Picking porcini: explore the wild side of mushrooms
Fresh porcini are harder to come across than dried ones, but it’s worth seeking them out
Raw cep tops are beautiful, especially sliced super thin. Photograph: iStock
Where were all the mushrooms when I was growing up? Did the fairies hide them? Or were they there and we were too afraid to pick them? Europeans have long loved their wild mushrooms. I first encountered porcini in an Italian cookbook in my early teens. For me, they were always exotic, always an example of the wonderful products from far and abroad. Little did I know they proliferated in the Irish countryside, under a different nom de guerre: the penny bun.
Penny bun, or ceps as the French call them, are a member of the boletus family. It was first classified 1782 by the French botanist Pierre Bulliard. They grow widely across the world and are difficult to cultivate, which is why most people know them as a dry ingredient.
Porcini is most commonly sold dried and is wonderful rehydrated in warm water and added to risotto (which can also be made with barley: don’t tell the Italians I told you).
Dried porcini can also be blended into a powder. I often use it to dust over white fish, such as cod and monkfish. Buy yourself an icing sugar shaker and fill it with porcini powder. Keep in a cool, dry place and it should last you months.
Fresh ceps are harder to come across, but it’s worth seeking them out, whether in the woods or from the many farmer’s markets across the country. Ulrich, one of the many mushroom foragers in Galway, always finds a few for us at Aniar.
Last week we made a wonderful cep purée with sour cream and a little duck stock. The ceps were sliced and fried with onions and garlic until nice and soft and then blended with sour cream. This is a great way to use ceps that are not the most aesthetically beautiful, as often the tops get eaten by bugs.
Finally, raw cep tops are beautiful, especially sliced super thin. Make a salad with Irish baby gem lettuce, hazelnuts and thick-sliced ceps. A hazelnut dressing with a few pickles will round it all off.