Food in Rome: Hooked on Porcini:
Reading a recipe in the papers this morning reminds me that the Porcini season is here. Once you’ve had a taste of fresh porcini mushrooms, it stays with you forever and just the mention of it is enough to send a thousand thrills to your taste buds.
Porcini mushrooms are found in many regions of Italy. Among the most famous areas are the hills that straddle Emilia-Romagna (from Parma to La Spezia), Piedmont, the Alto Adige near Austria, Tuscany (especially the region near Pistoia), Umbria and the Montello hills in the Veneto. In Central Italy, wild mushrooms are considered a great delicacy.
Funghi Porcini Season
The season varies a little from year to year depending on the weather and the region. Rain or damp followed by warmth and sun is ideal porcini weather. There’s usually a brief season in May or as late as June and July. Yields during this period are small but the flavour of the porcini is more delicate taste than the fall mushrooms. In late August or early September the real season begins and lasts until the end of October or whenever the intense cold begins.
During the porcini season, mushroom hunting is a favourite pastime with people spending weekends prowling through the woods to seek out these precious funghi. The wild mushrooms tend to grow back in the same spots each season and secret growing areas are passed down from generation to generation. The trick is to wait till the sun is low as the light falls on the side of the mushrooms, making them much easier to see.
During the porcini season in Tuscany you can see women standing by the roadsides with baskets of porcini to sell. Market stalls in cities like Bologna and Milan are stacked full with the wild mushrooms for sale and restaurants all over display porcini mushrooms in their windows, or put out a hand-painted sign with the day’s porcini specials.
Funghi Porcini at La Carbonara
When we walk into our favourite restaurant in Campo dei Fiori in Rome, the sight of a large bowl of fresh porcini near the entrance always re-assures us that we’ll be having a good dining experience. Porcini gourmands will even make excursions to a country restaurant or trattoria to eat porcini close to the source.
When we first had a plate of porcini served to us in a Rome restaurant, we weren’t too impressed at the sight of the dish when it arrived. On the plate were a couple of large mushroom caps which had simply been braised and served up like a steak. Our first thoughts were that they looked rather plain and unimaginative and secondly, a couple of mushroom caps were not going to be sufficient for dinner.
However, once you have a taste of the fresh porcini with its somewhat earthy and nutty flavor and which literally melts in your mouth, all concerns about the dish melt away. Sauteed or grilled with good green olive oil and the requisite garlic and parsley, the dish leaves you forever addicted. Porcini is great with pasta as well and whenever I see porcini and pasta on offer, that’s as far as I go in reading the restaurant menu. Yes, I’m a porcini addict!