Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms.
Le tagliatelle ai funghi porcini.
I will never forget the first time my hubby took me mushroom hunting in the woods and we found a beautiful large porcini mushroom! My excitement was truly childlike! I was expecting to take it home to cook but my hubby insisted we eat it raw, there in the woods! All I can say is Amazing with a capital A! (go straight to recipe)
Mushroom hunting in Italy.
Here in Italy, mushroom picking is a popular pastime. In late Summer/early Autumn and Spring, when the weather is right and the ground still soft from recent rains, the Italians take to the woodlands with baskets on their arms to search for mushrooms. There are quite a few species that they search for, but porcini are the treasure of the hunt. They are also among the most difficult to find. It may be possible to discover a carpet of chanterelles (finferli in Italian) but not porcini! They tend to hide in the darker crevices under leaves and detritus. So, if you are not in the know about specific spots where this mushroom might pop up, it can often be a frustrating search (hence the excitement when a porcino is found!)
The name porcini actually means “piglets” in Italian. For the French they are cèpe, for the Germans steinpilz meaning stone mushroom and the English also call them cep or ‘penny buns’. The term ‘porcini mushroom’ actually refers to a few different species. The most highly appreciated from a culinary point of view is Boletus edulis, or the king bolete. This is usually the mushroom people refer to when they say porcini and this is the one the Italians use in their cuisine to make some of the most delicious dishes in their repertoire! (in my opinion anyway!)
Fresh, frozen or dried porcini?
Among the most popular ways to cook Boletus edulis in Italy are in risotto or with pasta. Since fresh ones are hard to come by, seasonal and expensive when bought, many people (even in Italy) use dried or frozen mushrooms instead. Personally I find the taste of dried ones too strong, especially with pasta but the frozen ones work well. They still retain the aroma and nutty flavour that porcini lovers know so well and are very similar in consistency to fresh ones when cooked.
This recipe is originally from Tuscany but porcini are cooked with pasta throughout the Italian peninsula. Some recipes are pretty simple like this one (just the mushrooms, wine, garlic and wild mint or thyme) but others include vegetables such as peas or meat such as speck or sausage.
Tagliatelle is the most traditional kind of pasta to go with porcini because it’s a rich pasta and soaks up all the sauce but pappardelle or fettuccine will work too. If you can get your hands on fresh or frozen porcini, try this recipe out. You could also use dried ones soaked in water but if you do, look for large or whole dried ones. They are better than packets with lots of small pieces.
(see the recipe on page 2)