If there ever was an Olympic gold-star medal winner in the world of Mushrooms, it would definitely be the Porcini variety. It is one of the most-prized funghi in the world, and the first step to appreciation, is developing a bit of understanding beforehand. They are an important element of local Tuscan cuisine and can be found in a number of interesting, local dishes.
They belong to the Boletus genus of mushrooms which are known for a more tender texture, plus they obtain a large, fleshy brown cap that is supported by a plump, short stem (see photo example above). While you can’t ‘grow’ them, they are typically found under evergreen and hardwood trees and in Tuscany, chestnut and oak varieties. Fresh is best, though it can be hard to find. Alternatively you can buy dried Porcini mushrooms in order to make a variety of delicious dishes, from risotto to a succulent pasta sauce, there are no ends to the positives that these fragrant gems of nature can actually bring.
The best time to find them is in spring or late fall, typically after a rainshower. When picking mushrooms, you want to go with a trained expert and be careful not to uproot the Porcini or they may never grow in that area again, same goes for slicing them off with a knife. The best way to ‘harvest’ them is to twist them off at the base, and collect them in a basket.
Not just for little Red Riding Hood –Italian law requires that you keep them in a woven basket so that the spores can fall through the tiny holes for future mushrooms, and they tend to go rotten a lot less than if kept in plastic. To learn about the exact rules regarding picking Porcini, we recommend you read this first. Another variety of mushroom we often find in the Mugello valley is the sought-after prugnola, with ‘roots’ (no pun intended) dating back to the Renaissance period, when the first mentions were noticed.
The versatility of Porcini are endless, they make great pasta sauces or lightly-sauteed in olive oil and placed delicately over a nice slice of beef. We offer this recipe for a risotto dish made with Porcini mushrooms, that we’re certain anyone would enjoy, heck we hope you invite us over too!
Risotto With Porcini Mushrooms
200-300 grams of fresh Porcini mushrooms
3 garlic cloves
4-5 cups of risotto rice
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups of broth, vegetable or meat
1 1/2 glass of white wine
50g parmesan or grana padano, freshly grated
Clean your mushrooms with care and separate the stem from the cap, then chop into chunky pieces. Heat your broth in a small/medium pot while you get out a sauce pan to heat up the olive oil with the garlic cloves, take care not to burn them and cook until they appear golden (then take out the cloves). Add your mushrooms and half of the white wine and a little salt. Cook for 5-7 minutes on low heat. Then take a little more olive oil and butter to heat up in another saucepan adding your rice, with the rest of the white wine. Slowly add broth until the rice is just covered and stir with a wooden spoon. As the liquid evaporates, add more broth, slowly while stirring. When the rice is done add the cooked mushrooms and stir everything together, then add the grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.
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