Porcini mushrooms are a classical ingredient found in Italian cuisine. Their hearty flavor and high protein content make them a versatile substitute for vegetarian dishes. Porcini mushrooms are available dried year round, but they are a real treat to enjoy during the fall when you can pick them fresh.
Porcini means “piglet” in Italian and actually refers to many different mushroom species. The Porcini we are most familiar with and find in grocery stores and growing wild around the Pacific Northwest is the Boletus edulis, better known by its common name: King Bolete in cuisine, the Porcini mushroom itself is characterized by a strong, nutty flavor and its versatility of use in a variety of different preparations and cooking methods.
The Porcini mushroom is classified as a mycorrhizal because of its specialized relationship with pine trees. A mycorrhizal is characterized by “the underground vegetative growth of the mushroom, called the mycelia, enters into a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the plants.” Washington is a hot-bed for Porcini mushrooms because of the abundance of evergreen trees and moist growing conditions. Porcini mushrooms grow on the ground near pine, spruce, hemlock and chestnut trees. We are lucky to enjoy both a spring and fall harvest. The unique relationship between the Porcini mushroom and pine trees makes it nearly impossible to cultivate and brings a growing appreciation for its wild abundance.
The Porcini mushroom can weigh up to two pounds and has a fat stem. The entire mushroom, stem and cap included, are edible. The reddish brown sticky cap is noticeably large at up to 12-inches in width, but it is more typically 1-inch to 10-inches wide. Characteristic of the Boletus genus are the tubes for spore dispersal underneath the cap instead of the more common gills that are seen on other mushroom varieties.
There are two ways to enjoy Porcini mushrooms in your culinary eats: fresh or dried. If you are able to procure a fresh Porcini mushroom during harvest season, you can prepare it by giving it a quick, gentle wipe and cutting away any spoiled or discolored portions. The mushroom must be cooked and a traditional Italian recipe from Seattle Magazine for the fresh Porcini mushroom is below.
Slice the Porcini mushroom ¼ inches thick and marinate in olive oil, salt and garlic. Grill the mushroom like a steak until it is golden and crispy on the outside.
Dried porcini mushrooms are readily available and make it possible to enjoy this hearty, flavorful fungus year-round. Dried mushrooms have been dehydrated and have a stronger flavor than fresh mushrooms. The intensity of the dried Porcini mushroom develops and deepens with age. You can prepare your dried Porcini mushrooms by rehydrating ½ ounce of mushrooms in 1 cup of warm water for 15 minutes. Once the mushrooms have been prepared they can be chopped and substituted as you would a fresh Porcini mushroom. Dried Porcini mushrooms are excellent in sauces, soups and pasta dishes. The liquid that was used for rehydrating will give a recipe an extra boost of flavor.
The versatility and tastiness of the Porcini makes it a wonderful staple in your culinary adventures. Warm up the grill and substitute the hearty Porcini for your favorite meats or liven up your best vegetarian dishes when these Italian mushrooms are in season. The nutty flavor and easy preparation of the dried Porcini makes it a perfect addition to cool-weather soups, creamy sauces and bountiful pasta platters.
Here is a simple recipe for Porcini mushrooms from Mushroom Appreciation that highlights their flavor, is easy to prepare and can be used with fresh, frozen or dried Porcini mushrooms. Enjoy!
4 Porcini Mushrooms
2 Cloves of garlic
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Plum tomatoes for every 4 Porcini mushrooms
Herbs of your choice (thyme is popular in Tuscany)
1. Warm the olive oil in a deep pan or pot over medium-high heat, taking care that it doesn't burn.
2. Mince the garlic and sauté for about three minutes with your desired herbs.
3. While the garlic is cooking, chop the porcini mushrooms and tomatoes.
4. Add the mushroom pieces and cook for about 5 minutes, or until it looks like they have released all their water. They will be a lot smaller at this point.
5. Add the tomato pieces and their juice, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. If you misjudged the amounts, and it dries out, add some white wine. If using dried mushrooms, add some of the liquid used to rehydrate them.
6. When finished, add to any meal or serve as an appetizer with bread.
“Foraging for Porcini Mushrooms” by Langdon Cook, Seattle Magazine; May 2013