I'll give you a couple reasons: white mushrooms and portobellos may be easy to come by, but it's difficult to find exotic, seasonal varieties fresh if you live far from where they are grown. If you do find them, they are often rather pricey. But dried morels, chanterelles and other incredibly diverse types can be stocked year round in any part of the country for your enjoyment.
The other reason to use dried mushrooms, and the best reason I think, is for dishes that can handle more than one dimension of mushroom flavor. The broth you'll make when you reconstitute your dried 'shrooms can infuse soups, grains and sauces with unique, earthy goodness.
I know all this, yet I don't use dried mushrooms as often as I should. I was really glad to get some motivation when Marx Foods contacted me and asked if I would create a dish using a sample of their dried morels. Along with a handful of other bloggers, I'm sending them an original recipe to help showcase the delicious possibilities of dried mushrooms.
Risotto was one of the first things that came to mind, but I wanted to put a nutritious, springtime twist on the idea. To do it, I cooked hulled barley in the morel mushroom broth using the risotto-style absorption method. When adding dried mushrooms to any dish, it's critical that you season them well. After all, you wouldn't just boil fresh mushrooms and expect them to taste like much of anything. To pump up the mushroom flavor I sauteed the reconstituted morels with a fresh chopped portobello mushroom, dried thyme and plenty of salt and pepper. Sweet peas added fresh spring color, and sun dried tomatoes provided a hit of concentrated umami to complement the mushrooms.
The results were so satisfying and flavorful, thanks to all that umami (from the Feta too). I served it with large sauteed shrimp (more umami!), but it could be a side dish for nearly any protein, as well as a vegetarian main.
Finally, I have a little favor to ask: if this recipe is making you lick your lips, go over to the Marx Foods website between April 12 and 16th and vote for me (I'll remind you again when the polls are actually open). The blogger whose morel-inspired dish gets the most votes will win a shipment of FRESH morels. I may like the dried ones, but I surely won't complain about a prize like that.
Morel-Barley Risotto with Sun Dried Tomatoes & Peas
Whole-grain, hulled barley is the most nutritious type because the grain and bran are left intact. It takes longer to cook than pearled barley, which is not a whole grain due to the polishing or "pearling" process. You may substitute pearled for hulled barley, reducing the cooking time to 30 to 40 minutes. Do not use quick-cooking barley, which has a much lighter texture and won't hold up well to this cooking method.
1 oz dried morel mushrooms (about 1 cup)
2 tbs olive oil, divided
1 shallot, chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup hulled barley
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large portobello mushroom cap, chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
3/4 cup frozen peas
10 oil-packed sun dried tomato halves, patted dry and thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
Fresh thyme or mint leaves (optional)
Rinse the morels thoroughly, rubbing with your fingers to remove any grit. Place in a large heat-proof bowl and add 5 cups boiling water; soak for 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove mushrooms and pat dry with paper towel; cut into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Transfer soaking liquid to a medium saucepan and keep warm over medium-low heat (do not simmer).
In a large pot, heat 1 tbs of the oil on medium-low. Add the shallot and cook until tender, 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring often. Add the barley and stir to combine. Toast the grains, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add about 1 cup of warm mushroom broth and adjust heat to keep liquid at a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until liquid is nearly evaporated. Add another cup of liquid and repeat until barley is done, 45 to 55 minutes (I have heard a range of cooking times quoted for hulled barley, so bear in mind that it can vary). You do not have to stir constantly, but keep an eye on it to prevent sticking. The grains will remain firm to the bite when fully cooked. If you run out of mushroom broth before barley is done, use hot water.
While barley is cooking, heat the remaining oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the portobello mushroom and cook until it releases some liquid, stirring often. Add the reserved morels and dried thyme, and season generously with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until portobellos are very tender and lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside.
When barley is done, and with some liquid still remaining in the pot, add the peas and stir until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the sun dried tomatoes and the mushroom mixture. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. The consistency of the finished barley should be slightly wet, but not soupy. Serve immediately, sprinkled with Feta and fresh herbs, if using.