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Illinois hunting and fishing

Dining out - on nature’s delicacies

May 07, 2011 at 11:10 PM

The State Journal-Register

People who love the outdoors know there is nothing like dining out.

And this time of year is prime time for harvesting wild foods — the first natural delicacies of the year.

There are morel mushrooms to be found, fresh asparagus to pick and crappie filets waiting to be liberated from the fish on the end of the line.

Tried and true recipes are often adhered to.

Tradition is respected.

Many mushroom hunters believe strongly that morel mushrooms are too precious to risk by experimenting with them.

But a plastic bag full of washed and halved morels shared by a friend — really, there’s no better way to define friendship — offered the chance to take a stab at something new.

At Maldaner’s Restaurant in downtown Springfield, Chef Michael Higgins make a morel pie that is nothing short of heavenly.

Its availability depends upon the wild morels, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

So, with a free, no effort-on-my-part, bag of morels at my disposal, I decided to try to make a version of Chef Higgins’ morel pie.

The first step — and this is important — kick all the curious family and friends out of the kitchen.

Distractions are not welcome.

It’s one thing to risk the morels trying a new recipe. It’s another to mess up because you’re not paying attention to detail.

You can apologize later.

They’ll forget all about your brusqueness once the slices are cut and on the plate.

Based on my insecurities as a cook, I made a couple of adjustments.

I cut down the amount of cream by 1/3 cup and added an extra egg.

I’m always afraid custard or quiches won’t get done in the middle because of too much moisture.

Hopefully, a stick of butter, real cream, fresh Parmesan cheese and a half-pound of morels can make up for any lack of culinary skills on my part.

After it cools, I plan to take a slice or two to my friend who donated the morels.

Hopefully, it will lead to another sack of morels to experiment with next spring.

Morel Pie

1 pre-backed pie shell.

¼ pound of butter

1 sweet onion — Vidalia or other sweet onion, julienned.

½ pound of morel mushrooms

½ tsp. thyme

1 cup grated Parmegiano

2 cups of cream

2 eggs beaten lightly

salt and pepper

1 cup cracker crumbs

Illinois hunting and fishing

Brush the pre-baked pie shell with Dijon mustard and sprinkle some of the grated cheese.

Heat in the oven at 350 degrees until cheese melts.

Sauté onions in butter until soft. Add morels and cook until they are soft and half of the juice has reduced.

Add the thyme, cream and cheese. Simmer and then add egg mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour mixture into pie shell.

Sprinkle cracker crumbs on top.

Bake at 350 degrees until top is brown and custard has a chance to set.

Cool before cutting.

Garlic Mustard Pesto

May is Invasive Species Month.

And if you’ve been in the woods looking for morels, you’ve probably seen garlic mustard.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Early settlers brought it with them to use as a potted herb.

Crush the leaves between your fingers and you can smell the faint hint of garlic.

Like other mustards, it creates thousands of tiny seeds and spreads easily.

Fortunately, it can be used in salads or pesto.

Collect the youngest, most tender plants.

Pull them up by the roots so they don’t grow back.

Use only the leaves and substitute them for basil in any pesto recipe.

A basic pesto recipe that I use calls for:

½ cup of olive oil

1 cup of pine nuts

½ cut of grated Parmesan cheese

Garlic mustard leaves

Combine in a food processor.

I serve it with angel hair pasta and more Parmesan.

Leaves of mature plants taste bitter, so pick the youngest, freshest leaves.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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