Spring Asparagus Morel Sauté

By Katie Klingsporn

Spring on Wright’s Mesa comes as a pulse of color. The ranchlands, normally tawny yellow or covered in snow, transform into a rich mosaic of greens. Lime-colored leaves unfurl like neon lights from the cottonwoods. And the meadowlarks, which return each year with their gorgeous ululations, offer flashes of pale yellow from their fencepost perches.

Once the snow has ceded to rain, puddles dot the back roads and the songs of red-winged blackbirds rise from the wetlands, it’s time to go asparagus hunting.

Stalks of the perennial plant sprout along the edges of irrigation ditches, in saturated soil under power lines and in ranchland hollows, hiding in plain sight amid tall grasses. Some specimens are long and willowy, others short and stout, all breaking off with a satisfying snap and filled with water (pick a bundle and cradle it against your shirt, and you’ll be left with a large wet spot where the stalks have wept). Before I ever picked wild asparagus, I imagined it would be sharp or bitter, but it’s sweeter and milder than any I’ve bought in the store, laced with herbaceous notes of spring. It’s as good raw as it is lightly charred or roasted, but overcooking is its ruin.

Asparagus season on the mesa coincides with another season, this one unfolding up in the mountains to the southwest. When the winter’s blanket of snow recedes, black morels erupt in the dark forest soil, hiding under duff and ducking behind stumps. A friend of mine with a line on local morel stashes always gifts me a paper bag filled with the meaty, brainy-looking fungi (in exchange for a bag of chanterelles later in the summer). These prized mushrooms impart a potent umami flavor on any dish they touch.

Paired together and topped with another spring arrival—the chives that have begun to sprout from my awakening garden—these ingredients make for my favorite springtime dish.

Asparagus and Morel Sauté

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic

1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into small coins

½-1 pound morels, chopped 

⅓ cup chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

Salt, pepper and Parmesan

Instructions: Set heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil, and sauté garlic about 2 minutes until it releases aromas. Mix in asparagus and sauté for 1-2 minutes or until it turns bright green. Add the morels and sauté until they begin to release their juices. Pour in stock and cook the mixture, stirring often, just until liquid is mostly cooked off. Season with salt, pepper, and shaved Parmesan, and top with chives. Serve over pasta or polenta, with eggs or as a side dish.