Voting for this contest is now open! Please click here to vote for me to be the 2011 Morel Champion. Thanks in advance! ~ Kimberly
And now for something a little different.
One of the many perks of being a food blogger is being invited to participate in all sorts of fun events, particularly recipe contests. Recently, I learned that the fine folks at Marx Foods were looking for fifteen adventurous food bloggers to be part of their annual Morel Recipe Challenge, a great contest in which each blogger is required to make an original morel hors d’oeuvre for the chance to win two pounds of these incredible mushrooms.
Two whole pounds of morels? I simply had to throw my hat into the ring in the hopes that I’d be lucky enough to play along.
Sure enough, yours truly was selected to be a part of this contest! Within a few days of getting that happy news, I received my generous sample packet of dried morels. And almost immediately, my inner canapé maker got to work.
Though this was the first time that I would be cooking with morels, I’ve always been a huge fan of these unique looking mushrooms. Their distinct flavor & texture make them extremely versatile, making morels easy to use in anything from sauces to rice dishes and beyond. As I’ve only been accustomed to enjoying these tree-shaped, honeycomb-patterned funghi in entrées, I was definitely looking forward to the challenge of creating an appetizer with them instead.
The possibilities were endless, of course. Stuffed, sautéed, over crisp crostini, inside flaky tart shells, as part of a small salad – this extremely versatile mushroom lends itself to almost any recipe. After a lot of brainstorming, I decided to keep things simple and let my treasure trove of morels work together with fresh veggies from the farmer’s market to create an elegant hors d’oeuvre that celebrates the flavors of spring.
The beauty of this recipe – besides how great it tastes, of course – is its simplicity. Though it looks like it required hours of intense kitchen labor and food styling, it actually requires very little effort. The ingredients are few: morels, fresh asparagus, herbs, goat cheese, some tiny homemade fillo dough cups; nothing too exotic or difficult to prepare. The seasoning was also kept to a minimum in order to let the flavors of each vegetable shine through, with the goat cheese adding a very subtle but distinctive creamy tang that rounded off the whole experience. About the only difficult thing required is patience & delicate handling of the fillo dough.
Where I did decide to go a little wild was in its presentation. Like my favorite college professor used to say, “Presentation is everything,” and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to making hors d’oeuvres. They’re the very first thing served at any dinner or party, and can set the tone for what else is to come in that particular meal. And as long as its presented in a lovely, unique manner, even plain ol’ cheese & crackers can appear avant garde.
So I took my springtime theme and let that guide me. The bright green of the asparagus looked beautiful against the dark, earthy tones of the sautéed morels, reminding me of the first green seedlings in my small urban garden. With some patience, I carefully arranged squares of thin fillo dough into a star-shaped pattern inside mini-muffin cups. As I did so, I realized how much they reminded me of little flower pots, and my idea took an even clearer shape.
Twenty minutes later, I had my tray of tiny masterpieces. Earthy, meaty morels, brightly colored asparagus and ribbons of creamy white goat cheese were garnished with fresh herbs to resemble tiny springtime seedlings in delicate, golden fillo “flower pots”. It’s a unique and elegant presentation for a very simple appetizer and sure to dress up any dinner or buffet table. Let’s check out the recipe!
Note: Since this was made for a recipe contest & it’s not something I would normally be able to make, I had originally left out the price breakdown. However, some folks want to know how they can make this without spending an arm and a leg on such expensive funghi. If you can and they’re available in your area, try foraging for morels. We’re deep into morel season right now, so they’re supposedly quite easy to find (especially near elm trees, from what I understand). It requires some effort, but you’ll have fresh, free morels to enjoy to your heart’s content. A quick Google search for where to find morels in your area should yield some good results for mushroom hunting clubs, etc.
If foraging isn’t for you, you can substitute a dried wild mushroom mix or even a mixture of more conventional fresh mushrooms for the morels. They won’t have that distinctive morel flavor, but they will work wonderfully in this recipe and still be quite delicious. ~Kimberly
Morels & Spring Vegetables in Fillo “Flower Pots” (makes 12-18 appetizers; total cost of recipe: $8)
6 large asparagus spears
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 T finely chopped chives
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 t herbes de provence
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T red wine
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
4 sheets of fillo dough
2 T melted butter
1 scallion (for garnish)
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a mini muffin tin with a thin layer of cooking spray and set aside.Reconstitute the dried morels according to package instructions (be sure to save the water to use as a base for soup stocks). When they are ready to work with, drain, pat dry, and chop finely. Rinse the asparagus and cut off the woody ends at the bottom. Gently and on a bias, chop the asparagus into 1/4″ pieces.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is ready, add the garlic and sautee for 30 seconds, until just fragrant. Add the chopped onion, salt, pepper and herbes de provence, and cook for another minute or two, until the onion starts to become translucent.
Next, add the asparagus. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the morels. Sautee the vegetables together for another couple minutes then add the wine. Cook for one more minute, remove from heat and stir in the chopped chives. Set aside.
Working very carefully, take a sheet of fillo dough and brush with melted butter. Cut it into 6 large squares. Take one square and gently place it inside one of the muffin cups, allowing the top edges to flare out. Take another square and place it on top of the first in a criss-cross pattern. Repeat this process until all of the muffin cups are lined with fillo, each cup holding about 3 squares.
Add about half the goat cheese crumbles into the morel & vegetable mixture and mix until well-combined. Using a regular teaspoon, take a small amount of morel filling and place inside each fillo cup until the entire tray is filled. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the fillo shells are a light golden brown.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes before carefully removing them from the muffin tin (if you need to, use a couple of toothpicks to help coax them out without breaking them). Cut thin slices of scallion into 1-inch “stalks” and place in the center of each fillo flower pot. These will be your “seedlings”. Crumble a few extra bits of goat cheese on top, sprinkle with a bit more black pepper, and enjoy!