Spilling the Beans
Porcini mushrooms are pricey. Here's how NOT to mess them up
Wet weather means porcini. And that can only mean great happiness. Some say it was the ancient Romans who decided to name these mushrooms "little pigs". Who knows why?
Antonio Carluccio says it's because even when the mushrooms are small, their bodies (the stems) are fat. Maybe, maybe not, but whatever the reason, they remain one of the most coveted edible mushrooms.
Like many other fungi, they are mycorrhizal, which means they form a symbiotic relationship with the root system of other plants - often trees - and this friendship is hard to create artificially, so they remain elusive.
When there's rain about, good greengrocers and speciality food shops will have fresh porcini in stock. Always go for the smaller, younger ones: they have a more silky, less woody texture
When there's rain about, good greengrocers and speciality food shops will have them in stock. Always go for the smaller, younger ones: they have a more silky, less woody texture.
For some reason, porcini are hardly ever prepared correctly, both in restaurants and recipe books. They tend to be cooked on a too low temperature, which makes them simmer. What they want is a high enough heat to really brown the exterior, which releases the full umami quotient.
Also, people never separate the stems and caps. This is a huge mistake with devastating consequences: in all but the smallest and freshest of porcini, the stems cook more slowly than the caps, so if you throw everything in together, you'll have mushy caps once the stems are cooked right.
The procedure is: separate stems and caps. Slice stems thinly and caps thickly. Heat olive oil in a large pan, throw in stems in a single layer, get them browned on both sides and push to the pan-edge.
Throw in caps (single layer), get browned on both sides, then throw in a little slivered garlic, a blob of butter and some fresh basil (please never show dried basil to young porcini, it really upsets them). Add good salt to taste. They should be just tender, definitely not mushy. Eat them on toast or on their own, with grated Parmesan or pecorino on top.
Because our rains often accompany warm weather, rather than the autumn climes usually associated with mushrooms, you'll often find yourself stumbling upon a clutch of fresh porcini in the swelter of mid-summer. This is the perfect situation for the great Jacob Kenedy's Raw Porcini Salad with Celery. It is utterly sublime.
RAW PORCINI SALAD WITH CELERY
250g young porcini, wiped but definitely not washed
3 celery stalks
Few flat-parsley leaves
4 tbsp best extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1. Slice mushrooms very thinly, lengthwise.
2. Slice celery very thinly, on the diagonal.
3. Lay porcini and celery on a plate. Scatter with parsley, drizzle with oil and lemon juice, then add salt and pepper to taste. Eat post-haste before the salt draws the moisture out and leaves everything limp.
• This article was originally published in The Times.