Recently, the Clearwater Farms stand at the Wednesday Market was filled with obscure, funny looking things and people lining up to get their hands on them. As the season for ramps (mushrooms) comes to a close, it marks the beginning of the anticipated, yet short-lived, season of morels and porcinis. Morels are harvested in the wild and have a very short season from mid-May until the end of June. They are spongy and conical looking and have a very rich, forest-like flavor. They grow best in traumatized soil, such as areas that have been destroyed by forest fires. For instance, the morels will come up best one year after a forest fire, but will rarely grow well in the same spot again. Another variety of morels, called naturals, grow in regular forest conditions, especially around Douglas Firs, year in and year out, but in much smaller quantities.
David West of Clearwater Farms recommends preparing morels in pasta and risotto dishes. For an easy meal or side dish, sauté morels, peas and onions in olive oil and serve over pasta hot or at room temperature. He says morels are also delicious with scrambled eggs for a tasty breakfast, and served with steak for a hearty dinner. As a side dish all their own, sauté morels with olive oil and shallots. West does not like to add garlic because its strong flavor fights with the morels.
The elusive porcini will be arriving at the markets in mid to late May for their annual but fleeting four to five week season. On very rare occasions porcinis have a brief season around Thanksgiving, too. Porcinis grow at higher elevations than morels, usually 5000 to 8000 feet. If they grew any lower they would be destroyed by bugs. Porcinis have several stages. Young porcinis are hard as apples and have to be shaved in thin slices and eaten raw with salt, excellent quality olive oil and can be served over fresh greens. When porcinis grow for a longer period of time they are called riper porcinis. These porcinis are larger and softer and best for grilling or pan frying, as well as serving with pasta and risotto. They have a large, ripe spore mass that dissolves when cooked and have a delicious buttery, fresh taste. Porcinis are sold in all stages. Remember that “riper” does not mean “better”; the riper porcinis were just left to grow for a longer period of time, resulting in a different variety.
To get seasonal wild mushrooms like morels and porcinis visit David West of Clearwater Farms at the Wednesday and Saturday Downtown markets for the widest selection. Tradewind Mushroom Company also has domestically raised and seasonal mushrooms at the Pico Market and other markets throughout the Los Angeles area.