Here on the Mediterranean Coast of Italy, we are just a few miles from a mountain range, the Apuan Alps, Alpi Apuane, with rolling hills, wooded forests, and marble quarries that offer hiking paths and biking routes and scenic views. For those whose interest is food, the rolling hills and wooded forests are also the source of mushrooms, which in the damp, humid and sometimes rainy summer days, are plentiful. When Fall arrives, they are bountiful.
This summer was no exception, and perhaps the intense heat contributed to the exceptional abundance. The funghi porcini, Cepes, in French, have been impressively grand with caps as wide as 6-inches across. The finferli, better known for their French name, chanterelles, have been copious. And the ovoli, small egg-like mushrooms, are, in some years, difficult to find. But not this year!
Pasta prepared with a sauce of porcini or finferli is probably the most typical way to serve these fresh mushrooms. I prefer to serve them on toasted bread, bruschetta. whichever way you choose, my preferred preparation: slice and saute’ the mushrooms with olive oil, lots of whole garlic cloves, that turn a delicious brown, salt and pepper, and a splash of white wine. Cook covered until the mushrooms are tender, uncover and continue cooking until the slices are delicately browned. Serve the mushrooms piled over lightly toasted bread with a dusting of parsley. Ovoli are generally never cooked. Rather they are shredded raw and made into a salad with grated parmigiano cheese, olive oil , salt and pepper, and lemon juice.
It’s true that fresh wild mushrooms are difficult to find in any quantity or at a price that’s reasonable in the US, but if you’re lucky enough to have some in your kitchen, enjoy! You can also use dried porcini in most recipes, but try to find good quality ones in large pieces. Be sure to soak them in warm, not hot, water. You don’t want to leech all the flavor from them. And save the soaking liquid. It can add a richness to your sauce. Commercially grown white or brown button mushrooms, which are widely available in most supermarkets everywhere, have no flavor, at least to my taste, and aren’t a suitable substitute. On the other hand, the portobello mushrooms, a larger version of the white button variety are a good addition to the dried mushrooms and can make a generous mushroomy sauce.
A note on cleaning wild mushrooms: I use a soft small hand brush, much like a nail brush for cleaning the caps of mushrooms. It gently removes the dirt without damaging the caps. I always cut off the stem at the point where it meets the cap, and clean it separately. I cut away the encrusted tough bottom part, and slice the stem into two or more pieces to cook evenly with the caps. Never wash the mushrooms in running water because they are like sponges and will absorb the water quickly and become saturated and soggy. However I do use a piece of damp paper towel to remove any dirt that remains after brushing.