The local broccoli is just coming in. The local asparagus is nearly done. And the morel mushrooms are in the lower woods and valleys. The garlic scapes are up, the new ramps and leeks as well. Here’s a pasta recipe for the current bounty.
- Soak the broccoli in cold water, trim the end and cut it into vertical pieces, along the branches to the floret. Blanch them in salty boiling water, but only for two minutes or so, then set in a colander to drain.
- Have pasta water on a boil. Chop three cloves of garlic, a couple scapes, and trim four or five ramps to three-inch lengths. Finely chop a small shallot. Do all the chopping on the same board, they are all in it together.
- Trim the morel ends. If the morels are very sandy, you must quickly rinse them then let them dry on a paper towel. Chop the morels, five or six of them, either vertically or horizontally – they can be many sizes but the piece you want is about half dollar size.
- Heat some olive oil and cold butter in the smaller pan, add the shallot, and a minute later the morels, with all the trim parts. Stir and salt and pepper. Medium heat, and when you feel them sticking, add a tablespoon of the pasta water, stir. Then add the ramps and a little of the garlic, the scapes. Mix well, let them cook together. The morels are a strong force – they like the strong smelling garlics and such. Add a dash of dry white wine. It should all be bubbling a bit.
- Chop the broccoli on the horizontal, on the cutting board that you chopped the garlics. Heat a larger sauté pan, add olive oil and the rest of the chopped garlic, and a minute later, the chopped broccoli. You should smell the garlic, but keep the heat modest. Add salt, broccoli needs salt. And ground pepper. Stir the pieces to mix with the olive oil. They only need a little more cooking, they are there more for the oil and garlic. If they do need more cooking, add a little of the boiling pasta water to finish the cooking. You want the broccoli firm, not soggy, but not undone either.
- Add salt and pasta to the boiling water.
The morels need perhaps 7-9 minutes to cook – if they dry too much, add a bit more pasta water but stay to the dry side. The moment the pasta is done, pull it out and plop it into the morels and mix well. Little more salt for the pasta. Stir, so the earthy morel color gets onto the pasta. Crack some black pepper in and some chopped parsley and a small knob of cold butter to melt and finish the sauce.
The broccoli should be ready. Grate Parmesan cheese onto it, stir, and then bring the morels and pasta and add. Stir once or twice and it should be ready. Finish with more salt and pepper, some olive oil and a little grated cheese. Use warm pasta bowls.
It is important that the morels have cooked separately and then come to the broccoli. I have tried other ways, but this one is best. You can hear them together and taste each one.
I use dried Italian spaghetti and break it in half. But whatever you choose, let it be light, and do not use much of it for this dish – the fresh broccoli and the morels are the singers here. Time whatever pasta you use to be ready when the morels are ready.
It is the fresh broccoli and the spring garlic, on one hand, green and proud. And the muddy, earthy, sweaty morels, with the alliums and the sauce and the pepper, from the damaged spring wetlands, on the other.