Last week, my friend Tony from Tony’s Family Farms texted me while I was out running errands and asked me if I wanted a free delivery of morels. I never say no to free produce deliveries and I especially don’t say no to morels, so I rushed home to meet him at my apartment.
I ended up taking a bag full of morels, which for those of you who don’t know are mushrooms from California and the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes they grow in Missouri during the spring but the crop is hit or miss depending on the weather. For the past two years, Tony told me, the morel crop in Missouri has been subpar.
This causes a lot of local chefs and restaurants to turn to morels from the West Coast. The morels happened to pop up early this year so many restaurants debuted their morel dishes early. You can read more about it in one of my recent stories for St. Louis Magazine.
Once I had morels, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and make a pasta dish with the mushrooms. I brainstormed for a while and then I settled on rigatoni with morels, peas, and cream sauce. The cream sauce pairs well with the morels, which are meaty but also surprisingly light with hollow interiors, and it complements the peas. I like rigatoni with a hearty sauce because it’s a pretty substantial noodle, so it can stand up to anything you throw on top of it.
A word to the wise about morels: They require A LOT of cleaning. I’m not talking about a couple light rinses in the sink. I’m talking about many rinses, some gentle scrubbing, and a taste test or two to make sure that you’ve cleaned them adequately. If you did a good job, they’ll be soft and chewy. If you didn’t, you’ll get some sand or dirt in your teeth.
If you’re lucky enough to get you hands on some morels this spring, definitely make this pasta. The peas and mushrooms remind me of spring, and the cream sauce and pasta is enough to keep me warm during the last days of winter and cooler days of the new season.
Here’s a song to get you started on your rigatoni with morels and peas journey.
Rigatoni with Morels and Peas
Extra-virgin olive oil
30 morel mushrooms, cleaned and gently dried
1 box of rigatoni pasta
4 ounces of unsalted butter
1 cup of blanched peas
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese for serving
Coat the bottom of a large pan with olive oil. Heat the pan over medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms until they’re tender and then season them with salt. Remove the pan from heat, pour the mushrooms into a bowl, and clean out the pan.
Heavily salt a pot of water over high heat. Bring the water to a boil and add the noodles. Cook the rigatoni for about 14 minutes, or a couple minutes less than package directions. You want the noodles to be soft but not too soft. Drain and retain 1/2 cup pasta water.
Melt the butter in the cleaned pan over medium heat, then add the peas and the heavy cream. Add the drained noodles and some of the pasta water to make the sauce thicker. Increase the heat slightly, give the mixture a couple good stirs, and cook for two more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and top with lots of Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!