The highly prized porcini, meaning “piglet” in Italian (boletus edulis) also called cep, is an edible mushroom of the Boletus family that is naturally found in Asia, Europe and North America, but have also been introduced to other parts of the world including Australia and New Zealand. They are usually found growing symbiotically with trees such as pine, spruce, fir and chestnut.
This delicious mushroom has a huge fleshy brown cap that can be around 3 to 12 inches broad, while its stem (stipe) can be about 3 to 10 inches tall and about 2 inches thick. The boletus edulis mushroom does not colour blue when it is cut or bruised, this is important to note because the boletus mushrooms that do colour blue when cut or bruised can be toxic and should not be eaten.
Fresh porcini mushrooms are best bought young and should be examined carefully for black spots and browning under the cap due to age. They should also be checked for tiny holes which are an indication of worms; these however are harmless. Also avoid washing the mushrooms unless they will be used right away, since they will quickly absorb water and become soggy.
Good fresh porcini mushrooms can be grilled like meat if big enough, fried or used in pasta sauce, while the more readily available dried porcini mushrooms usually have a stronger concentrated aroma which makes them ideal for soups, sauces and stews. To gain the most out of dried porcini, it is best to soak them in some hot, but not boiling water for at least 20 minutes, after which the dried mushrooms become reconstituted. The water in which the dried porcini are soaked can be further used in the dish since it also carries the strong flavour of the mushrooms.
Porcini mushrooms are known to be highly nutritious, containing less fat and a having high protein; the rich and pleasant nutty flavour makes the porcini a versatile ingredient that goes well in risotto, pastas and soups; and pairs well with tomatoes. They can also be canned or pickled, or found infused in olive oil lending a rich flavour to pastas, salads, and breads. The many ways in which this awesome mushroom can be used is bound to leave you amazed, no wonder it is called the “king boletus”!