Pungent, woodsy, smooth, and versatile, these earth treasures have a special place in the hearts of Italians.
It’s not clear whether the name porcini (or piglet in Italian) comes from its plump rounded shape or from how greedily people seek out these delectable mushrooms. Porcini were considered a delicacy by the ancient Romans and were often found on banquet tables during medieval times.
During the late spring, early summer, and fall, foraging for these mushrooms turns into a national pastime. People spend entire weekends prowling through the dense woods searching for them. When the sun is low, the light falls on the side of the mushrooms, making them easier to spot. The mushrooms tend to come back each season in the same locations.
There are several types of porcini: some are brown, others are colored with ochre or rust. Those with a chocolate brown cap are prized for their intense flavor and fine texture. The creamy pale flesh of the mushroom looks particularly lovely set against the dark brown cap.
Porcini are used extensively in both their dried and fresh forms. When purchasing fresh porcini, look for a smooth cap, firm white stems, and chestnut to lemon-colored pores located underneath the cap. When cut, the meat should be solid and white. Older porcini may be slimy, flaccid, or slightly green.
To clean them, cut off the dirty base and, using a dry or damp towel, clean the cap and the stipe. Very fresh porcini will keep up to three days when kept in the refrigerator under a dry kitchen towel.
Dried porcini are available year round and can be found in most markets nowadays. There are many advantages to using dried porcini. They keep for several months in your cupboard and add intense mushroom flavors to a variety of dishes including soups, stews, risottos, and sauces. A little bit of porcini goes a long way, however. For most dishes, just an ounce of fried mushrooms will serve about four people.