An Adventure in Morels and Garlic Scapes

The omelet is almost perfect this time, almost, except for a small tear in the top middle, where the ingredients peek out.  Three eggs, beaten with Himalayan sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, fried in butter.  Inside – morels, diced onion and garlic scapes, previously sautéed in more butter on medium-low heat for five minutes.  A fine layer of soft, creamy artisanal camembert melted into gooey perfection glues everything together.  This is not the first omelet I have ever made, but it might, quite possibly, be, for its few imperfections, the best.

The morels and garlic scapes are recent acquisitions from the Waverly Farmers Market, an experiment in eating seasonally, locally, and with ingredients with which I have never before played.  It is June in Baltimore, and, although I had originally set out to find squash blossoms, I have missed that narrow window for locavorian flower fare.  Instead, as my wife Karla and I weave our way through the market, buying staples from our favorite vendors, inspecting produce for hidden gems and new seasonal delectables, we stumble upon the scapes.  An organic farm with a wide assortment of produce had a few bundles of the green stems and unblossomed flowers on one of their tables.  Without knowing very much about them, I make the impulse decision to buy first and ask questions later.

Next, after picking up a fresh coffee brewed with grounds from Zeke’s, the hometown small roastery favorite, and talking to X, an old and eccentric poet-socialist-friend who frequents the market the hawking the “Revolution” newspaper (we decline, like every week, to purchase one), we visit the mushroom lady.  Our original intention was to buy standard fungi fare – button mushrooms and baby portabellas – but when the hollow-capped, moon-cratered morels stare out at me longingly from a box, I am seduced.  How can one resist something so primal, something so beautiful and prehistoric that is, well, edible?  Besides, during a recent trip toSeattle, having seen these beautiful heaps of mushroom at Pike’s Place Market, and then experiencing first-hand their glorious woodsy goodness during a visit to Serious Pie, an artisanal pizza spot in the district of Belltown, I had become enamored.

I have a serious love of mushrooms, the edible kind, that comes from some vague and ill-defined notion of their purity and magical goodness.  Certainly, it would be hard to dispute the brilliance of a portabella cap marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh herbs, then grilled to perfection over a wood fire in one’s backyard during the summer.  Or, perhaps, frying up cremini or button mushrooms in a little butter and garlic…  Slicing shitakes for a Chinese-inspired stir-fry… Once, even, I managed to cook (not too badly) a risotto with an assortment of reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms which had such a rich, earthly flavor; another time, a similar risotto with a wild-mushroom blend.

But this was my first cooking experience with this particular mushroom.  With the Maryland morel season quickly fading and the brief window for garlic scapes sliding past, and both items in my bag of bounty, it occurred to me that I might, possibly, be able to combine the two into something tasty.  Sure, I could probably sauté the morels in some butter with herbs and be satisfied with the result, but I also had these garlic scapes on hand.  What to do with them?

A bit of online research and recipe refactoring, and it dawned on me – breakfast.  The scapes could be switched out for traditional garlic cloves, the morels would be the centerpiece, both could be wrapped in a wonderfully tried and true shell of omelet, onions of course would play their part, and… something was missing.  I knew this would be good, but I also knew there was an ingredient that might just elevate my creation beyond that.

It wasn’t until later in the day, during a visit to The Wine Source in Hampden, a wonderful local alcohol and fine foods distributor, purveyors of not just wine but an assortment of craft and high end beers, spirits, and liquors, enough to suit the taste and mood of any occasion, that we happened upon, quite accidentally, that missing ingredient.  Karla and I had gone to the store to pick up beers for a barbecue we were hosting that evening, but upon arrival we walked into a prosecco tasting, paired with an incredibly smooth and creamy sheep’s milk camembert that tasted faintly of grass and nuts.

Brilliant by itself, but when layered onto sautéed morels, onions, and garlic scapes, it would form the perfect flavor glue for this culinary experiment.

All the ingredients in hand (for both the barbecue and the wonderful omelet that awaited us the next day), we returned home satisfied.  The dining and drunken debauchery ensued, of which I will mention little here.  Suffice it to say, margaritas were imbibed, beer flowed copiously, fire-grilled Bison skirt stake was devoured, and good times were had by all, including our dog, Nory, an enthusiastic boxer who likes nothing better than to fling his rawhide bone hither and yon, and attempt to dig holes in the back yard, all while looking at you sadly, knowingly, from his white and black pirate-patched eyes.

The next morning, Sunday, waking slightly hung-over and satisfied, the morels calling, it was time.  A hollow-feeling in the stomach, brunch awaited.  Fresh ingredients desired deconstruction and reassembling.  Sweet biscuits cooking in the oven, I turned my attention to the morels.  I knew, I knew, this would be good.  There was no possibility, no room for failure with these glorious ingredients.

Plated, my wife and I at the dining room table, the fork sinking in through the golden, slightly crispy omelet, through the morels and onions and bits of garlic scape, bound by the goo of melted camembert.  On the tip of the fork.  Now rising to the mouth.  The tongue’s anticipation of bursting flavors.  Teeth sinking in, the first bite.

Tasting the woods, tasting the grass that the sheep ate to produce the milk, tasting the subtlety of garlic essence exuded in the often-overlooked stem and flower…  Tasting the fresh, beautiful earth…

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