I am over the moon: I have got hold of a punnet of fresh wild porcini mushrooms! Not at all cheap, but thankfully less than nearly a hundred quid a kilo, which some places charge for them. I’ll now have to plan carefully how to use them, which is going to be almost as much pleasure as eating them.
Porcini, also known as ceps from the French word and almost completely unknown by their proper, English name: penny buns, are undoubtedly the finest of funghi. They grow on the Continent but very scarcely in the UK (which is probably the greatest drawback of living here for me). They have handsome, fat stalks and dainty light-to-dark-brown caps, with characteristic spongy, yellowish underside.
If you’re a fortunate (probably Scottish if in Britain) forager, you’ll check your pick carefully if it’s not been eaten by worms by slicing the stalk at the ground level with a small knife – never, ever pull wild mushrooms out with the spores or you’re destroying this particular spot forever for other foragers. But if you have to buy the porcini – caveat emptor! As much as you, also little worms love them and sometimes a pleasant looking on the outside specimen is riddled with little holes inside and only fit for the composting bin.
So if you have bought a batch from the market or had it delivered online, go through them all immediately as the little blighters are also able to wander from one infested mushroom in the batch to all the others.
Porcini are gloriously flavoursome and delicious raw, thinly sliced in a salad with next to no seasoning. But since they are expensive and hard to get, let’s not scorn other wild ones out there: pied de mouton, trompettes or chanterelles (aka giroles). Those are not troublesome as worms don’t like them as much so usually just a clean is needed.
Never soak mushrooms: clean them by scraping the stalk and cap with a small knife, brushing off the dirt with a soft brush and paper towels and if they are really mucky, plunge them in a bowl of water for a couple of seconds, shake off and pat dry. If they spend too long in water, they'll get unpleasantly soggy.
What to do with that treasure?
The simplest, purest thing to do is to make sautéed mushrooms of what you’ve got: lightly cooked in butter, they are delicious on a bruschetta. The next best thing, especially if you have only as many wild mushrooms as to make a garnish from, is to use them for a topping like in turkey steaks with chanterelles. Or a filling – like the pork and girolle pie.
You can top an omelette with them. You can have epic penne with wild mushrooms. You can add some to your chunky potato soup.
Obviously, if you’re lucky enough to have plenty wild funghi, you can use them as you would ordinary ones. Cook them in a creamy sauce or make them into a mushroom ragu for pasta. Or replace dried ones in the recipes for orzo with mushrooms and pancetta, for creamy chicken with mushrooms and leeks or lentils with mushrooms and spinach.
And for dessert after that mushroom feast, it could be a slice of cranberry and walnut loaf or pumpkin bread for the opening of the pumpkin season.
Stay well and enjoy the autumnal treats!