*After you read this post, you should go have a look at what The Nudie Foodies are doing for Japan. It’s food porn at its finest, all for a great cause.
Is there a soul on the planet who is aggrieved by the approach of spring? Really, what’s not to love? I especially welcome the nubile tips of frigid bulbs poking up from beneath rain-loosed soil. The spoils of the earth finally make a verdant appearance on the plate and I, finally, am the kind of happy for which sunshine is the only cause. After months of tubers and meat in the dark cave of winter, the simple surprise of a wild morel can make all the difference.
Learning to cook, like shaving your head, is something to do in the spring. You want the promise of warmer months ahead to cushion your fuck-ups. You want the anticipation of a perfectly-ripe tomato in August to inspire you to slice your way through hundreds of lemons, artichokes, fava beans, peas and asparagus in April, May, June and July. While it’s great to be inventive with pork and beans- making everything from cassoulet to pasta fagioli- it’s ever so much more satisfying to prepare and eat produce that tastes the way it was meant to taste- fresh from the earth.
I will stop channeling Ruth Reichl and get over my hippie dippie diatribe, if you promise me to go feast on something fresh and seasonal this week.
Depressed at having to return to Seattle after a week in ever-temperate LA, I found myself at Pike Place Market prepared to sulk in the wintry-comfort of a gyro and some wildly-expensive imported Jamon Iberico. Luckily I lifted my gaze off the ground and all the galoshes stomping on it just long enough to catch a glimpse of some locally-foraged fiddleheads clamoring for my attention. They writhed seductively at me from their perch in pride-of-place at the Sosio’s produce market stall.
“Cook me, Linda, cook me and eat me with your spring-starved tongue. We will renew your faith in Seattle and prove to you that you’ll be able to swap your Hunter Wellies for Manolos very, very soon.”
Without hesitation, I bought the fiddleheads. And their perch-mates, the morels and carciofini (purple baby artichokes). Right away I envisioned a sort of harvested/foraged pasta spectacular and I knew I wanted the pasta itself infused with color, so I picked up some beet powder at Tenzing Momo to incorporate into the fettuccine dough.
As with truly great springtime meals, this one came together so easily. I made the pasta dough by exchanging a small portion of flour for beet powder. It produced raw strands of fettuccine so red it was like Jackson Pollock had reinterpreted Miles Davis’ My Funny Valentine on my kitchen island.
While a passel of quail eggs were turning to custard in a temperature-controlled (sous vide) water bath, I sautéed carciofini quarters, fiddleheads, morels, leeks, garlic and some thinly-shaved Serrano ham. A little marsala wine, a splash of lemon and a touch of cream pulled the ingredients together and helped them cling to the noodles.
If you could eat a season, this would be the embodiment of early spring in the Northwest. Fiddleheads taste like unfurled spools of the Olympic rain forest, and morels are like licking the trunks of trees in bloom. Now if someone could just conjure the warm weather and sunshine, we’d have the trifecta: good food, weather and cheer.
(This is loosely based on Thomas Keller’s pasta dough for rolling. His version is sans beet powder.)
-serves 4 with leftovers
- 450 grams all purpose (or tipo 00) flour
- 50 grams freeze-dried beet powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- 230 grams egg yolks
- 40 grams whole milk
- 16 grams olive oil
- Semolina as needed to keep dough dry during rolling process
- Put the flour, beet powder and salt into bowl of standing mixer, creating a well in the center. Add the egg, yolks, milk and oil. Knead with dough hook on low speed until combined, then on medium speed an additional three minutes until a uniform ball is formed. Allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
- At this point you can hand roll and cut the dough, or use a pasta machine to roll it to the thinnest setting, then cut into desired pasta- I like fettucine with this recipe. Dry the pasta for an hour or up to five hours at room temperature, then boil in salted, oiled water to al dente.
Morel Marsala Primavera with Fiddleheads, Carciofini and Quail Eggs
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 thinly-sliced leek
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
- 10 carciofini, quartered and blanched for 3 minutes in boiling water
- 1 cup fiddlehead ferns
- 1 cup morels, halved
- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
- ¼ c chicken stock
- ½ c Marsala wine
- Zest of one lemon (Meyer preferred)
- Juice of one lemon
- ½ c heavy cream
- Optional: 4 oz chopped Serrano ham, 10 quail eggs cooked at 145°F in water bath for 25 minutes, or Parmigiano Reggiano grated over the top of the tossed pasta.
- Saute the leek in the butter in a large skillet for three minutes. Add the garlic and carciofini and sauté for two additional minutes. Add the fiddleheads, morels, thyme and stock and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently.
- Turn the pan on high heat and add the Marsala wine. Ignite and allow the alcohol to burn off. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and heavy cream and remove from heat. Serve with beet fettuccine and toss in optional ingredients listed above if you wish.