Finally, after years of following my husband around our nearby woods in search of mushrooms, I am now a self-confessed porcini hunter. For those unfamiliar with porcini, they are an edible woodland fungus classified as ‘Boletus edulis’, identified by their brown shinny cap and white spore.
In the past, once my husband found some porcini, I would not eat them until 24 hours after he had consumed them. I have now overcome that and this year I have found myself foraging alone with of course the watchful eye of our beautiful black Labrador, Treacle.
Obviously, there are hundreds of types of mushrooms out there with a huge number of poisonous ones included, but rest assure once you know a porcini, also known as ‘cep’ or ‘penny bun’ you know what you are looking for. They like to grow in moist, warm places particularly near beech trees where the light can penetrate though. The season for porcini is most of October and best just after a day of rain when the weather has been warm. I prefer to forage early in the morning or just before dusk as I love the secrecy of it. Never tell anyone where you have spotted porcini as they too might get the bug and your efforts will thus come to nothing.
If you are in any doubt as to what to pick DON’T! My advice would be to refer to any book written by the king of porcini himself, the late Antonio Carluccio. I would especially recommend his ‘Complete Mushroom Book – the quiet hunt’ by Quadrille Publishing Ltd, first edition 2003. In this, Carluccio provides superb advice together with exquisite recipes for all types of mushrooms.
It’s always exciting to stumble across wild porcini, even the ones nibbled by insects. I love the morning sun rays beaming down on them. Make sure you keep your eye on the task as they can be well camouflaged amongst the autumn leaves. Once found gently twist, never cut, to release them from the soil and store in a cloth bag or wicker basket as you gather. Note: plastic bags will cause them to sweat and thus should be avoided.
Once home, prepare the porcini by wiping off any unwanted soil, cut around any insect holes and brush with a soft brush to complete cleaning. The aim is to have a firm stalk, if it’s soft or chalky discard. As the porcini matures it ‘mushrooms’ and its spores turn from white to yellow, gently remove older ones to keep just the main cap.
After the porcini have been cleaned, as above, either cook them immediately as you would any mushroom. Simple recipes really allow the porcini to take centre stage. Personally, I tend to opt for gently sautéed in butter with garlic and parsley to be served either on toasted sour dough, see below, or with freshly prepared pasta – see previous blog.
With a bumper crop I would definitely dry some too. It’s very easy – simply slice each porcini into 4mm slices and lay on a cooling rack and place in a low oven at 70°c, leave overnight with the door ajar to allow the moisture to escape. Alternatively, thread a handful at a time on to cotton thread and hang in an airing cupboard for approximately 5 days until thoroughly dry. I prefer the first option as this intensifies both the colour and flavour. Allow to cool and then store in an airtight container. Small packs of these make very good presents to those who trust your ability to identify!
To use the dried porcini, simply reconstitute by placing a small handful in a bowl then cover with boiling water and leave to stand for 20 minutes. Drain reserving the water, chop the porcini and add to the recipe of your choice, making sure you use the mushroom water too to add even more flavour.
You can add these to any recipe you would like to enhance with the flavour of the forest. Below are my homemade sourdough rolls made with porcini and fresh thyme – delicious with pate or cheese or simply on their own.
The mushroom season is drawing to a close now and I am already looking forward to next year – foraging here I come!