Category Archives: Italian

Morel Madness and Creamy Morel Pasta

Ever since I returned from New Zealand I’ve been hearing tales and seeing pictures of abundant morels popping up all over northern California. We had tons of wildfires in California in the last two years and are having a very rainy spring thanks to El Niño, which means a perfect storm for morels! Morels are known to pop up in recent burn scars, and since I just graduated with my PhD from UC Berkeley May 15, I finally had time to head to the mountains and poke around for these elusive earthen treats myself!


Burn scar from the King Fire

We headed up to the Sierra Nevada mountains in California to check out the burn scars from the giant King Fire that scorched over 97,000 acres of land two years ago. Spring in the Sierras is beautiful and we saw tons of dogwoods blooming.


Dogwoods blooming

We knew we were onto something when we began to see the burned ground carpeted with these cute little orange cups, Geopyxis carbonaria, which are associated with wildfires.


Cute orange cups of Geopyxis fruiting in the burned duff!

Morels are quite elusive, and it took us a while to find what we were looking for, but in the meantime we enjoyed our tromp through the beautiful Sierran conifer forests.


Posing with a giant Jeffrey pine

Before we could find any of the delicious elusive treats, we had to survive some infamous Sierran inclement weather first – it started to hail!


Hailing in the Sierran conifer forests

We were beginning to lose hope, and then finally Vince found the first morel of the day!


Vince grins with delight at the first morel of the day!

It cold and hailing, but that instantly melted away when I found my first morel – so much glee!


Me posing with my first ever California morel!

We were getting so much hail that we considered turning around and heading back to the car, but those thoughts quickly melted away after Brian found the mother lode!


Brian posing with his morel finds!

We were all infected with the morel fever which kept us warm despite the continued hail.


Hail in our hair and we don’t care! We got the crazy mushroom eyes!

At a certain point it began to hail so hard we decided it was indeed prudent to return to the car..


Shivering in the pouring hail

We still found some morels poking out from under the hail as we tromped back to the car!


Can you see the morel poking out from under the hail?

At the end of the day, it was totally worth it!


The morel catch of the day!

Flying high with the morel mushroom fever, we could not wait to prepare a feast to highlight our mushroom bounty. We made a quick stop at Berkeley Bowl on our way home from the mountains to gather ingredients. We decided to cook a creamy morel pasta served with salad, green beans, and fresh baked sourdough toasts (courtesy of Vince) topped with burrata cheese. After admiring our catch of the day, we set off to clean and cut the morels.


Morel bounty!

The first step was to cut and sauté the morels in butter.DSC07537


In the meanwhile, chef Vince prepared the green beans. I just love the morels on his t-shirt peeking out from behind the cupcake apron! It’s a good look, don’t you agree?


My sister and brother-in-law, who are big board game fans, gave me this Morel board game as a gift. The premise is that you are walking through the forest, hunting for morels. We thought it was a perfect activity for fellow hunters Brian and Alex to do while Vince and I prepared the pasta. Here they are deeply involved in the game sitting with the salad, green beans, toast with burrata, and cherries that we got to accompany the creamy morel pasta.


Can’t get enough of hunting for morels! Playing the Morel board game while the morels cook

The next step of the pasta after cooking the morels to golden brown perfection is to chop up two shallots and plenty of garlic and sauté them in butter until they also turn golden brown.


After the shallots and garlic are cooked, add in the heavy cream, then the mushrooms. The mushrooms permeate the cream with their flavor and it is sooo good!


While the mushrooms marinate in the cream, onions, and garlic, cook the pasta and grate the parmesan cheese. Once the pasta is cooked, mix it in with the creamy mushroom sauce.


Creamy morel pasta with shallots, garlic, cream, and morels

Next, add more parmesan to the pasta!


Adding way more parmesan to the pasta

Thanks to my fellow hunters for helping me find this awesome morel bounty!


Cheers to my fellow hunters – Brian, Alex, and Vince – about to enjoy the morel mushroom feast!

Cheers to morels and friends!DSC07562

The salad and green beans complemented the creamy morel pasta perfectly. It was definitely a meal to remember! Now let’s go hunt for some more morels!!!


Salad, green beans with slivered almonds, and creamy morel pasta!

Ingredients for creamy morel pasta:

  • Morels
  • fettucine pasta
  • heavy cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • two shallots
  • lots of garlic! to taste
  • parmesan cheese

Pesto pasta with yellowfoot chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms

I’d been wanting to go back to Humboldt and Del Norte Counties ever since I visited them for the first time last year. MLK weekend gave the perfect opportunity to make the long drive north. Hiking through the majestic giant redwood forests made me feel like I took a giant leap back in time; I wouldn’t be surprised if a T-Rex came rambling around the next corner.

