Our fall tours in Italy begin tomorrow, and as we cycle through the vineyards of Amarone or enjoy a walking tour along the shores of Lake Garda, the fruits of harvest time are everywhere. Slow tractors laden with grapes, apples, and pears are a common sight. Open air markets now have many types of squash. But one of my favorite signs of fall is the appearance of porcini mushrooms.
Porcini, or penny bun mushrooms are very difficult to cultivate commercially, so are usually found dried, except for a few months in summer and early fall, when they are foraged. There are a few different types of porcini, some available earlier in the season, others later. All are characterized by a big, round, fleshy cap and a short round stalk, with a meat-like texture, and earthy, nutty flavor.
My first attempt at purchasing them at a market here in Italy left me very disappointed. Here in Italy, it is not acceptable for the shopper to handle produce with your bare hands prior to purchasing. In the supermarket there are plastic gloves to use. At a market, you point, and the vendor selects and wraps it for you. A good system hygienically, but unscrupulous vendors can stick you with lousy product if you are not watchful. That happened with my first purchase of porcini – when I cut into the stems, they were spongy and yellow and riddled with holes. I threw them out.
A few days later, porcini were at my local vegetable market, where I shop regularly and they are always very careful to select good products for everyone. They selected 4 porcini for me, and carefully cut a small slit in the bottom of each stem to check for quality and worm holes. They were perfect, pale and firm and beautiful.
Fresh porcini can be stored in a paper bag in your refrigerator for a few days prior to using. The bottom of the stems will be quite dirty, using a small knife cut off the dirty exterior. Do not wash under running water, this will make them mushy, but you can try and clean them as much as possible using a damp paper towel.
Fresh porcini are used in a wide variety of dishes – fresh raw porcini, thinly sliced, served with grana cheese and olive oil; porcini soup, porcini risotto. This pasta recipe I see all over Italy during the fall, from Alto Adige to Tuscany – Taglietelle con Porcini.
Taglietelle con Porcini
1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound tagliatelle (fresh is preferable)
Freshly grated grana cheese
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
In a large saute pan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the sliced mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are tender and liquid they give off is evaporated, about 4 minutes.
Add the garlic and butter and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is evaporated. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper.
Salt the boiling water in the large pot. Cook tagliatelle in the boiling water until al dente, about 90 seconds or so for fresh tagliatelle. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and drain the tagliatelle. Add tagliatelle and reserved cooking water to mushroom mixture and toss to combine.
Serve tagliatelle immediately with freshly grated grana cheese and garnish with a little parsley.