During the Easter holidays we went to Lausanne for a short break to visit friends and relatives. During the weekend the streets of the old city centre become busy with stalls of fruit and vegetables, bread, cheese and many other goodies. After a winter spent eating cabbage and potatoes we were amazed by the colour and variety of fresh produces. We refrained from falling into a buying spree, and, with more than a few difficulties we opted for a couple of smelly French cheeses and a small bag of dried Morchella (or Morel) mushrooms.
Quoting wikipedia: Morchella have a honeycomb-like cup composed of a network of ridges with pits between them. Due to their appearance in Italy they are called spugnole, from spugna which means sponge. Morels are highly used in French cuisine and, commercial value aside, are hunted by thousands of people every year simply for their taste and the joy of the hunt. They are one of the few mushroom species that grow in spring. Genus Morchella is derived from morchel, an old German word for mushroom, while morel itself is derived from the Latin maurus meaning brown.
If you aren’t planning a trip to France in the near future, dried morel are fairly easy to find also here in England, for example at the cover market in Oxford. We decided to use half of our precious booty to make a delicious sauce for some homemade tagliatelle. The remaining we will probably use in a soup or risotto.
TAGLIATELLE ALLE SPUGNOLE
Tagliatelle (for four people):
400 g 00 flour
1/2 table spoon of olive oil
Sift the flour on a working surface and shape it into a mound with a hole in the middle (i.e. the fountain). Place the eggs and the oil in the hole and gradually incorporate the flour with the eggs starting by pinching them (see photo). Knead the dough with your hands for 20 minutes, until you have obtained a homogeneous and firm dough, if it is too wet add some flour, if it’s too dry add a tiny bit of warm water. Leave to rest for at least half an hour. After this time take the dough and roll it on a wooden surface until you have obtained a thickness of about 2-3 mm. You could use a pasta machine, but the result wouldn’t be the same: the texture of the wood makes the pasta more porous which helps it absorb the sauce. Leave the dough to rest on the rolling pin (see photo) for about 20 minutes so that it dries a bit. Fold the dough making an “S shape” 5 cm wide and cut every centimetre to obtain tagliatelle. You can use the same dough to make lasagne or tortellini, but of course it needs to be cut differently.
For the sauce (for four people):
30 g dried morel
250 ml creme fraiche (low fat)
1/2 glass of white wine
1/2 cup of milk
extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper
In a small container put 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of milk, a pinch of salt and black pepper and soak the dried morels for at least three hours. Then drain them, keeping the soaking liquid and rinse them to remove any remaining dirt. Filter the liquid. Chop the morels and the onion.
In a large saucepan (it will have to be large enough to saute the tagliatelle with the sauce) heat some extra virgin olive oil and gently fry the onion, when it starts to brown add the morels. Cook for a few minutes, then add the white wine. When the alcohol has evaporated add the soaking liquid, cover and cook for 30 minutes adding some water if the sauce dries up.
In the meantime bring a large pot of water to the boil. Dissolve a tablespoon of salt and cook the tagliatelle for 3-4 minutes. In the saucepan add the creme freiche and stir. Drain the tagliatelle and quickly add them to the saucepan. Saute for a minute and serve.