Chow Town

Morel hunting yields a bounty

It was a typical May Sunday for this chef. I awoke at 6 a.m., watched the morning news and read The Kansas City Star.

I usually try to relax on Sundays, read and think about what I will cook for the family supper. I have enough to do the other six days of the week, but Sundays are special.

I was on my second cup of hot tea, relaxing in my Papa Bear chair, when I received a text from my friend, another chef here in Kansas City, who just happens to make delicious cheesecakes for a living. It was a reminder that we were meeting at 7 a.m. to go morel hunting.

Hmmm … I almost forgot … but as the text read, “after all of this rain and hot sun yesterday, the ‘shrooms are calling our name.”

So I put on my Polo shirt, my pressed jeans and ventured out to an undisclosed location that I’m not allowed to divulge. I remember my photographer friend telling me to bring a big stick and a sack with holes to carry my mushrooms in. She also said to wear long sleeves and bring a hat. I had on a Polo shirt but forgot my hat. I did have my sack and stick. I was ready for my first morel hunt.

When I met Chef Terry Mille, he busted out laughing at me. I asked him what was so funny at 7 a.m.? He replied “Dude, are you dressed for a photo session or mushroom hunting?”

I told him I never know who I may meet and these were the only clothes I had that were not made of Italian silk. Ha, that shut him up. Little did I know, he would take me down a muddy path, across a stream, up four hills and through more brush than one will ever see in a lifetime

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As we were walking, I was posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Hey, this was fun, pretty cool to be foraging. I can really get into this.

Chef Terry reminded me to turn off my location services, put the damn iPhone down and watch where I was walking.

At one point I asked him if he smelled Sunday sauce? He asked me what the hell I was talking about and I said, it smelled like Sunday sauce wherever the hell we were. Again, he started laughing.

“Garlic chives dude, ramps, spring onions, that’s what you are smelling, look down by your Top Siders and you will see,” said my good foraging friend.

Wow, Chef was right, I was surrounded by some of the most beautiful spring onions I have ever seen. I also discovered some rocket, wild chicory and “cardoony,” also known as cardoons. This was heaven on earth, and I probably could have stopped right here, but I remembered we were morel hunting and this was no time to stop.

After the first hour of walking, I told Terry it was time to take a break. I asked if he brought breakfast, a croissant perhaps?

Again, much laughter from the peanut gallery. Then, all of a sudden, I heard Terry scream a word that I cannot print here. I ran over to where he was standing, looked down and low and behold, we had struck gold, Missouri Gold that is.

I was gazing upon some of the most beautiful sponge-like little devils this chef has ever laid his eyes on

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Terry then told me they were everywhere. I just poked my stick around the elm trees and I discovered multiple “Morchella,” the true morel, honeycomb shaped and standing tall, just calling my name.

We picked for over 20 minutes before our sacks were full and we decided that this little secret area would be “our spot.” I dropped a “pin” on my iPhone and claimed this “my territory.” A true morel hunter never gives up his location, although you would be surprised where we actually were.

On the way back through the woods, Chef Terry and I exchanged recipes and stories of how we would prepare our “catch of the day.”

I was going to saute mine in butter and toss with homemade taglitelle, add some ramps and garlic chives that we had foraged and finish with a touch of Sicilian Sea Salt and red pepper flakes. Simple, easy … that’s all!

Terry was going to make risotto with his and serve alongside some roasted chicken. I mentioned that since it was Mother’s Day, I may surprise my wife and fry her a pound or so. Sorry for the bragging here.

Did I mention I had scrambled eggs and morels three times last week. I also added some of these delicious honeycombs to my lobster bisque, a creamy chicken and brandy dish, and sauteed in butter and shared many with my friends at my “Asparagus Experience” at Jasper’s. Asparagus and morels … need I say more?

So my friends, if you're lucky enough to know someone with a little knowledge about foraging and if you have a pair of lucky, fresh pressed jeans and a polo shirt, I highly recommend you go morel hunting this May.

The season is a little late, but believe me, the morels are aplenty. I hate to say it but: “When Life Gives You Morels … You never say, ‘NO.’”

Note to Chef Terry Mille of CowTown Cheesecake: Many thanks for taking me on my first morel journey. The next time, I promise to wear more proper clothing, shoes and a hat. Perhaps I will pull out my Stetson and Tony Lamas. I do hope you enjoyed your morels as much as I did. As my father always said “Bere Mangiare e Bene” (“Eat and Drink Well.”)

Taglitelle Morels 4 to 6 ounces of fresh morel mushrooms 2 tablespoons Shatto Butter 1 spring onion 1 to 2 tsp. chopped Garlic Chives 1 cup minced Ramps 1 pound fresh Taglitelle Pasta Sea Salt and red pepper flakes to taste Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

To prepare: Cook pasta al dente. In a large saute pan, melt butter. Add ramps and spring onions. Saute on medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add morels and gently toss. Remove from heat and add pasta. Again gently toss, add sea salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Dust with grated Pecorino Romano Cheese, garnish with garlic chives and serve. Enjoy!

Source: Jasper Mirabile Chef Jasper Mirabile of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.
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