‘Porcini mushrooms are scarce this year’ was the word on the street. I had 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 and fresh porcini hard to find. But then came the rain and porcini apparently started popping up in the woods and forests nearby…..I say apparently because I’ve no idea where or how anyone knew. Gathering porcini is on a par with truffle-hunting, but minus the dogs, their whereabouts are kept a mystery and top secret.
However one Sunday morning, whilst walking up to our local mountain rifugio for lunch, we met a couple of mushroom foragers coming down the mountain and stopped to ooh-and-aah at their mouth-watering basket of porcini, and have a chat.
They told us that they had come up the mountain at 6.00am to their own secret ‘patch’ they visit every year. Once there they always performed the same ritual. They would just take time to gently touch and talk to all the plants and herbs that covered the forest floor, asking them to please open up and show them where the mushrooms were growing. Porcini clearly had bodyguards in the plant world and the foliage from these plants gave them protection.
The foragers would then have to wait for a while, so they would have their snack breakfast….and wait. And then, sure enough, the plant ‘bodyguards’ would heed the kind words and respectful request, and withdraw their leaves and flowers to reveal the rich treasure underneath…..porcini mushrooms.
It reminded me of an Ojibwe medicine woman I had read about who revealed that when she gathered plants she would always greet them and talk to them as if they were human beings. The Ojibwe culture recognises the relationship between humans and plants as being more than just gathering and indiscriminately taking whatever we humans wanted.
It was actually a lovely Sunday morning reminder of how we need to show respect to everyone and everything. And as a bonus we were given a porcini as a gift – quite a large one as you can see above! What a treat.
I thought I’d make a Japanese-style tempura porcini – their meaty yet delicate flesh would be ideal – and to ensure the batter was light and crispy I’d use some Prosecco.
We’d just returned from a trip through the ‘strada del prosecco’ – the region around Valdobbiadene in the Veneto, south of Trento, the DOC centre for Prosecco, and obviously we had bought a few bottles so I thought I’d use some of the last remaining bottle.
RECIPE: 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.
Note: Mushrooms are reputed to have strong anti-cancer properties and are rich in antioxidants. Porcini particularly are considered antioxidant powerhouses!