French food snobs are always surprised when something gastronomical also exists in America. When I tell them that morels - morilles - pop up all over Michigan, they don’t believe me at first. They think I must be confusing them with something else, some other kind of mushroom, and I’m clearly mistaken. Once I’ve described them as looking like mushrooms topped with wavy black hair piled high and tasting like paradise, they begrudgingly admit that it just might be possible that the Americans have morilles also. The next question is always, “But what do you do with them?”
Mushrooms are something quintessentially French. Mushroom hunting on a week-end is a traditional family outing. Even city dwellers head off to the forest to hunt them. They have special baskets to put them in, and a special brush to clean them with. But first the mushrooms must be taken to the pharmacie.
Why to the pharmacist? Because part of a pharmacist’s training is to know all the mushrooms, to be able to recognize which ones are poisonous and which aren’t. In rural towns, the shop windows of pharmacies all display a colored photo of various types of mushrooms: cèpes, girolles/chanterelles and trompettes de la mort which, contrary to their name of “trumpets of death”, are not deadly... although there is a very similar-looking one that is. Which is why it’s good to have a pharmacist on hand. That isn’t hard. There’s at least one in every French town. And it’s impossible to stand at any corner in Paris, look down all the streets and not spot a neon cross flashing green, the emblem over each and every pharmacie in France.
Asparagus was also a learning curve for me when I got to France. It was the first time I’d ever seen white asparagus. Since then, it’s made itself known in America as well, which is only fair because, in return, our green asparagus has become quite the rage in France. And of course there’s the ultra-thin wild kind that looks somewhat like green wheat.
- green asparagus (5 or 6 per person)
- small morels (as many as your budget can afford)
- 2 T butter
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1/4 c veal stock
- 2 T heavy cream
- parmesan, preferably shaved, otherwise grated
- salt & fresh-ground pepper
- Trim the asparagus, removing any side leaves and tough bottoms. Cook them for 4 minutes in boiling salted water. Then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking. When they’ve cooled, shave back the very bottom inch to let the lighter color inside show.
- While the asparagus is boiling, wash the morels and dry them on some paper towels. Cut off any hard ends, but as little as possible.
- Sauté some thinly sliced shallots in butter. Add the morels and heat them through. Add the veal stock (or chicken if you have none) and some freshly ground pepper. Reduce by half, stirring from time to time (about 5 min). Add the heavy cream and blend it in.
- While the sauce is reducing, sauté the asparagus in a butter/olive oil mix, just until it begins to color.
- Dress each plate by fanning out the asparagus, or even in a star formation, trimmed ends meeting. Sprinkle the shaved parmesan over them. Place some morels on top and between the asparagus spears. Pour a bit of the veal/cream sauce on the asparagus tips and serve immediately.
Cooking time: 15 min max
Serve with a white wine from the Jura or Alsace region.
NOTE: I don’t put extra salt on the asparagus once it’s cooked because I find the stock and the parmesan add enough saltiness as it is.