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Sources: Ari Jumpponen 785-532-6751, ari@k-state.edu
Pronouncer: Ari is Are-ee and Jumpponen is Jum-pone-en
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-2535.
News release prepared by: Stephanie Jacques, 785-532-0101, sjacques@k-state.edu

Friday, April 23, 2010

K-STATE MUSHROOM EXPERT AND MUSHROOM HUNTER SHARE TIPS ON FINDING THE MYSTERIOUS MOREL

MANHATTAN -- The great outdoors, pleasant weather, the thrill of the hunt and the delectable taste are just some of the many reasons hunters take to the woodlands in the spring in search of the mysterious morel mushroom.

"Hunting morels is a great excuse to get outdoors during a nice time of year -- and they are pretty tasty, too," said David Rintoul, an avid morel hunter and interim director of Kansas State University's Division of Biology.

Morels are the fruiting body from mycelia found in the soil and are typically produced during the warm, rainy season of early spring, according to Ari Jumpponen, K-State associate professor of mycology in the Division of Biology. The morel is difficult to produce commercially because the exact environmental conditions have yet to be fully understood. Thus those who love the taste must search for the morels themselves, Jumpponen said.

"There are a lot of people that think they know what makes a good season for the morels, but we have not yet been able to pinpoint the exact environmental conditions, so no one really knows," Jumpponen said. "In general terms, if it's been warm and if you've had enough moisture, there is going to be something coming up."

Some hunters will swear by searching around the base of large trees or after a flood or fire, Jumpponen said. However, a symbiotic relationship between the morel and plant roots is uncertain, as the morels are rarely found in the root, though it can be forced in a lab setting. It is possible that the relationship with the tree roots is nothing but a lab artifact; however, a disturbance of the land by flood or fire is likely to be true, he said

Rintoul has enjoyed hunting for morels since he was first introduced to it by a colleague many years ago. He has gotten his daughters involved as a way to get them outdoors and active. Rintoul also has his own theory for finding the best morels. Although the exact local of his prime hunting ground is top secret, he recommends that hunters search for them in areas with loose sandy soil forested with large trees, usually cottonwood, when the soil and temperature are just right.

"I've already been out searching many times recently and had pretty good luck, Rintoul said. "Ideally, what you need is a good rain and a warm night. There is a critical window between where there are not any mushrooms out yet and where the ground cover becomes too tall to be able to see them."

The morel mushroom has a unique head that is convoluted like the surface of a brain; this allows experienced hunters to easily identify it, according to Jumpponen. The false morel, some of which are poisonous, somewhat resembles the morel. To be on the safe side, Jumpponen recommends that the inexperienced hunter take someone with them who can accurately identify authentic morels.

Both Jumpponen and Rintoul have some additional tips for beginning hunters:

* When hunting for morels make sure you bring a basket, paper or mesh bag to carry your harvested morels. Morels are delicate and moist, so if they are crushed or left in plastic they can easily spoil.

* Using a knife, cut the morel off at the base instead of picking it out of the ground; some people believe that if you pull the mycelia out of the soil there will be fewer morels the next year. In addition, cutting the morel keeps the dirt out of your harvest basket.

* Always clean and cook wild mushrooms prior to eating them. If unable to eat all that you have collected, dehydrate the mushrooms in a food dehydrator and store them in a cool dry place.

Once you have collected your mushrooms, here are a couple of recipes to try:

Chicken Breasts Baked on Wild Mushrooms

Rich, creamy port and mushroom sauce makes these chicken breasts special. A little more work than a weekday meal, but worth it. Great served with plain rice or simply flavored risotto -- lemon or Parmesan would be nice to soak up the flavors. Adapted from the "Silver Palate Cookbook."

* 3/4 cup chicken broth
* 1 ounce dried wild mushrooms -- such as cepes, morels, etc., all one kind or a mix -- thoroughly rinsed under running water, and drained
* 1/2 lb fresh cultivated mushrooms, such as button, wiped clean with damp paper towel
* 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1/4 cup finely-chopped shallots -- or three green onions, finely-chopped, plus 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
* Salt and pepper, to taste
* 1/3 cup medium port wine
* 1/3 cup heavy cream
* 6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

1. In a small saucepan, bring broth to a boil; pour over the wild mushrooms in a small bowl and let stand for about 2 hours.
2. Thinly slice cleaned mushroom caps, discarding stems.
3. In a skillet over medium to medium-to-low heat, melt butter and gently saute shallots or onion/garlic mixture for about 5 minutes -- do not brown.
4. Drain liquid from wild mushrooms and reserve.
5. Finely chop the wild mushrooms and add them and the fresh mushrooms to the skillet with the shallots (or onion/garlic mixture) and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 7-10 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
7. Add the reserved mushroom liquid, port and cream to the skillet and simmer for about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened.
8. Pour mushroom mixture into a shallow baking dish and arrange chicken breast halves in a single layer on top of the mushrooms.
9. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil.
10. Bake in the middle level of the oven for about 25-30 minutes, until chicken is done. Serves six.

Mushroom Tomato Lasagna

* 10 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
* 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
* 7 garlic cloves, minced
* Salt and freshly ground pepper
* 1/2 cup pure olive oil, plus more for the noodles
* 1 and 1/4 pounds wild mushrooms, thinly sliced
* 3 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, coarsely chopped
* 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
* 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 quart milk, at room temperature
* Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
* 1 pound dry lasagna noodles
* 1/2 pound mild goat cheese, at room temperature
* 2/3 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta (6 ounces)
* 2 tablespoons chopped basil
* 1 large egg, beaten
* 1 and 1/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (4 ounces)

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with the parsley and 1 teaspoon of the minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the tomatoes skin side down on the sheet and bake for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, or until wrinkled and slightly dry. Let the tomatoes cool, then coarsely chop them.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add one-third of the mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat until golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in one-third of the remaining minced garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes longer. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a plate. Repeat twice with the remaining mushrooms and garlic, adding 2 tablespoons of oil for each batch.
3. In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the leeks and cook over moderately low heat until softened and golden, about 15 minutes. Add the leeks to the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.
4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook over moderately high heat for 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer over moderately low heat, whisking frequently. Continue to cook the sauce until thickened and no floury taste remains, about 5 minutes. Remove the white sauce from the heat and season with salt, pepper and the nutmeg.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the lasagna noodles until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and rinse the noodles, then toss them with a little olive oil.
6. In a bowl, combine the goat cheese with the ricotta and basil. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the egg.
7. Spread half of the white sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish and top with a layer of lasagna noodles. Sprinkle the noodles with half of the mushrooms and dollop half of the goat cheese mixture on top. Cover with another layer of noodles and spread with half of the remaining white sauce. Spread the tomato and leek mixture over the sauce, cover with a third layer of lasagna noodles and dollop the remaining goat cheese mixture on top. Cover with a final layer of lasagna noodles. Spread the remaining white sauce over the noodles and top with the remaining mushrooms.
8. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the lasagna and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown on top and bubbling. Let the lasagna stand for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.