The meat-like texture of Porcini, with its earthy and somewhat nutty flavor, is unequaled among mushrooms and lends itself to any number of dishes. Porcini can be found the world over, however, American consumers are not able to utilize Porcini in all its forms because fresh porcini mushrooms are more difficult to find in the US. Nevertheless, while dried Porcini are excellent, fresh are even better.

Porcini belong to the Boletus genus of mushrooms, characterized by a soft, meaty white body that does not change color after it is cut. Mycologists (mushroom scientists) cannot agree on the finer points of the Porcini Genus, therefore,they can take on a range of shapes and colors while growing under similar conditions. Porcini live in a symbiotic relationship with the trees they grow under. Many mushroom foragers find Porcini living under pine trees, poking up through the dead needles, however, it is well known, that the best Porcini are picked in chestnut woods. These Porcini are known for a light-colored top and are the best eaten fresh. As the Porcini gets older, it turns a darker color. All species of Porcini are characterized by a big, round, fleshy cap that is supported by a short round stalk.

There are several different types and qualities of porcini mushrooms. Autumn Porcino is one of the most sought after species in the world. Referred to as the “King”, this Porcino is found in North America, Europe, and Asia. Brisa is an Italian variety that grows mainly in the Apennines near Parma and in other mountain areas. Porcini with dark tops, known as Porcino Nero, grow in under beech or fir trees and are more suitable to be preserved, but are less tasty. Porcino d’ estate is found in the summer near evergreens, while Porcino del Freddo are found in the colder areas.

Gathering wild Porcini is still the preferred way of getting fresh mushrooms but, is not suggested, unless you are properly trained. California and New Mexico in the US are major areas for Porcini gathering, with large harvests available in the pine forests and mountain areas. In Italy Porcini are almost too popular, so gathering is strictly regulated to prevent them from becoming endangered from over-harvesting. A permit is required and a strict quota of two kilos per week is enforced. Porcini harvesters in Italy are also required to gather the mushrooms in open baskets to let spores escape and ensure the survival of the mushroom.

Farmers are often seen selling Porcini on the side or the road in Italy, but not as likely in the United States. Farmer co-ops may have them, if they grow nearby and the Internet is a growing marketplace for many species, with Russia and Asia being the leaders in exporting fresh varieties of Porcini. The other forms of Porcini products – dried or jarred in oil – are much easier to find, but fresh Porcini are always superior.

Fresh Porcini Mushrooms

When buying fresh Porcini, carefully examine the mushroom for signs of age. If the undersides of the caps have a yellowish-brown tinge to them, the mushrooms are over-ripe. Do not buy Porcini if they have a dark under-cap or black spots on them. Also look for tiny holes in the stem, which is a sign of worms. If you do notice some signs of worms after purchasing them, stand the Porcini on their caps for a time to allow the worms (they are harmless) to escape out of the stalk. Brush off any dirt you may find and wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp cloth. You can wash them in cold water, if you want, but only if you plan to use them right away.

In Italy fresh Porcini mushrooms are preferred grilled and served with extra virgin olive oil and parsley. Often known as a “poor man’s steak”, grilled Porcini are much more flavorful than grilled Portobello. Fresh Porcini are also excellent fried, stewed with tomatoes (Porcini in Umido), used as the base of a pasta sauce or for bruschetta topping.

Dried Porcini

Dried Porcini

Porcini in Olive Oil

In Italy the Porcini that are not ideal for eating fresh are often jarred or canned in olive oil. The Porcino Nero, with its dark cap, as well as other Porcini that grow under fir trees, make the most likely candidate for preserving. The oil preservation seems to make dried Porcini mushrooms much tastier than plain dried.  When looking for Porcini mushrooms jarred in oil choose jars with extra virgin olive oil .

Besides the actual mushroom, there are several Porcini flavored products that are worth trying. Porcini infused olive oils are excellent to drizzle on pasta, risotto or salads, but are too delicate to use in cooking. Porcini pastes and spreads can be found in gourmet stores or on the Internet and have an intense mushroom flavor that is ideal for an antipasto recipe. There are porcini flavored pastas on the market, also.

Antipasto

Porcini Mushroom Crostini

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 long, thin loaf of Italian bread, sliced 1/4 inch thick on the diagonal
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing on bread
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, (about 5 sprigs)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 pounds assorted wild mushrooms, such as shiitake, cremini, oyster, and chanterelle, cut into thin slices

Directions

In a bowl, combine the dried porcini and 1 1/2 cups hot water. Let sit until soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from the soaking liquid. Strain liquid and reserve. Coarsely chop porcini and reserve in a small bowl. Chop together garlic, parsley and salt and set aside in a separate bowl.

