Cooking With Frozen Porcinis From Buon Italia
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Categorized taxonomically as Boletus edulis, porcinis are one of the world's most flavorful mushrooms. They're indispensible to the cooking of Italy, and also treasured in France, where they're known as cepes. But few of us have ever tasted a fresh porcini. They have a narrow foraging season in early autumn in the northern Italian forests where they're gathered, and don't stay fresh very long. Porcinis are nearly impossible to cultivate.
Porcinis take to drying, however, and are highly prized in dehydrated form, which is what most Italian restaurants in New York (and Italy, too, during much of the year) use. The dried mushrooms are reanimated in a quantity of water, and then the soaking liquid is used to make sauce. This is a very satisfactory arrangement, though the texture of the mushroom sometimes verges on woody.
Which is why I was excited to see porcinis for sale for the first time in the frozen state at Buon Italia in Chelsea Market. At $18 per pound they seemed a bit steep, but a single large specimen weighing a little over half a pound cost me $9.54. But how would it taste?
I hurried home intent on making pasta with it. Would I have to forgo the soaking fluid provided by the dried specimens and central to most porcini recipes? Apparently not. As the mushroom sat in a bowl thawing, a liquid formed around it. The liquid was brown and odiferous. It tasted pungent and woodsy.