There is something so Springtime and magical about this dish. It combines two of the best products of the early Spring season: peas and morels. And since Spring in Chicago can be cold and windy, all of the butter in this recipe keeps one warm and energized.
While I've had morels in the past, like when I had this dish at Mr. Symon's Cleveland restaurant, Lola, years ago, it was in making this recipe at home that I came to really love them. This recipe highlights the morel: their beautiful honeycomb appearance and special flavor are essential to this dish. When you find morels at your market or grocer don't be alarmed or intimidated by the price. While in big cities they can easily top $40.00 per pound, the dozen required for this recipe weigh only about a tenth of a pound.
Because it is so buttery I had by June put this recipe in the "I'll make this again (sparingly) next year" category. But when I went into the Boystown Treasure Island the produce man was putting out the last shipment of fresh morels for the season. And just a couple feet away sat perfect, beautiful, fresh Spring peas. I decided to make it one last time this year. A 55F Sunday afternoon seemed the perfect time. This dish does not taste buttery, though. The acid from the juice of an entire lemon really cuts the butter while the shallot and garlic contribute to depth and whole parsley leaves to roundness. The modifed recipe below contains two tablespoons of butter less than the original. If you want all the butter of the original recipe, add an additional tablespoon to the pan you saute the morels in and stir in a tablespoon when you add the water and parmesan at the end.
There is also something to be said for Mr. Symon's brilliant use of a ricotta gnocci, which is so much lighter than a potato gnocci. These gnocci have a crisp, flavorful exterior and a soft, cheesy interior. Like eating little pillows of cloudy goodness and delight!
Do note that morels should not be eaten raw. They contain small amounts of hydrazine which are eliminated during cooking. However, I doubt a single raw morel would harm a normal, healthy adult.
Here is the adapted recipe which serves 4:
For the gnocchi:
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
1 large egg, beaten
For the sauce:
6 tbsp unsalted butter
12 morel mushrooms
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh shelled peas
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
To make the dough:
Combine the flour, parmesan, lemon zest, and salt in a bowl. Add the ricotta and beaten egg. Mix with hands or wooden spoon until the dough just comes together. Overworking will cause the dough to toughen. Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and pat into a rough square. Using a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into thirds and gently roll into foot-long ropes, flouring as needed. Place dough ropes on a floured plate and refrigerate for 10 minutes and up to 2 hours. After dough has rested, return the ropes to a lightly floured surface. Cut each rope into 3/4" inch pieces, and set aside while you make the sauce.
To make the sauce:
Put 3 tbsp butter into a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, add the morels and saute for about 2 minutes, just until they begin to soften. Add the shallot and saute, seasoning with a generous pinch kosher salt. Add the garlic, stir and reduce heat to medium. Add the lemon juice and peas, and saute for two minutes until peas begin to cook. Turn off heat and set aside.
Heat 3 tbsp butter over medium-high heat in a saute pan large enough to accommodate the gnocchi without crowding. When the butter becomes just brown and fragrant, reduce the heat a little and add the gnocchi to the pan. Cook, turning as needed, until crisp and browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook these!
Pour the morel and pea sauce over the gnocchi, turning to coat. Add 3 tbsp water and 1/3 cup parmesan, and gently toss until the cheese, water and morel sauce forms a silken coating. Stir in the whole parsley leaves. Spoon into shallow bowls and serve immediately. Can be served with parmesan to pass, though this isn't necessary.