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Still on mushrooms - porcini/cèpes

"the shiitake and porcini that smell like Marmite and taste like beef consommé." Nigel Slater

Not only am I still going on about mushrooms here, but I am also going back to the back of the store cupboard items as well. Or in my case my 'reserve' drawer items.

Porcini are expensive - the season is short, and they are also amazingly trendy. Because the season is short you sort of have to be there where they grow to be able to eat them fresh. But in order to extend the season as it were, they are dried in vast quantities and this is how we generally have them. Well not vast enough quantities to bring the price down. They do not grow in Australia as far as I know - and Stephanie Alexander didn't think so either. She said the closest thing in flavour was the Slippery Jack that I spoke about yesterday. Though it seems to me that the pine mushrooms seems to be the top of the tree here.

I wonder why they haven't grown cultivated ones.

In France at least, and probably Italy too you can get them frozen but again I'm not sure that you can here. Certainly not at Coles and Woolworths, but maybe more specialist stores might have them. In fact I think Stephanie had a recipe for frozen ones.

So what does a fresh porcini/cèpe - boletus edulis if you want to be scientific - look like, in case you are ever allowed to go to France or Italy again and forage in the forests in autumn. Well it looks like this - and fortunately doesn't look like you could mistake it for anything else.

As you can see it has a really thick stem and an orangey/brown small cap. And apparently you can smell them too.

"The smell of porcini is quite strong and unmistakable. They smell like the bush and the trees you are surrounded by at the time: it is a rich and earthy smell."" Adelina Pulford

But what we have here are the dried variety and so recipes that use fresh ones are rather out of bounds.

Once or twice a year Aldi has them as one of their special buys - together with just nameless wild mushrooms - not in the same pack, but separate varieties. I buy them meaning to do something with them and then, of course, forget all about them. So I thought I would check to see what can be done that might tempt me into using them, because they do indeed have quite a strong flavour, although not loved by everyone.

"Personally, while I quite like the flavour of dried cèpes, I find they have little to do with the flavour of the fresh mushroom. Cooks sometimes use the dried product too lavishly and the powerful flavour can overwhelm a dish." Stephanie Alexander

Porcini risotto is rather a speciality of one of our male friends who has holidayed with us a few times in Italy and France. In Beaucaire in 2014 he made it for us all one evening. It was truly delicious, and I think I have had it at their house here in Melbourne too. The 'chef' is the one in the striped shirt. I'm sorry I don't have a closer photograph of the risotto. There are heaps of recipes on the net, but you could try our own Guy Grossi's as an example.

And speaking of Guy Grossi - he had several rather gorgeous looking recipes in the Italian Food Safari book. Here are pictures of two of them:

They are Duck and porcini tortellini with caramelised pear on the left and Taglierini con porcini on the right. The tortellini would be a bit of hard work I think , but rather special, but the taglierini would be dead simple. There are videos for both on the SBS website.

Stephanie Alexander has a French recipe for potatoes and cèpes. Stephanie is not super generous with putting her recipes online and nobody seems to have copied it so I'll give you a summary.

You soak the mushrooms of course for half an hour, drain (keep the liquid), and chop. Sauté bacon, garlic, parsley, mushrooms in duck fat for a few minutes, add sliced parboiled potatoes and mix together with pepper. Add the liquid, cover with baking paper and a lid and cook slowly for 30 minutes. Cook for a further 5 minutes without the lid and hey presto it's done. Careful it doesn't stick though.

Jamie has lots of recipes but the most interesting I thought was crunchy porcini breadcrumbs that you could sprinkle over all manner of things.

And I'll give the last word to Nigel Slater who has quite a few quick and easy suggestions.

"Porcini are always mild and tender, they are nearly always expensive, too, but even a few go a long way in terms of flavour. You need less than 50g in a risotto for four. Late last year I used them in a potato dish, baking thin slices of both with olive oil and a tiny clove of garlic, covered with foil, until the potatoes were tender and pale gold. I have added them to a dish of braised pork chops - brown the chops in hot butter, pour in white wine, add the porcini, a few crushed juniper berries, salt and pepper, a couple of bay leaves, and simmer gently until the meat is tender. Next time you make stuffing for a chicken, try stirring in a few chopped, reconstituted porcini, or mix them (first fried lightly in butter) into an omelette. Bags of flavour there, and a deep smell of the forest. Toss them with parsley and olive oil along with strings of pappardelle, or sneak one or two into a fresh mushroom soup. Meaty food indeed for a cold, damp day."

I think I might go and seek mine out and maybe use them with the potatoes or maybe the pasta.


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