Porcini mushrooms ….

Eros and his mushrooms

I was in Italy last week for a few days as we are going to rent a tiny flat for 6 months to see whether we like it there. It’s just an idea, but it takes me back to Lago Maggiore where I spent a great deal of my childhood and where I have returned many times since. The small town we are going to stay in – Verbania – is a foodie heaven with over 40 restaurants and a series of food shops to match anywhere further south.

Amazing cheeses in Eros’ shop

One shop in particular – ErosBuratti’s


The shop

is quite amazing. Filled to the brim with cheeses and other good things it is renowned the world over as a place to buy the best of Italian produce. It has been written about


and photographed in many magazines.

A father and his baby chasing bubbles outside Eros’ shop in the evening!

I have got to know Eros slightly over the years as he is interested in cars and is a friend of a chef friend  and so I popped in to see him before leaving.  I was rather excited too see in the window of his shop a large wooden tray of porcini mushrooms … clearly the first of the season. They looked lovely and despite wincing slightly at the price, bought 1/2 kilo to share with Caroline and Oscar back in Cowes. They (the mushrooms, not Oscar and Caroline!!) had been picked that day in the Val Viggezzo above Verbania and so were pretty fresh. Their smell was amazing … they really do sell of earth! Eros packed them in foil for me and I stuffed them into my suitcase and headed for the airport.


Mushroom risotto

I went to stay with my old Italian friend Maria, where I stay when on the mainland, and we made a mushroom risotto for dinner. Now an awful lot of twaddle is written and spoken about risotto …. especially mushroom risotto, or risotto ai funghi!

 Listening to some TV chefs rabitting on how to make risotto, you really would have thought it was the most complicated dish in the world to make. Froths, foams, thrashing the thing half to death with special wooden spoons inherited from Nonna… honestly, anyone making a risotto these days needs to lie down and recover from the emotional effort. Get real …. It’s a dish made by peasants … and I can tell you this peasant doesn’t take it too seriously.

Well, tonight we had an absolutely brilliant risotto … it was truly first class … and yes, if you want to call it that, I cheated as it was a ready flavoured risotto made by the Italian company Scotti. They say the best risottos are made from dried mushrooms anyway, and this had those chopped up in them. You just add water, some milk,butter and stock to the risotto rice mixture … delicious.

I fried the sliced porcini mushrooms in garlic and parsley and then folded the in when they were cooked.


Porcini omelette … aka ‘car crash”

Next evening I made a simple omelette with Pecorino Sardo cheese.

I always add a few extra yolks to the mixture to make the thing slightly richer. I am really the worlds worst omelette maker as until this evening (the day after I made this!!) we did not possess an omelette pan. But I was so ashamed on the photo here, which looks more like a car crash than a serious effort to make an omelette (extraction was the problem!) but what I cooked was great. (Caroline has just me some Halva ….OMG etc!!!! Never had it before) Simply fried off the porcini is a little butter and sprinkled them over the top of the omelette!!

It was needless to say lovely …. even if it looked awful!


Fish cakes with porcini and butter beans.

And tonight I used them all up.They were going a little stale, though they were still juicy and so I sliced them, fried them in olive oil, garlic and parsley and then added some butter beans. The mixture was rather good, with the mushrooms imparting a very specific taste to the dish. I think the secret is to cook them very quickly, on a high heat so as they dont stew in their own juices.  I served them with a couple of pesto flavoured white fish-cakes I bought from our favourite fishmonger in Cowes high street!

So endeth the porcinifest for now. Of course they are, like anything which is seasonal and trendy a little over-rated, but I will tell you something….The single most memorable dish I have ever eaten was in the town of Lerici – made famous by the poet Shelley and Bob Browning – in Italy.  I went into an Osteria with an old Mama behind the counter … all she had was porcini mushrooms, which she quickly deep fried, in the lightest and sparsest of batter. Sprinkled them with salt and served with a wedge of Sicilian Meyer-type (important) lemon.

Truly, I can taste those mushrooms to this day … 40 years later!

Toodlepip ….!

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