Before I get too far ahead of myself, I wanted to post a few links to some excellent recent radio shows featuring topics near and dear to my heart. First, Here On Earth with Jean Feraca has had some wonderful Friday Food shows. Check out The Forager's Harvest, Vanilla, and Restoring America's Apple Culture. Michael Pollan had an interview this week on Democracy Now with the wonderful title: "Don't Eat Anything You've Ever Seen Advertised." Lastly, check out Sally Fallon's recent interview on The People's Pharmacy with Joe and Terry Graedon.
Now on to the good stuff! I took a short vacation to Door County, Wisconsin this week to visit my friend Steph and her husband Scott. Lucky for me, they are interested in local foods, and even luckier, it was the high season for wild baby leeks (ramps) and morel mushrooms!
We harvested the ramps in wooded plot close to their house near Sister Bay. They were everywhere!
I only managed to find one morel. Here it is - it just popped into my view when I wasn't even looking for it.....which is ironic, since I did a bit of actual looking without any luck at all. I was pretty happy to find this one! Luckily Steph has a friend who is a good morel hunter, so we were not lacking in mushrooms to cook with!
Morels are a little tricky - they have a mild flavor that's easily overpowered, so you have to pay special attention to how you prepare them. We decided to stuff three of them (one for each of us) and use the rest in a mushroom cream sauce to have over fettuccine. To keep things exciting, Steph and I decided to try our hand at making fresh pasta. Neither of us had ever done it, but she was able to borrow a pasta machine from the local restaurant she works for, and both of us have a healthy sense of adventure!
I really wish I had remembered to write down the recipe! It was flour and a little salt mixed together and then turned out onto a board. You make a well in the flour and add eggs (more yolks than whites) and then mix it all together with your hands.
The mixing part was a little easier said than done!
But it wasn't too difficult to get it into the flat blobbish shape you see above.
After chilling in the fridge for about an hour, the dough was ready to go. The basic idea is to condition it slowly into thinner and thinner sheets until it's the perfect thin-ness for the pasta you're making. First, you cut the blob into quarters and run one quarter through the machine once on the thickest setting to make a sheet. That sheet gets folded into thirds and run through the machine again and again, slowly working your way toward the thinner settings.....
It worked like a charm! (I can't pretend we didn't have any trouble, but by the end we were feeling like pros!)
Next, you run the thin sheet of pasta through the cutting teeth of the machine to make the fettuccine shape.
Easy breezy! I had no idea pasta making was this easy and fun! I'm definitely going to have to look into purchasing a pasta machine like this one - I think they run around $100, which isn't too bad....
Meanwhile, we started preparing the morels. The best way to clean them is to soak them in salted water to get any bugs and/or dirt off. This was a necessary step - we were amazed at how many ants and other bugs were still living inside them!
For the stuffed morels, Steph's husband Scott prepared a simple goat cheese and chive (from the garden) stuffing.
We whipped up a beer batter (flour, baking soda, eggs, and beer) ......
....and fried them in oil. The oil was a tad too hot, so they ended up almost burning, which was a bit of a bummer. It could have been much worse though. Retrospecively, I think I would have chosen a milder cheese, or no stuffing at all. They were delicious, but it was a bit hard ot pick out the delicate morel flavor over the tangy goat cheese.
We put the pasta on the stove to cook - I kept being amazed that we had made it and it was acting so much like regular pasta.... what a revelation!
Scott did a beautiful job of cleaning the ramps. Aren't they just gorgeous?
These are them prepped and ready for the cream sauce. Scott pretty much took over the sauce making which was fine since he's a really good cook. I love learning new things from cooks this way!
He started with bacon.....
When it was crispy, he added the ramps, then the mushrooms, and a few ramp leaves for color.
Finally, some Manchego cheese and a whole lot of heavy cream. This was not a low fat sauce, but oh my goodness, it was good!
Steph and Scott decided the occasion warranted the opening of a very special bottle of wine - it was given to them as a wedding present and retails around $200. It's rare for me to get to sample wine this expensive - what a treat! It was really nice too. I wish I could do it justice with a long flowery description, but the truth is, I'm just no good at wine tasting. I had no problem deciding that I liked it though!
It was 10pm by the time we dished out our food, which isn't bad until you remember that we started cooking at 5:30.... Ah well, time with friends in the kitchen is time well spent!
For dessert we cooked up a Door County made fruit pie. It was delicious - a true Door County experience. I'm still wondering however if Bea really understands all the connotations of her Ho-Made Pies....
I took full advantage of all the special Door County eats and came home with a cooler full of fun stuff: this smoked whitefish, frozen cherries, jam, cherry brats (I couldn't resist!), a ton of freshly harvested ramps, morels, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a thing or two. Yay for vacations!
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