Guys. March got to me. March got to me hard. I know that while planning this month, I promised to fight against the draining limbo that is its essence. I promised gusto and verve. But for a while, I failed. Sure, I read some beautiful stuff, but I had the hardest time getting inspired to tackle the next book. It got so bad there were a few days I didn’t even know what to eat! I shunned cheese! That’s when you know it’s getting bad.
I was starting to despair, to snarl at the corned beef signs all over the city and wrinkle my nose at books I had been looking forward to. As a last resort, I pulled out my secret weapon, a Jim Harrison essay I hadn’t read yet, one I was saving for just this sort of emergency.
The essay, titled “Bird Hunting,” worked like a charm, within a few pages I was hungry, reading about the plan for a post-hunt gastro-extravaganza:
“He suggests for dinner that he quickly do some Hunanese pork backribs for an appetizer, then we can marinate chunks of grouse and sweetbreads in cream and Tabasco in order to stretch the grouse. After we’ve browned these chunks we’ll add a cup of vastly reduced game stock and a cup of the marinade. We would have had more grouse but no one had he energy to brave the densest thickets where they seemed to be that day. Meanwhile the Dogman would grill ten of the plucked woodcock over the wood fire until medium rare, basting them with butter, lemon and pepper. The more elegant salmis de bécasses would be made by the Count later when we traveled south to my farmhouse. This evening as a last course the Count would offer two racks of lamb with some garlicky flageolet and a salad to tamp it all down. Three Montrachets and four Châteauneuf-du-Pape would be the rinse.”
That sounds incredible obviously. But still, I wasn’t actually in the mood to make any of it. I’ve had my fill (temporarily) of heavy roasts and slabs of meat. I needed something fresher, and so I read on:
“…To maintain this state of grace we go to the bar for a few drinks then back to the cabin for lunch and a short midday nap. We envision the Count and Dogman on a forced march to bag the number of birds we have done effortlessly. We discuss the merits of a pasta dish I had devised in May with a sauce of wild leeks and morels, sweetbreads and cream. I have some dried morels and domestic leeks at the cabin. It will make a serviceable lunch, adding julienned prosciutto.”
And there! There it was! I too had some dried morels and some domestic leeks! I too always have pasta about. Decent prosciutto was only a block away! These were the elusive flavors I had been seeking, fresher and lighter than what I had been eating, but still hearty and satisfying enough to prepare one for battle against 24 degrees with a windchill of “I hate you.”
Within the hour I was eating my lunch, jotting down a new list of books I plan to read, and dancing about to Janelle Monáe’s appropriately titled Dance or Die. I had beaten March, and just in time.
Pasta with Morels, Leeks and Prosciutto
1 lb dried pasta (I used penne)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise then sliced thin
2 very large (or four small) shallots, chopped fine
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 ounce package of dried morels, reconstituted according to package directions
3 ounces sliced prosciutto, julienned
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan or Pecorino, for serving
Cook pasta according to package directions in salted water. Meanwhile, heat your olive oil in a sauté pan and add your chopped leaks and shallots. Cook over medium high heat for about five minutes, or until they’re translucent and just starting to get a bit caramel-y. Add the morels and garlic, toss with a wooden spoon and cook about 2-3 minutes longer, or until the garlic starts to color.
In a separate pan, toast the prosciutto slowly over low heat until just crisped. Set aside.
Drain the pasta and toss in a large bowl with the leek/morel mixture. You may need to add a bit more olive oil here. Add some salt, pepper, and the prosciutto, and toss to combine. Serve with grated Parmesan or Pecorino.
Drink: a nice white like a chenin blanc.