I’m up to my ears in Porcini – not a phrase that’s often bandied about these days – especially outside Italy!
I frightened the guy at my local market the other day with my excitement at the sight of fresh porcini sitting on his stall. He poor man was mortified as he thought I’d spied some horrific creepy-crawly damaging his vegetables so I had to quickly tone down my ardour. Clearly I need to re-think how I express joy and pleasure as I seem to be giving the wrong impression and just end up scaring people!
On the other hand I saw my neighbour return from a walk recently, not in his usual quiet and calm – bordering on morose – state but thoroughly over-excited and gesticulating in an alarming fashion. He too had seen porcini and couldn’t seem to contain his exuberance. I was therefore feeling rather proud that I might have started to become truly ‘Italian’ in my funghi euphoria.
I had actually been searching for fresh porcini for a while but everyone kept telling me that it’d been such a hot summer that the harvest was bad this year and fresh porcini were scarce. But with the recent influx of rain they started once again popping up in the woods nearby…..or fairly nearby…or actually I’ve no idea where they’d been found. Gathering porcini seems to be a bit like truffle-hunting – but without dogs – their whereabouts are a mystery and top secret.
I’d made some Japanese-style vegetable tempura recently, which went down very well with my Italian guests, so I thought I’d make it again but this time with porcini – their meaty yet delicate flesh would be ideal. One of the guests mentioned that they always used grappa or sparkling wine in their batter so I thought I’d try this out.
I’m using Prosecco because we’d just returned from a trip through the ‘strada del prosecco’ – the region around Valdobbiadene in the Veneto, south of Trento. Only now have I cracked how to correctly pronounce Valdobbiadene – the DOC centre for Prosecco! Obviously we bought a few bottles so I thought I’d use some of the last remaining bottle!
So, here’s the recipe which is really easy to make and rather delicious….see what you think!
ITALIAN PORCINI TEMPURA with PROSECCO & BALSAMIC VINEGAR DIPPING SAUCE
For 2 as a light supper (or 4 for a starter)
Preparation time: 5-10 minutes
Cooking time: appx. 2-3 minutes per mushroom
8 large porcini mushrooms (use large field mushrooms if you can’t get porcini)
Vegetable oil for frying (about ½ – ¾ litre)
100g plain flour
Good pinch of salt
175ml Prosecco, well chilled
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp Prosecco
Mix the balsamic vinegar and prosecco together, pour into small dipping bowls and set aside.
Carefully wipe each porcini clean with a damp cloth or soft brush.
Slice lengthwise into medium-thick slices – depending on size you’ll probably get about 3-4 slices per mushroom.
Sift the flour, cornflour and salt into a bowl and pour in the chilled Prosecco. Whisk briefly just to combine but don’t over-mix.
Heat vegetable oil in a high-sided pan or wok over high heat. To test if it’s hot enough add a drop of batter to see if it sizzles (heat needs to be about 180C/350F).
Dip the porcini slices into the batter and then immediately into the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan – I did about 2-3 slices at a time.
When they’re a light golden brown (about 2-3 minutes) take out of the pan and keep warm on a plate covered with kitchen paper.
When finished serve with dipping sauce and fresh parsley – and some coarse sea salt.