26 May 2010
Posted in FOOD AND WINE
Porcini (little pigs) are much more flavoursome and meaty than most edible funghi. Known in Italy as “the poor man’s steak” because of their taste, consistency and flexibility in cooking, these are used by Italians up and down the country to make some of the most delicious traditional dishes, combining with everything from pasta and rice to meat and even fish.
These mushrooms are hard to get and pretty expensive in most countries, usually being sold dry in little bags in supermarkets. Far superior in flavour and texture however, are fresh porcini: these come in a variety of different forms, from dark, mild porcini nero, to big meaty porcini d’estate and hardy, flavoursome porcini del freddo in colder, more mountainous regions. They can be found in North America, France and some parts of Asia as well as in Italy, but it is the Italians who have learned to use the porcini to its full potential in cooking.
So how do you get the very best porcini, go to Italy and pick them yourself? Best not to, unless you are an expert. There are mushrooms that look very similar to porcini, growing in the same habitat, which happen to be toxic to humans. The very best porcini can be found on the side of the road or at market stalls where farmers sell them by the basketload – avoid wormholes and any spotting of signs of dryness for the very best specimens.
Of course if you are in Italy for your wedding you are unlikely to have the time or the inclination to cook, so your best bet would be to get the Italians to prepare you a delicious dish with these wonderful mushrooms. If you are visiting in autumn or winter you are particularly likely to get your teeth into some delicious porcini based dishes, including pasta with porcini, porcini risotto, pizza with potatoes, garlic and porcini and all kinds of meat with porcini. Head up into the mountains for the very best in cooking with these delicious funghi, and you never know you might even come across one of Italy’s many “sagre dei funghi”, or mushroom food festivals with entertainment, rivers of local wine and general merrymaking to add even more flavour and fun to the mushrooms and whatever dish they are a part of.
If you are a fan, and want to give your guests a taste of this wonderful ingredient at its very best at your wedding, you might want to ask your venue to put porcini on the menu, either as part of one of the main courses or as an appetizer, roasted with olive oil on bruschetta. For an original and highly Italian wedding favour, you might consider small personalized bottles filled with porcini infused olive oil, which is wonderfully fragrant used in dressings for salads and adds an incredible depth of flavour to meat dishes. The smell and taste will transport your guests back to your special day for years to come…