In Season: Morels

Amanda Harper


If you’ve never been to the Mountain Mushroom Festival in Irvine, you’re missing out on a delicious piece of Kentucky culture. This annual event celebrates the little nuggets of gold that are foraged from Kentucky hills each April: morel mushrooms.

Aside from sampling delicious dishes cooked with mushrooms or perusing booths filled with slices of Kentucky agate, one of the most anticipated aspects of the Mountain Mushroom Festival is learning what a pound of these fungi are going for. Many factors go into this decision (set by the vendors themselves) including the year’s bounty and the number of mushroom hunters in attendance. These locally-sourced delicacies have been known to go for over $100/lb!


April 27th - 28th  in Irvine, Kentucky  • Learn more at:

Morels – most correctly known as morchella, but more commonly known as “Hickory chickens” or “dry-land fish” in the mountains – are a wild fungus. These curious mushrooms have a distinctive frilly, honeycomb-like appearance. As their nicknames suggest, morels have a meaty quality that makes them an excellent choice for main dishes.

Morels pop up along south-facing Kentucky hills from mid-April to early May, often following a bout of sunny days preceded by rain. All mushroom hunting is inherently dangerous, so it’s best not to go it alone as a novice hunter. That said, morels have an appearance that’s unique enough to make this a hobby that is easily learned from an experienced hunter. It takes a little determination – and a lot of hiking – to find these delicious beauties, but the trek is worth the taste.

For the rest of us, morels can be found at farmers’ markets during this window of growth. Out of season, dried morels can be purchased at a lower price and rehydrated with hot water, though nothing beats fresh.
by Amanda Harper


Ramp Pasta with Morels AND Peas

  • 10 oz. dried linguine
  • 12 oz. morels, trimmed and chopped
  • 4-6 oz. ramps, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 T butter
  • 1/4 c. cooked ham, diced
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1/2 c. reduced-sodium chicken stock
  • 3/4 c. whipping cream
  • 1 1/4 c. frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. thyme, chopped
  • 1/4 c. Italian parsley, chopped

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add morels and ramps and cook 4 minutes, or until just tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove morels and ramps to a bowl and set aside.

Add ham to skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes until ham begins to brown. Remove from heat. 

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions in a large pot of salted water. Drain, reserving 2 T pasta water. Return pasta to pot and cover.

Add wine to skillet and stir thoroughly. Return to heat and cook for 1 minute. Add stock, cream and reserved pasta water. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes until sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Return morels and ramps to skillet. Add peas and thyme, then cook 4 minutes, or until peas are just tender.

Transfer morel mixture and sauce to pasta pot. Toss to combine, then salt and pepper to taste. (adapted from Midwest Living)

Notes: If you’re unable to find spring ramps, subtitute with 1 thinly sliced medium leek plus 1 clove garlic, minced.


Spinach stuffed morels

  • 2 c. fresh spinach
  • 2 c. ricotta
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lb. morels, cleaned with stems removed
  • 1 T butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 2 slices of bacon, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In the bowl of a food processor, add spinach, ricotta, onion and salt; pulse to combine into a chunky paste. Transfer to a piping bag (or plastic bag with a corner cut off.) Pipe the mixture into the cavities of the cleaned morels.

Place filled morels in a single layer in an oven-safe casserole dish. Sprinkle butter, garlic and bacon over top.

Bake for 35 minutes. (adapted from The Primal Desire)


Roasted asparagus AND morels

  • 1 1/2 lb. thin asparagus spears, trimmed
  • 1/4 lb. fresh morels, cleaned
  • 4 T butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 T tarragon, chopped

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Place asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and top with morels.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add shallots and sauté 1 minute. Drizzle mixture evenly over asparagus and morels. Sprinkle tarragon over top and salt to taste. Gently toss to coat asparagus and morels, then arrange again in a single layer.

Roast until asparagus is lightly browned, but still crisp, and morels are dark brown – about 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, and drizzle any liquid in the pan over top. (adapted from Williams-Sonoma)