Valerie Harrison goes foraging for one of her favorite spring time comfort foods.
Text And Photo By Valerie Harrison
When sick, or tired, or far from home, everyone seems to yearn for the gastronomic equivalent of a warm sweater, a kiss on the forehead, or a favourite blanket. Comfort foods nourish the soul as well as our bodies and tend to be familiar foods that remind us of simpler times or of a contented childhood. Comfort food is generally associated with the onset of cooler weather but what comforts you when a Spring day turns wet, gray and cold and the weather feels anything but Spring-like? The best medicine is undeniably some delicious comfort food. Just like the pending season your senses can be awakened with anything from a creamy soup of garden fresh peas, an asparagus-heavy risotto or a pudding dotted with rhubarb.
Spring is a season where comfort foods reign. It is not uncommon even in Spring for my home to be filled with warm, fragrant and earthy aromas of a slow cooked roast or bubbling crock pot, but, there is absolutely NOTHING on the planet as comforting to me as a delicious, homemade macaroni and cheese. There’s something very satisfying about making this classic yourself from start to finish. I serve my favourite Beechers Macaroni and Cheese with another favourite comfort food to reach culinary nirvana , a soul-satisfying creamy mushroom topped ciabatta . I make no apologies whatsoever for either dish with their cheese, butter and carbs.
No matter what the season mushrooms lend that rich, earthy flavour that tantalizes our senses and reminds of us simpler days. The Morchella or Morilles are more well known by their common name Morel. This is one of the most popular and sought after wild mushrooms, which is sadly only available in the Spring. This makes them even more desirable!!!
Every year in late April and into May, the hunters will scour the earth for that wrinkled little mushroom cap resembling a cross between a honeycomb and conehead-shaped brain that’s often yellow or sometimes even black. They are sought after for their smokey flavoured, nut-like long caps. These treasures can only be hand picked in the wild and are of the utmost in appearance and quality. They have flourished in the province in more recent years since they often grow on forest floors that have suffered fires.
For the uninitiated, morels are probably the easiest and safest mushroom to forage for in the woods. A lot of other wild mushrooms have look-alikes that can turn dinner into a trip to the hospital or worse. Morels have a couple of cousins, commonly called false morels, which really don’t look anything like their edible counterparts. But remember the rule with mushrooms is if you aren’t sure don’t eat it.
If morels are not available, substitute other exotic or wild mushrooms like oyster, chanterelles, shiitake or cremini, or any other tantalizing combination for this creamy, earthy accompaniment to my favourite macaroni and cheese. You can also prepare this as a light lunch and add some shaved Parmesan cheese just before serving with a lightly dressed green salad on the side.
- 1 loaf ciabatta bread or bruschetta loaf
- ½ pound (250 grams) morel mushrooms, ends trimmed (see note)
- 2 tablespoons (25 g/1 oz/1/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large or 2 small shallots, minced
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL/1 oz) dry white wine or white vermouth
- ¼ cup (60 mL/2 oz) or more heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh chopped chives or scallions
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) minced fresh herbs (parsley, chervil or savory)
- Coarse sea salt such as fleur de sel or Maldon, for garnish.
- Cut the bread into 1–1.5-cm thick slices. Heat a ridged skillet and grill the bread slices on both sides until lightly toasted (you don’t need to use any oil). Keep to one side.
- Using a pastry brush or a clean cloth, brush excess dirt from mushrooms (do not soak or rinse with water). Slice mushrooms in half lengthwise and brush away any grit; chop into ¼-inch pieces if large. If they are small keep whole.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter foams add the garlic and shallots and sauté until they soften and just begin to colour, approximately 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the morels and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add wine, chives and herbs, cover, and cook for 3 minutes more until the wine has bubbled away in the pan.
- Lower the heat and add the cream and simmer until slightly thickened, 2 minutes longer. How much cream you use depends on how rich and creamy you want the dish to be.
- To serve, place the bread onto a plate and spoon over the warm creamy mushrooms.Sprinkle with additional chives, garnish with sea salt, and serve immediately.