Linguine with morels and asparagus

Makes 4 servings

My son has fond memories of his first experience with morels, the night we celebrated his 12th birthday at a New York restaurant. Even then, as a very young man, he recognized that these marvelous mushrooms are a food worthy of appreciation. Morels are at their elegant best in a cream sauce, making a rich and aromatic dish to be savored by gourmands. Every spring I look forward to cooking with fresh morels. Yet, dried morels, available year-round, have a more intense flavor, which is brought out when they are hydrated in water. For added flavor, you can use sherry or brandy. Admittedly, they are pricey, but 1 ounce of dried morels swells to about 4 ounces after being reconstituted. I consider it money well spent! Serve this with Champagne for an elegant and festive meal.

½ cup dry sherry, Cognac, or other brandy

1 ounce dried morel mushrooms

8 ounces linguine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 ½ cups asparagus in 1-inch lengths

¼ cup minced shallots

2 cups heavy cream

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts, and sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Bring the sherry to a simmer in a small covered saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and add the morels. Cover and let stand, turning the mushrooms occasionally until they are softened, about 30 to 45 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the morels; halve or quarter the large mushrooms. Reserve any remaining liquid.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the linguine according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt the butter with the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus; cook, stirring constantly, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the morels and shallots; stir constantly for about 3 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the cream, the remaining liquid from the mushrooms, and the thyme. Stir into the saute pan; when the cream begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low. (Do not let the sauce come to a boil.) Simmer, uncovered, stirring constantly, until the cream is thickened and reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove from the heat.

When the linguine is done, drain it well. Return the pasta to the pot; add the sauce. Stir gently over low heat until thoroughly heated.

Serve the pasta in large shallow bowls; garnish with pepper, Parmesan, pine nuts, and parsley sprigs.