Make crostini by grilling or toasting bread under the broiler. Then, brush lightly with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-low heat. Add porcini, shallots, and thyme, and cook, stirring often, until shallots wilt, about 10 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper. Add wine, and cook over medium-high heat until liquid is almost completely reduced, 5 to 7 minutes. Add reserved porcini liquid, and cook until almost completely reduced again, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a small bowl, and set aside.

Return skillet to high heat and add remaining oil. Add fresh mushrooms and season well with salt and pepper, and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are nearly tender, about 10 -15 minutes.

Add porcini mixture and parsley mixture. Cook over medium-high heat, 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust seasonings, and remove pan from heat.

Transfer mushrooms to a bowl and serve with crostini, or spoon a bit of the mushroom mixture on each slice of crostini and arrange on a plate.

First Course

Mushroom Ragu Over Pasta

Makes about 4 cups

Ragu Ingredients:

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup (1/2 ounce) dried mushrooms, preferably porcini
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms such as shiitake, cremini, oyster, porcini, morels, or Portobello’s, in any combination
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • One 28-ounce can Pomi Italian chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Pour the boiling water over the dried mushrooms in a small bowl, cover and set aside to soak until softened, at least 15 minutes.

Wipe the fresh mushrooms dry a damp paper towel.Trim off the tough ends and discard. If you are using portobellos, cut out the black gills and discard. Cut larger mushrooms into 1/4-inch-thick slices through the stem; leave smaller ones (under 1 inch) whole.

In a medium saucepan, combine the olive oil, onions, and garlic, cover, and cook over moderate heat until the onions begin to wilt, about 5 minutes. Uncover and sauté until they are just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes.

Pour the dried mushrooms into a strainer, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse them under cool water to remove any grit and press them with the back of the spoon to squeeze out the water. Coarsely chop them and reserve.

Carefully spoon about 3/4 cup of the strained soaking liquid into the saucepan with the onions, leaving behind any grit. Add the red wine, oregano and thyme and boil for 1 minute. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the canned tomatoes and their juices, the tomato paste, the dried mushroom mixture and salt and pepper. Partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and the ragù is thick, about 15 minutes. 

Pasta Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 pound tubular pasta, such as ziti or penne
  • Wild mushroom ragù, recipe above
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons dried Italian bread crumbs

Directions:

Spray a shallow 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt well and stir in the pasta. Cook the pasta until slightly underdone, a little firmer than al dente, (the pasta will continue cooking in the oven). Drain the pasta and return to the pot.

Add the ragù to the pasta and toss until they are thoroughly mixed. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and pepper to taste; toss again. Pour half the mixture into the prepared casserole. Arrange the mozzarella slices over the top and cover with the remaining pasta. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and the breadcrumbs and sprinkle evenly over the top of the pasta.

Bake the pasta until heated through and the top is lightly browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes.

 

Second Course

Braised Turkey Roulade with Porcini Sauce

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 3/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms (about 3/4 ounce)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 5 thin slices of pancetta, divided
  • 2 cups chopped onions, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 (1 1/4-pound) skinless, boneless turkey breast halves
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Directions:

Combine 2 cups boiling water and porcini mushrooms in a bowl; cover and let stand for 15 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft. Drain through a sieve over a bowl, reserving soaking liquid. Chop the porcini mushrooms.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil to the pan, and swirl to coat. Coarsely chop 1 pancetta slice and add to pan; cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 3/4 cups onions, 2 teaspoons rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook for 7 minutes or until the onions are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in reserved mushrooms. Cool slightly.

Slice 1 turkey breast half lengthwise, cutting to but not through the other side. Open halves, laying turkey breast flat (like a book).

Place plastic wrap over turkey breast; pound to 1/2-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Spread half of onion mixture over turkey breast; roll up jelly-roll fashion, starting with long sides. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Arrange 2 pancetta slices evenly on top of turkey roll. Secure at 2-inch intervals with twine.

Repeat procedure with remaining turkey breast half, shallot mixture, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 2 pancetta slices.

Preheat oven to 325° F.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add turkey rolls to pan; cook 6 minutes or until browned, turning after 3 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 cup onions, carrot, celery, and wine to pan. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced by half (about 2 minutes). Stir in reserved porcini liquid and remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons rosemary. Cover and transfer pot to the oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the turkey roll registers 160°. Remove rolls from pan; let stand 15 minutes. Cut each roll crosswise into slices.

Strain cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Combine 1/4 cup water and flour, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Return remaining cooking liquid to pan; add flour mixture and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute or until thickened, stirring constantly. Serve sauce with turkey slices.

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