Majestic giant redwoods in Redwood National Park

Majestic giant redwoods in Redwood National Park

Humboldt is truly spectacular. The towns of Eureka and Arcata are charming, friendly, and have fantastic food. Humboldt County gets an average of 55 inches of precipitation per year, which is nearly double the precipitation of Berkeley at 25.4 inches of rain per year. This means good things for mushrooms! People really appreciate foraged food up there, and I ate a delicious wild mushroom casserole at this cozy gem in Eureka, Brick and Fire Bistro. Usually when I mushroom hunt I just use the Berkeley Mycology baskets that I borrow from lab. But in Arcata they were selling beautiful mushroom baskets, and I finally got one my very own!

My very own mushroom basket!

My very own mushroom basket!

I was lucky to get some insider tips on some legal places to mushroom hunt, and here we are foraging in one of those special spots. Isn’t it spectacular?

Taking a walk through 'mushroom heaven' in Humboldt

Taking a walk through ‘mushroom heaven’ in Humboldt

We found some some awesomely giant yellow foot chanterelles, which were at least double in size beyond what I’ve ever found before. Must be all that rain they get in Humboldt!


Giant yellow foot chanterelles

I also found some adorable hedgehog mushrooms, which if you’ve read my previous blog posts, you might remember are distinguished because they have teeth instead of gills.

Hedgehog mushrooms have teeth!

Hedgehog mushrooms have teeth!

Now what to cook with my gorgeous mushrooms? I’ve already made lasagna, polenta, frittata, risotto, and pizza featuring wild mushrooms. This time I wanted to make something simple and filling but that would highlight the delicious prized edible mushrooms. I always clean my mushrooms and start cooking them first before starting with the rest of the meal because it is important that they are cooked well, and of course I view them as the centerpiece of the dish :) This time I decided to try making a quick pesto pasta to serve as a bed for the mushrooms.

Browned hedgehog mushrooms.

Browned hedgehog mushrooms.

The trick with cooking mushrooms is that it is really important to just leave them alone after you put them in the hot pan that has been coated with oil or butter. They need time to just hang out and do their thing. It takes a while for all of the excess water to boil off  – it never ceases to amaze me how much mushrooms can shrink down! Then it takes a while for them to get that nice brown color and crispiness that makes them taste so good. So trust me when I tell you to relax and go do something else while the mushrooms are in the sauté pan, and let them get nice and brown before you start mixing them up with your spatula. At the very end you can add salt and then set them aside.

Yellow foot chanterelles

Yellow foot chanterelles

While the mushrooms were browning, I got started on the pesto. Having never made a pesto sauce before, I turned to the internet and found a great recipe here. Why have I never made pesto from scratch before? It is so easy! It is so much more vibrant and fresh tasting when you make it at home and the ingredients are very simple. It is also very easy to modify if you have a specific nut or cheese allergy. The recipe I used suggests using walnuts as an alternative to pine nuts, and I’ve also heard of people replacing the pine nuts with almonds.

Ingredients for the pesto: olive oil, garlic, basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese.

Ingredients for the pesto: olive oil, garlic, basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese.

The ingredients for pesto are simple: olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic, basil, and pine nuts. The first step is to wash the basil leaves and place them into a food processor with the pine nuts and pulse them a few times.

Pine nuts and basil in the food processor

Pine nuts and basil in the food processor

Next, add the garlic cloves and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Basil, pine nuts, and garlic.

Basil, pine nuts, and garlic.

Basil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan

Basil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan cheese.

Next, pulse several more times until well mixed. Then slowly start streaming in olive oil as the food processor is mixing the rest of the ingredients. I would say the amount of olive oil you add is up to you depending on how chunky you like your pesto. Prior to making the pesto, which is really quick and only takes 5-10 minutes total, I had boiled some water and made some pasta. Once the pesto was finished, I mixed it in with the pasta and added a few extra pine nuts and some shredded Parmesan cheese on top.

Home made pesto mixed with  pasta topped with extra pine nuts and Parmesan.

Home made pesto mixed with pasta topped with extra pine nuts and Parmesan.

To me, the point of the pasta was really only to play a supporting role to the freshly foraged mushrooms, so I loaded lots of crispy sautéed mushrooms on top.

Pesto pasta with hedgehog and yellow foot chanterelles on top.

Pesto pasta with hedgehog and yellow foot chanterelles on top.


Simple pesto pasta to accompany freshly foraged hedgehog and yellow foot chanterelles.

It turned out deliciously. Patrick was obsessed with the pesto and scarfed down all of the excess pesto that wasn’t used for the pasta by spooning it onto pieces of baguette. For me, I cannot wait to get back to Humboldt and hike in the redwoods and forage for mushrooms again. For Patrick, he cannot wait for me to make the next batch of home made pesto!