We came home from LifeSource this weekend with an amazing unanticipated find: fresh porcini mushrooms for $16.99/lb! I’ve never even seen them for sale before, but there they were, sitting primly next to a pile of slightly less appealing morels, their appealingly chubby stems topped with jaunty brown caps. (Not to slight morels, but they look like dried up slugs to me; one of these days I’ll have to try them and get over that visual issue.) We picked out three, weighing nearly a pound in total—I hadn’t realized they were so solid and heavy! I also didn’t realize, until I got home and looked them up, that one sign of age is yellowing or browning pores on the underside of the cap. Fortunately, only one of our three was yellowing, and it was the work of a few moments to pop that aging matter off the cap, an activity that, oddly enough, reminded me a lot of popping the yolk out of a slice of hardboiled egg.
It took me a few days of pondering (all the while fretting that I would wait too long and let them spoil) to figure out what to make with my unexpected windfall of mushrooms. Porcinis have a special place in my heart, you see. I’m new to the ranks of mushroom-eaters, having for most of my life despised the thought of eating earthy, spongy fungi. Dried mushrooms, and porcinis in particular, were the catalyst that began to change my mind: they keep beautifully in their dry state, and their meaty, savory flavor enhances so many dishes without the Styrofoamy texture I disliked. So when considering meal options to highlight my fresh porcini, my three little “piglets,” I knew it had to be something special. Not mushroom pasta, which we had not too long ago with chestnut mushrooms. Our specimens were a bit too small for the traditional grilling, though plenty large enough to stand as the main course. At last I settled on porcini parmesan, a perhaps untraditional take on a traditional Italian dish.
I used this recipe for the porcini, and made Mario Batali’s basic tomato sauce, halved. The mushrooms sliced up nicely, and I trimmed off as little as possible, not wanting to waste a bit. In hindsight, I probably could have sliced them a bit thinner, a tidbit I’ll remember if I ever have the opportunity to make a dish like this again. Assembly on this dish was a quick affair after the porcinis were breaded and lightly fried up, and I tossed it in the oven and plopped down on the couch to nurse a burgeoning (and unrelated) headache. Nearly an hour later, I recruited Jeremy’s help to make some whole-wheat spaghetti and garlic bread, and we ate a lovely meal. I had intended on using the opportunity to make Zuni Cafe‘s Caesar salad also, but simply didn’t feel up to it. With any luck, it will be forthcoming.
So what did I think of the fresh porcinis? Their flavor was much more subtle than when dried, and their texture was nice and firm (sometimes too firm… I probably could have trimmed them a bit more). I was still feeling a bit nauseous from the headache, so I didn’t eat much, but Jeremy liked it a lot and seemed impressed by the mushrooms. We had leftovers with freshly cooked pasta the following day for lunch, and while it was alright, we both preferred it fresh from the oven. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for fresh porcini. If we come across them again, though, I think I’ll try them out in a different recipe.