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Who wouldn’t like to stroll through the woods, brush aside a chestnut leaf and find a fat fragrant porcino mushroom in the undergrowth? The sort of gastronomic luxury only a few can enjoy: the others have to make do with buying them. The labelling and regulations on fresh mushrooms differ greatly from one country to another, so make sure you use a reliable tradesman and above all, three important senses of your own: sight, smell and, above all, touch.
The perfect porcino mushroom has no blemishes, discoloured parts or holes left by worms. It should smell intensely of moss and be firm and compact when touched. One of the errors made by inexpert cooks is to rinse mushrooms under tap water, which is the worst possible thing to do: the spongy consistency of the mushroom will enable the molecules to absorb a great quantity of water which, when released during cooking, will undermine its flavour and aroma.
To set about cleaning porcini mushrooms equip yourself with an indispensable small pointed knife, a mushroom brush and a piece of linen cloth or some absorbent kitchen paper: start by eliminating the soil-covered end of the stalk, separate the stalks from the caps and eliminate any bruised parts. Then delicately pass the brush over all the parts needing to be cleaned. Finally, gently wipe the entire mushroom with a cloth that is just barely damp or with the absorbent kitchen paper.
If you do not intend to cook the mushrooms immediately, keep the cleaned mushrooms in a cool place: the advice in this case is to wrap them in a clean cloth and arrange them stalk upwards to enable any worm to escape without perforating the caps.
As with any ingredient, porcini mushrooms also have their perfect partners: truffle, cheese, garlic, parsley and shellfish. Now that you are all set to relish this seasonal delight, here are 5 + 1 ways of cooking porcini mushrooms.
· Raw. To enjoy them in a salad or as a carpaccio, slice them finely using a mandolin slicer (the same gadget you would use to slice truffles) then dress with a few drops of oil.
· Fried. A gastronomic delight, these sliced and fried porcini caps call for a breading flavoured with the addition of freshly chopped parsley, a little parmesan and a hint of finely chopped garlic. The secret lies in a double coating: first they are coated in flour, followed by egg and finely in breadcrumbs as described above; give them a second coating and finally plunge into clarified butter at a temperature of 185 °C .
· In soup. Mix with other mushroom varieties and cook in a light vegetable stock. Here the trick is to add a potato or two to the soup as it cooks and blend at the end to get it to just the right thickness.
· Pan tossed. Mushrooms cooked in this way can be used as a side dish, to add to a risotto in the final “creaming” phase and to dress tagliatelle or other pasta shapes. It is necessary to toss them in the pan with garlic and butter, only adding parsley, salt and pepper at the end. The gourmet touch consists in mixing parsley with mint or fresh thyme.
· Large porcini are ideal for stuffing with cheese-based mixtures, minced meet, béchamel sauce or truffles. You just have to slightly hollow out the caps and add what has been removed to the stuffing.
· Never throw away any leftover slices of porcini: they can be frozen and used later to flavour sauces and different types of soups.