Last year I went foraging with an older gentleman who was very knowledgable about mushrooms, but I didn't actually eat any. It's not that I didn't trust his judgement; I would have let him eat anything he picked. I just wasn't sure about them. Then he told me about morels. I was intrigued. Most edible mushrooms have an evil twin sister who's jealous of her popularity, plotting the destruction of her adoring fans, but the morel does not. There is, apparently, one that looks somewhat similar, but I am told that you'd have to be just short of an idiot to think they were the same. I missed the morel boat last year, so I vowed to buck up and try them out this year. Morels are not easy to find. They have a very tiny season and then they disappear. They are well camoflaged, with a surface much like that of honeycomb, but without the uniformity. They are pointed and pale brown in colour. Inside, they are hollow and white. Their smell is pungent and earthy. Morels are a culinary delight and should NEVER be eaten raw. I was told that morels grew wild on the 35 acres where I live, but after weeks of crashing through the woods, frightening wildlife, I was close to giving up. I decided that if this was going to be the year of the morel, I had to take an alternate route. I was heading to Toronto for a wine tasting event anyway, so why not make a day of it? Directed by fellow foodies who I met on Twitter, I headed to Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers Market.There was said to be a 'wild foods' stall there and I was hoping to get my hands on some ramps (wild leeks), as well.
Dufferin Market - what a fantastic place! My friend and I sampled raw sheep's cheese, raw chocolate, organic, fair trade hot chocolate (frothed to perfection using a bicycle powered blender!) and fiddlehead pizza. Even though it was absolutely pouring, our undampened spirits were souring. And then we spotted him - Seth Goering of Forbes Wild Foods - AKA the Wild Food guy! There, on the table, were my much-coveted ramps. But where were the morels? I looked at Seth in desperation as he explained that his foragers were deep in the bush, out of cell-range (is this possible?), picking mushrooms as we spoke. I felt so let down. Seth did, however, carry dried morels for a whopping $33/bag, although I should note that the bag was of impressive bulk. I, however, did not want to settle for dried morels. I wanted fresh, and Seth understood. I pouted my way to another stall to contemplate the situation. Just before we were about to leave, I revisited Seth and, giving him my best cutest-kitten-in-the-world face, asked him if he would please, please, please sell me 1/3 of the bag. He agreed and I danced off to the wine tasting feeling as if I had just left one. But the story doesn't end there...
So, now you're wondering, what did I do with them? I made the wildest dinner that I have ever had and, my goodness, it was delicious!
Wild Duck in Morel and Wild Leek Sauce2-4 duck breast, depending on the size
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4-5 wild leeks (ramps)
1-2 lg morels, thoroughly washed, sliced
3/4 cup red wine (I used Pelee Island Shiraz-Cabernet)
3/4 cup vegetable/chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
4 small sprigs fresh garden thyme
1/4 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/4 cup thinly sliced celery
Pan sear the duck breasts in HOT oil. Remove to oven-safe glass dish.
On medium-low heat, saute ramps and morels. Slowly add red wine and stock of your choice. Let simmer. Add sliced carrots, celery, thyme and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for about 10 mins. Pour sauce over duck breasts and roast in oven at 275 F. Do not roast for too long or the breasts will get tough.
I served our duck with wild rice and bacon bits, cress salad with goats cheese and Pelee Island Shiraz-Cabernet. It was one of the most deliciou meals I have ever had - 75% wild and 100% local.