sponges.
And here’s what the finished risotto looked like:
Here’s the recipe. Now I know that morels aren’t available at your corner store and not everybody has a brother Frank like mine, so just substitute dried porcini if you can’t get morels. You could even use fresh button mushrooms, but they wouldn’t have the same earthy, woodsy flavor.
Risotto with morels and zucchini
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1 medium onion, finely minced
1 zucchini, diced
1 cup dried morels, rehydrated in water (slice them if large, otherwise leave whole)
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
about 4 cups chicken broth
2 T. fresh thyme, minced
2 T. butter
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Add the 1 T. olive oil and butter to a pan and saute the onion briefly, then add the zucchini and saute for a few minutes. Add the rehydrated morels and saute for a few minutes. Here’s what it will look like:
Then add the rice to the skillet and cook for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Add the white wine all at once. Stir over medium heat and slowly begin to add the chicken broth, a ladleful at a time. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Keep stirring the rice and adding more broth each time the liquid starts to evaporate. Continue this process for about 20 minutes, or until the rice seems cooked and becomes “creamy” looking. Remove from the heat, add the remaining 2 T. butter and the parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the minced parsley on top.