Story by Andy Blanton | Photography by Greg Lindstrom
M orels are king of the fungi world come summertime. Their honeycomb-like appearance attracts novice and expert pickers alike, due to the highly sought-after nature of the mushroom itself, and the ease of identification. Although finding morels can sometimes be tricky, cooking with them is much easier due to the versatility of both the texture and flavor. Different sizes sometimes call for different preparations, as demonstrated by several methods of using the prized delicacy. At Cafe Kandahar, we enjoy using foraged items, and morels have long held a place on our menu (when in season).

Forest Mushrooms, Madeira Crème, Montana Chevre, Thyme Pastry Serves 4
Ingredients
1 oz. olive oil
1/2 red onion (thinly sliced)
1 pound forest mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, chantrelle, morel, porcini or any combination, stems discarded)
1 Tbs. garlic (minced)
2 Tbs. flat leaf parsley (finely chopped, leaves only)
2 oz. madiera
4 oz. heavy cream
1 oz. goat cheese
1 Tbs. fresh thyme (picked, leaves only)
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Balsamic cream

Directions
1. Heat olive oil on high heat in a large skillet or sauté pan until it begins to smoke.
2. Carefully add onions, stirring constantly, and sauté until onions start to caramelize slightly (light brown), add forest mushrooms, garlic, and a good size pinch of kosher salt, a smaller pinch of black pepper. Continue to sauté on high heat, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms develop a nice golden brown hue.
3. Remove skillet from heat and add parsley, tossing quickly. Immediately pour in madeira and put the skillet back over the heat. Reduce until almost dry, keeping the skillet moving, then pour in the heavy cream and allow to reduce to desired consistency.
4. Fill thyme pastries (can use puff pastry, filo dough, pie dough, etc.) with goat cheese. Serve immediately, when hot, by spooning mushroom mixture over thyme pastry. Garnish with balsamic cream (or a 12-year aged balsamico).

When served with gnocchi, morels make for a hearty supper.

When served with gnocchi, morels make for a hearty supper.

Gnocchi, Morel Mushrooms, Parmigiano-Reggiano Serves 2
Ingredients
1 Tbs. shallots, minced
1 Tbs. garlic, minced
1 oz. castelveltrano olives, minced (other olives like nicoise or arbequina work well)
2 oz. bacon, cut into small rectangles (also known as lardons) [note: bacon is optional if vegetarian is desired/preferred]
3 oz. morels (cleaned, prepped: for large morels, quarter; medium size, half; small, leave whole)
1 oz. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock (or broth)
2 oz. white wine
3 oz. nettles (blanched/cleaned), or alternatively use Swiss chard, kale, or spinach
1 package gnocchi (or make your own)
2 oz. unsalted butter (diced into small chunks)
2 oz. parmigiano-reggiano (grated)
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Fresh basil (optional)

Directions
1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon, stirring constantly, and cook until bacon begins to crisp on all sides. Add shallots, garlic, and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper. Continue stirring until morels begin to turn color and lose about half of their size. Add nettles (or chard/kale/spinach, depending on what you are using) and allow to cook for another minute or so, or until greens wilt, stirring constantly.
2. Add olives to the skillet, immediately followed by wine. Allow wine to cook until almost evaporated.
3. Add chicken stock and continue cooking until the mixture begins to reduce by about half and starts to thicken slightly, about 2-3 minutes.
4. Next, add cooked gnocchi to the skillet. When the liquid returns to a boil, remove from heat, whisk in the unsalted butter until well blended, then serve immediately.
5. Garnish with parmigiano-reggiano and fresh basil. Enjoy!

Almost everything tastes better with goat cheese, and morels are no exception.

Almost everything tastes better with goat cheese, and morels are no exception.

Goat Cheese Stuffed Morels, Tomato Sauce, Spinach Serves 2
Ingredients
2 oz. goat cheese
3 large morels (cleaned)
1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 oz. baby spinach (picked)
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
1 tsp. balsamic
1 egg
2 Tbs. milk
½ cup flour
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 oz. tomato sauce (your favorite version, preferably homemade)
3 oz. vegetable oil (clarified butter works best)
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Directions
1. Prepare stuffing by blending goat cheese in food processor (we like to use Amaltheia from Belgrade).
2. Using a pastry bag (or creating one by using a corner of a ziplock bag), pipe the goat cheese into the cavity of the morel mushroom. Be sure the mushrooms are properly chilled once the stuffing is inside (can be made in advance).
3. Set up a breading station with three small dishes by placing flour in one (season the flour lightly with salt and pepper). In the second dish, whisk the egg and milk together creating an egg wash. The third dish will have the breadcrumbs.
4. Heat vegetable oil in skillet over medium heat until hot. Test the oil by sprinkling a small amount of flour into oil (if it dances and sizzles, the oil is ready). Place stuffed morels into flour and toss evenly to coat. Next place morels into egg wash, turning to coat evenly. Finally place morels into breadcrumbs, mixing until evenly coated. Shake off the excess and carefully place morels into the hot oil. Lower the heat to medium low and fry morels, about 1-2 minutes on each side.
5. Once morels are finished, pour remaining oil into a container to cool. Place the same skillet back over medium high heat, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and sliced garlic. Continue to cook just until the garlic begins to color. Remove from heat, add spinach, a touch of salt and pepper, and balsamic, toss until the spinach is wilted.
6. Place tomato sauce on plate. Add sautéed spinach/garlic, top with stuffed morels. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Cafe Kandahar is located inside Kandahar Lodge, in the village at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Chef Andy Blanton specializes in serving thoughtfully constructed cuisine, highlighting farm-to-table and locally sourced ingredients. Cafe Kandahar has received numerous accolades and recognition as a premier dining destination in Northwest Montana.