It’s time for strange unearthly shapes to emerge from the damp autumnal ground. Yes, it’s mushroom season. This year I’ve been fabulously lucky. I’ve had Porcini appearing everywhere I’ve looked for them. Here’s a Porcino:
I say Porcino because it’s singular. Porcini is the plural. Italian has a wonderful way of changing word endings to indicate plurals. Since it’s a language of gender, there’s more to it than simply sticking an ‘s’ on the end. This leads to confusion when Italian words get adopted into English. Saying “I’d like a panini”, as many English-speakers now do, is like saying “I’d like a sandwiches.”
It’s three years since I found one as good:
This one is perfect for lunch:
I decide to get out one of my favourite books from childhood: Jane Grigson’s The Mushroom Feast.
I remember as a young teenager I would run a very deep, very hot bath and sit for hours with Jane Grigson, reading about French provincial cooking, laced with mouthwatering treats such as ceps, girolles and chanterelles. I look in the index for ceps and see Funghi al tegame alla genovese. Handily, it says ‘mushrooms baked in the Genoese style’. “Twelve large caps”, it says. I’m shocked until I see that the dish serves six. The next ingredient is “3/4 pound brains, or 6 ounces each of brains and sweetbreads”. I have the milk, good olive oil, garlic cloves, salt, freshly ground black pepper, Parmesan and egg yolks, but I have no brains. You knew that anyway.
Brains are difficult to source now. Partly because only a few people want to eat them, but also because they have to be from young animals because of BSE and vCJD. Grinding up the remains of dead sheep and feeding them to cattle didn’t work out well, transmitting the disease from sheep to cattle. Then grinding up the remains of cattle and feeding them to cattle simply prolonged the problem. Have we learned anything about disease prevention and biosecurity? Given we’re embarking on a huge killing spree of tens of thousands of Badgers because poor farming practice spreads Bovine TB from cattle to cattle and the world’s in the grip of a coronavirus pandemic, I doubt it.
Maybe I’ll cook these the simple way. I’ve found that mushrooms cook best in a mixture of good olive oil and butter. Just butter and it doesn’t reach the right temperature without burning. Just olive oil and it doesn’t have the same flavour. If you do eat animal products then half and half is just great.
A little flat leaf parsley is called for, or in my case, a lot. Piled onto a warmed panino it makes a fabulous lunch.
I’m as happy as a little piggy, which, of course, is where the name Porcino comes from.