The Pleasures of Porcini | Civil Eats

The Pleasures of Porcini

Each year, after the summer sun has warmed us through and rain has once again begun to fall, my friend Charlie shows up in my office with a paper bag. It’s one of my favorite moments of the year, and I’m never quite sure exactly when it’s coming. Charlie is a mycologist with a generous streak—he studies truffles (another wild Oregonian favorite) but makes an annual foray for Boletus Edulis, and brings a trove of these meaty, beautiful mushrooms to share.

They are always impressive examples of the badisiomycete, giant and symmetrical, their swollen stems neatly trimmed and tawny caps brushed clean of needles and soil. Charlie calls them Porcini, as the Italians do, after the roly-poly piglet shape of their young fruiting bodies. His scientist cohort in this country calls them King Boletes. The French call them Cepes, after their fat stem. At my house, we call them risotto. We sauté them in butter and thyme, serve them atop bowls of creamy rice cooked in broth and wine, and savor every silky, nutty bite.

It’s a lovely consolation for the onset of rain, when our valley turns from sun-parched yellow grasses, thickets of blackberries and postcard-blue sky to thick mats of damp leaves and dripping needles, banks of fog, glittering lakes of flooded fields. There’s something about that rain that stirs the forest to action, and sends raincoated searchers like Charlie into the woods for mushrooms. Boletes are mycorryhzal, living in symbiotic tandem with pine trees. They feed one another, when their seasons come.

These wild indicators of the change of season, all bulbous and tawny-capped, are a lovely consolation for giving up the abundant lettuces and peppers and eggplants of summer. It’s as if nature is offering up a little reward for all of our hard work in the summer garden, saying yes, it’s cooler, and wet, and your tomatoes won’t ripen any more. But here, a gift, untended. Just enjoy them, pick them carefully, and come back next year. We’ll be here.

Porcini Risotto

2 quarts chicken or vegetable (but not store-bought mushroom) stock
4 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 oz dried porcini (optional)
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 pound fresh porcini, brushed clean and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tbs fresh thyme, minced
salt and pepper to taste

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In a large saucepan, warm up the stock over medium heat until it’s boiling. In a separate heavy-bottomed, non-reactive saucepan, heat the oil and 2 tbs of the butter over medium-high heat until the butter’s melted. Add the shallots and garlic and saute lightly, stirring constantly. Add the rice and toast, stirring constantly so it doesn’t brown. After 3 minutes or so, reduce the heat to medium low and add the dried porcini and wine. Add the hot stock, a ladle-full at a time, stirring so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom and the liquid is absorbed evenly. Continue to add stock and stir every few minutes until the rice is cooked through and creamy, about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, saute the fresh porcini with the thyme and remaining butter, over medium low heat. The mushrooms will release their liquids, and keep cooking them, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reabsorbed and the mushrooms are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the rice is cooked, serve with the sauteed fresh porcini on top.

Serves 4.

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Editor’s Note: I made this risotto last night, and it was delicious.

Photo: Valtaro Photo

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Jessica MacMurray Blaine is a food writer based in Eugene, Oregon, where she also occasionally teaches magazine writing at the University of Oregon. She is the marketing & communications director for Marche, a restaurant group focused on seasonal, sustainable, regional food. Read more >

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  1. Emily H.
    I thought this was just beautifully written. And I am incredibly envious of the porcini giftee.

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