Food & Drink

The treat of the Mountain Mushroom Festival: The morel

Shiitake mushrooms, above, while not native to Kentucky, can be grown here and are celebrated at the Mountain Mushroom Festival. The real star, though, is the morel, below, which grows wild in woods.
Shiitake mushrooms, above, while not native to Kentucky, can be grown here and are celebrated at the Mountain Mushroom Festival. The real star, though, is the morel, below, which grows wild in woods. Siri Stafford

In the spring, hunters head to mountain thickets with scissors, serrated knives and mesh bags. They'll zig and zag, changing the route to their favorite hunting grounds, hoping never to reveal the spot that yields pounds of morel mushrooms.

Late last month, many of the hunters gathered at the Mountain Mushroom Festival in Estill County to brag about their spring bounty. Some displayed their mushrooms; others cooked them.

Susan Licholat, executive chef at Natural Bridge State Resort Park, taught novice cooks how to prepare a variety of fresh mushrooms, and there was a cooking competition for the best mushroom recipes.


Robin and Tom Fassis won first place at the Mountain Mushroom Festival.

Mushroom risotto

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons butter

1 large sweet onion, chopped

11/2 cups fresh mushrooms

2 cups risotto

4 cloves garlic

6 cups vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmigianio-Reggiano cheese, for garnish

Chives, for garnish

Heat olive oil and butter in a heavy saucepan. Add onion and sauté over low heat until soft. Add mushrooms. Stir in risotto. Add garlic. Cook a few minutes and add 1/4 cup broth. Gently stir until broth is absorbed. Continue adding 1/4 cup broth as each portion is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and chives.

Dorita Marcum took second place.

Mushroom lasagna Italiano

8 ounces lasagna noodles

1 pound ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 small can chopped mushrooms, drained

1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste

11/2 cups water

1 garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 pound cottage cheese

12 ounces mozzarella cheese

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. In a skillet, brown ground beef and drain. Add onions and cook until tender. Stir in mushrooms, tomato paste, water, garlic, and seasonings. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. In a 9- by 11-inch pan, layer half the noodles, half the meat sauce, half the cottage cheese and half the mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Suzi Freeman Hall and Travis Marshall came in third.

Mushroom steak and cheese sandwich

1 can Pillsbury French loaf dough

4 fresh mushrooms (any type)

1 green pepper

1 small sweet onion

1/2 pound sirloin strip steak

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, pressed

2 slices pepper jack cheese

Bake French loaf dough according to package directions. Let cool. Slice mushrooms, green pepper, onion and steak into thin strips. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Cook mushrooms, pepper, onion, steak and garlic until steak reaches desired doneness. Melt pepper jack cheese on top. Slice French loaf to make a bun, and place steak mixture on top. Can be topped with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato as desired. Makes one sub sandwich.

These recipes are from Susan Licholat, executive chef at Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

Morel mushroom tortellini with smoked gouda cheese sauce

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1⁄3 cup shallots or sweet onion, minced

8 ounces fresh morel mushrooms, cleaned and sliced into 1⁄8-inch strips

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1 package won ton wrappers

3 quarts salted boiling water

Smoked gouda cheese sauce (recipe below)

Shiitake mushroom and fresh herb relish (recipe below)

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until caramelized, about 5 minutes.

Add remaining butter and sliced morels, and sauté on high heat until soft and sizzling, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, then set aside and cool to room temperature.

Using 1/2 tablespoon measure or melon baller, fill each won ton wrapper with mushroom filling. Wet edges with a small amount of water and fold over filling to create a triangle. Press edges firmly.

Fold triangle in half just below filling and wrap ends around to the opposite side. Wet pointed ends with water and press firmly together.

Drop tortellini into boiling water one at a time. Cook 4 minutes. Gently remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

Add tortellini to smoked gouda sauce and garnish with shiitake mushroom and fresh herb relish.

Smoked gouda cheese sauce

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon fresh crushed garlic

1/2 cup dry white wine

16 ounces heavy whipping cream

1 pound smoked gouda, shredded

In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic. Stir about 10 seconds. Deglaze pan with wine. Add whipping cream and allow mixture to come to a slow bubble for about 2 minutes. Add shredded cheese and stir until melted. Sauce should be just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If too thick, thin with a small amount of pasta water. Gently add tortellini to sauce and reheat, about 1 minute.

Shiitake mushroom and fresh herb relish

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

12 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced into 1⁄8-inch strips

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons minced shallots or sweet onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

½ teaspoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

½ teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped

½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

½ teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

In a hot sauté pan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and mushrooms. Allow mushrooms to sear before tossing. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Place in medium bowl and set aside to cool.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft and aromatic, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Place in small bowl and set aside in a bowl to cool.

In a separate bowl, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Add mushrooms and shallot mixture, and toss gently. Use as garnish for mushroom tortellini and smoked gouda cheese sauce.