Here is what they look like just out of the freezer case.
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Categorized taxonomically as Boletus edulis, porcinis are one of the world’s most flavorful mushrooms. They’re indispensible to the cooking of Italy, and also treasured in France, where they’re known as cepes. But few of us have ever tasted a fresh porcini. They have a narrow foraging season in early autumn in the northern Italian forests where they’re gathered, and don’t stay fresh very long. Porcinis are nearly impossible to cultivate.
Porcinis take to drying, however, and are highly prized in dehydrated form, which is what most Italian restaurants in New York (and Italy, too, during much of the year) use. The dried mushrooms are reanimated in a quantity of water, and then the soaking liquid is used to make sauce. This is a very satisfactory arrangement, though the texture of the mushroom sometimes verges on woody.
Which is why I was excited to see porcinis for sale for the first time in the frozen state at Buon Italia in Chelsea Market. At $18 per pound they seemed a bit steep, but a single large specimen weighing a little over half a pound cost me $9.54. But how would it taste?
I hurried home intent on making pasta with it. Would I have to forgo the soaking fluid provided by the dried specimens and central to most porcini recipes? Apparently not. As the mushroom sat in a bowl thawing, a liquid formed around it. The liquid was brown and odiferous. It tasted pungent and woodsy.
As they melt, a flavorful fluid forms.
Sauteing in butter and olive oil…
…then deglazing in the soaking fluid and white wine.
I sliced the porcini into chunky pieces and sautéd them in butter and olive oil, added the soaking fluid and a few ounces of white wine, then cooked them down until the accompanying gravy was just the right consistency. Then tossed the sauce with my pasta, cheesed it, and served.
The frozen mushroom turned out to be just as flavorful as dried, perhaps more so. The texture of the mushrooms was light, almost cottony. In retrospect, I should have sautéed the mushroom pieces a little longer to firm them up and evacuated further fluid.
Still, it was one of the best porcini experiences I’d had, either here or in Italy.
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The finished pasta was delicious, and very mushroomy tasting.