Almost any Italian will tell you with a lot of enthusiasm that Porcini mushrooms are the king of edible fungi.
They’re called “ceps” in French and in Italian, Porcini actually means “piglet”.
They’re best described as having a big round flesh cap with a usually short(ish) round stalk. There are in fact a number of different types of Porcini and that means that the colours over all parts can vary from one to another.
They have a nutty taste and a meaty texture and are much loved by devotees of mushrooms everywhere.
They can be grown in a number of different environments but purists will probably tell you that the very best are found growing wild in Chestnut woods. The younger mushrooms, which some claim to be the best for taste tend to have a light under-cap. As they age that under-cap will darken. So, it’s a good thing to look for if you want to get them at their best.
In passing and at the risk of stating the obvious, unless you’re an expert, never pick and eat wild mushrooms.
In Australia, you can find Porcini fresh, dried and sometimes preserved in jars. They’re a great favourite in various cuisines all over the world but notably in Chinese and other forms of Asian cooking.
If you’re buying them fresh, look out for signs of aging and avoid those if possible, as they just won’t have the same taste and texture. Things to look for include spots, holes in the stems (possibly indicating worms are inside – though they’re harmless), damp soggy patches and a yellow-brown tinge to the under-cap areas. All of those suggest that the Porcini isn’t at its best.
To enjoy them, try them as the Italians do. They’ll often be served just grilled or fried in olive oil with a little parsley, garlic and tomato sauce – and many variations thereof. They’re also delicious (in any flavour combinations) on toasted bread.
As with all prestige mushrooms though, do be careful you don’t kill their natural flavour with over-strong accompanying sauces etc.
Above all enjoy them! They’re one of nature’s natural bounties.
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