Porcini and Truffles – Italian Delicacies
We enjoyed a very nice penne arrabiata and pizza pescatore at our local trattoria last night. Towards the end of the evening, Franco, one of the owners came over, his face glowing from spending a night in front of the pizza oven. It was a very frantic evening and Franco was happy to have some interaction with real people, rather than his pizza oven. We complimented him on the quality of the pizza and the tastiness of the pasta sauce which made him beam with pride. We lamented to Franco how we miss having funghi porcini and indelible in our memory was the first meal of porcini mushrooms at La Capricioso in Rome many years ago.
The funny part of our experience was that when the dishes arrived, Tony looked at it and concern showed on his face at how plain the dish looked and even more concerned at whether the slabs of mushroom was going to be enough to even tickle his stomach. Served like a steak, the porcini were simply baked in olive with garlic and parsley. When we recovered from our initial reaction and started to taste slivers of the mushroom, it was heavenly. The flavour was intense and the mushroom just melted in the mouth. You can tell how good it was as we still remember it to this day. Franco couldn’t wait to cut into our story. He was so excited to tell us that he and his brother had been discussing porcini mushrooms as well and are contemplating importing them. We were a little doubtful about whether frozen porcini would provide the taste sensation however Franco assures us that that’s what his family used to do back home. When in season in August, his mum would clean and then freeze the mushrooms. So, the verdict’s still out and we’ll have to wait and see when he actually gets them.
If you happen to be in Italy at fall, look out for porcini in August or early September. Restaurants display large bowls of porcini in their windows and porcini specials can be found in their menus. When we last walked into La Carbonara in Campo dei Fiori, we saw the huge bowl of porcini on display and knew instantly that we were going to have a great meal.
Porcini season varies each year, depending on the weather. Rain or damp followed by warmth and sun is ideal porcini weather. During the season, mushroom hunting becomes a national pastime and gourmands find excuses to make trips to a country restaurant or trattoria so that they can enjoy country cuisine with freshly picked porcini close to the source.
From porcini, Franco went on to mention tartufo or truffles, however he’s not promising to include this in his cooking due to the exorbitant price of this commodity – literally more expensive than the price of gold. Truffles are mainly found in regions around Spoleto in Umbria and can sometimes overshadow the porcini season. They don’t look very attractive, but taste sensational when infused in dishes. Local residents have perfected freezing, drying, or preserving truffles in oil, so they can enjoy this taste sensation throughout the year. Luckily for us, we have great chefs like Tetsuya whose Black Truffle salsa keeps us going until we’re next in Italy.