For many years I have had this “Cosmic Plan”—that everyone I know, at some point in time, will know each other. When my friend, Peggy Lampman, sent me this recipe for Al Dente Pasta with Morels, she also ended up inspiring a variation on my Cosmic Plan theme. I am calling it Cosmic Convergence. It is when different parts of my life come together, naturally, without my making it happen. Kind of like the way morels grow—-Magic.
Here’s how the latest dots connect. I’ve known Peggy for 30 years. In 1981, during the “Pasta Revolution” when I started Al Dente, she opened Back Alley Gourmet. It was a gourmet take-out and catering company, but she also made fresh pasta. After selling Back Alley, she started worked at Busch’s, a local Ann Arbor retailer.
Now Peggy is spending her time cooking and being her creative self. Last week, Peggy went Up North (as in Up North, Michigan) to visit friends and go morel hunting. Little did I know, until she sent me the recipe and photos, that Judy Harvey, the most well-loved school librarian to ever hit Ann Arbor, was also her good friend. To top things off, Judy had in her cupboard a bag of Al Dente Wild Mushroom Fettuccine! Just what Peggy needed to make dinner
Peggy is one of the best cooks I know, but she also has tremendous style and flair. Needless to say, I love sharing her recipes and photos. Here is what she sent me:
By Peggy Lampman:
“Come mid-May, my palate stings for the taste of freshly picked Michigan morels. Many of the locals head for the forest, especially after a heavy rain, in quest of this holy grail of woodland treasures. Our friends Jack and Judy have a secret spot in northern Michigan they promise never disappoints. For those not acquainted with morel foraging, these haunts are carefully guarded secrets shared only among the closest of friends.
At the end of May, after a heavy rain, we made the 5 hour pilgrimage to this hilly woodland grove. The landscape, dotted with snow white trillium and thick with decaying leaves, smartly camouflaged these succulents. Every seasoned hunter has their tricks for unearthing them. Judy advised me to lie flat on the ground–looking up the hills. She promised the morels would reveal themselves to me.
Lying prone, face down in the damp leaves, I lifted my head. My eyes crawled through decaying bark and wildflowers. Soon enough, I saw the mushroom’s tapered, ridged cone popping through the forest floor. By day’s end, we had a king’s ransom!
What to make with our bounty? After a day in the woods we didn’t have the energy to fuss. Judy had a bag of locally produced Al Dente Wild Mushroom Pasta, chicken breasts, a red pepper and odds and ends. That was enough for a splendid meal!
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, chopped
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, sliced lengthwise into strips
1 red pepper, membranes removed then diced
Fresh morel mushrooms (soak in salted water then slice diagonally)
12 ounce bag Al Dente Wild Mushroom pasta
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme, plus several sprigs for garnish
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil and butter to medium heat. Add shallot and saute until transparent, about 3 minutes.
2. Lightly season chicken breast strips with salt and pepper and saute in pan an additional 3 minutes per side. Add red pepper and sliced morels and saute an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Meanwhile, add pasta to boiling water and boil 3 minutes.
4.With a slotted spoon, remove chicken and morels from pan and whisk in thyme and cream. Return chicken and morels to pan and stir.
5.Serve pasta topped with chicken and morels. Garnish with fresh thyme.