Eating foods in season locally is good for our health, the economy and the planet. Here's how to make the best of porcini to give a delicious twist to any dish.

09 Nov 2009

Porcini or Boletus edulis is an abundant variety of wild mushroom. Part of the Boletes family, which includes other varieties that look similar but lack the rich flavour of porcini, they have a club-shaped stem and a spongy layer instead of gills, topped by a round cap.

They are generally a larger-sized mushroom and range in colour from tan to dark brown. Porcini is the Italian term adopted in South Africa, but they are called cèpes in France, Penny Bun in the UK and steinpilze in Germany. Porcini are known for their meaty texture and nutty flavour.

Because porcini are picked wild rather than cultivated, their availability is sporadic. They come up during the rainy season: in Mpumalanga and the Natal Midlands, between October and May, and in the Western Cape, from June to August.

How to choose
Choose porcini with stems that are firm (not spongy) and caps that feel dry but velvety to the touch (not sticky). Flavourful porcini have a strong aroma that is yeasty, earthy or forest-floor-like. Wild mushrooms should be eaten as soon as possible, but they keep for up to two days in a brown paper or cotton bag in the vegetable drawer.

How to use
Don't soak wild mushrooms in water. They absorb water like a sponge and won't cook as well as a result. Instead, wipe them down with a damp cloth. The spongy part under the cap is edible when it is white, very pale brown or yellowish. It has a wobbly texture similar to bone marrow when cooked.

Remove it if it is a dark greenish brown as it will make the rest of the mushrooms slimy. Peel the stems and cut off any woody bits. Remove the cap and cut into slices and slice the stem. To cook, add some butter and olive oil to a pan (you could also add garlic). Add the mushrooms and sauté. While stirring, season with sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper. Add white wine, chicken stock or water and simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid is mostly evaporated and the mushrooms are tender. Serve on buttered toast, or stir through tagliatelle or risotto. Adding wine or lemon juice will lighten the colour of the mushrooms. If cooked for too long or over too high a heat, porcini taste bitter.

Dried porcini are widely available and can be added to stews, soups, pasta or risotto. Soak dried porcini in warm water or stock for at least 30 minutes before using. Strain the soaking liquid and add it to the dish. The flavour of dried porcini is more intense than fresh porcini, 20g dried porcini is the equivalent of 240g fresh porcini.

Other Ideas

Make a wild mushroom risotto adding (soaked and chopped) dried porcini with the onions and folding through sautéed fresh porcini towards the end.

Add finely-chopped dried porcini to polenta before cooking it in home-made chicken stock.

Sauté fresh porcini and serve on slices of toasted ciabatta rubbed with garlic.

Make a porcini soup and dot it with truffle oil.

Add (soaked and chopped) dried porcini to slow-cooked lamb shanks.

10 things to do with porcini mushrooms

Risotto con porcini

Fungi avo 

Melting mushroom bruschetta

Bacon and mushroom potatoes

Bacon, mushroom and feta savoury pots

Wild mushroom soup

Double mushroom sauce

Orzotto al fungi

Bacon, cheese and mushroom quesadillas 

Balsamic chicken with brown mushrooms


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