click to enlarge Dried porcini
Dried porcini

When I travel to a new city I always seek out the local farmers markets. My obsession is fueled by my fond memories of selling vegetables on the Old State Capitol Plaza with my grandfather-in-law during my summers off from college during the early 70s. If traveling by car, I’ve been known to drive back home with a trunkful of fresh produce. When I travel by plane I have to be more restrained.

I love fresh mushrooms, especially varieties that don’t show up in local markets. My absolute favorite mushrooms are porcini (Boletus edulis), which I’ve found in markets in Europe and the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, ordering porcini online costs $48 a pound plus about $20 for shipping. On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I traveled with minimal clothes and my biggest suitcase solely for the purpose of bringing back a whole case of my favorite mushrooms



Several years ago, while visiting Paris, I bought a bagful of the most beautiful porcini I had ever laid my eyes on. Doubtful that I’d be able to smuggle them through customs, I brought them with me to lunch at a small neighborhood bistro and asked if they could cook them for me. They obligingly agreed to. Simply sautéed in butter with a little fresh thyme, they were perhaps the most delicious mushrooms I had ever tasted. Later, back in the U.S., I reviewed my credit card bill and realized that I had been charged nearly $40 to have them cook my ’shrooms!

When I travel in my bus, it’s always a hassle keeping things cold. Because my bus doesn’t have a refrigerator or freezer and I have to use coolers, I try to stock nonperishable ingredients whenever possible. The flavor of porcini stands up well to being dehydrated. Dried porcini are full of umami and are an easy and convenient way to amp up flavors in my cooking. They add an earthy, meaty-like flavor to my dishes. Dried porcini can either be reconstituted or ground to a fine powder. Though some mushrooms like morels and hen of the woods plump back up to their original size and texture when reconstituted, rehydrated porcini tend to be limp and mushy, but they add intense flavor, especially when powdered.

Dried porcini are available from Amazon.com, but I try to shop local whenever possible so I buy my dried mushrooms from the bulk containers at Springfield’s Food Fantasies. Stored well-covered and kept in a cool dry place, dried mushrooms should last well over a year.

To reconstitute dried porcini, simply soak them in a bowl of warm water. They will increase in weight about 6 to 8 times. To maximize flavor, I like to soak them overnight. If I haven’t planned ahead and need to use them right away, I’ll soak them in hot water for a minimum of 30 minutes. With a quick soak, however, the flavor won’t be as intense. After reconstituting, squeeze out as much liquid as possible. The soaking liquid can be strained through a coffee filter to remove grit and then used as a mushroom stock. Reconstituted porcini can be chopped into smaller pieces and used in stews or risottos. I’ll sometimes combine reconstituted dried porcini with less flavorful fresh white or crimini mushrooms; the fresh mushrooms have a better mouthfeel than the reconstituted mushrooms.


Dried porcini can also be ground into a fine powder in a clean coffee grinder or food processor and used like a seasoning. After grinding, allow the powder to settle or you will release a cloud of mushroom powder when you open the lid. This mushroom powder can be used as a dry rub for meats and poultry, added to flour when making bread or pasta, sprinkled on to mashed or roasted potatoes, or used to thicken sauces.

Porcini Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients
2 ½ cups warm water
4 1/2 cups chicken stock, plus a little additional if needed
1 ¾ cups dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 ¼ ounces)
4 T. unsalted butter
½ c. finely diced onion, NOT super-sweet
1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
¾ - 1 c. freshly grated Parmigianino Reggiano or aged Asiago cheese
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Preparation

Soak dried porcini in the warm water overnight or in hot water for at least 30 minutes.


Remove porcini and squeeze excess liquid back into bowl. Rinse well to remove any grit

Rough chop the reconstituted porcini.

Strain mushroom soaking liquid through a coffee filter into a large saucepan, add the chicken stock, and heat to a bare simmer.

In a large heavy pan, heat the butter over medium high heat and add the onion and 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and translucent, but not browned, 3-5 minutes.

Add the rice to the pan and cook a few minutes more until the rice has absorbed most of the butter and has become somewhat translucent.

Reduce the heat to medium low and add enough of the stock mixture to cover the rice by about one inch. Cook at a very low simmer, stirring very frequently.

As the liquid is absorbed, add additional stock to keep the rice covered. When the stock mixture has been absorbed, check the rice. It should be cooked through, but still firm to the tooth – “al dente.” Total cooking time should be about 20-30 minutes.

When the rice is cooked, add the porcini and heat through. Stir in the cheese and pepper and check for salt. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley.

Serves 4-6

Porcini Rubbed Rib-eye Steaks

Ingredients
½ oz dried porcini mushrooms, broken up (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
I teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon sugar
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 bone-in rib-eye steaks (about 1 lb. each)

Preparation

Place dried porcini in a clean coffee grinder or food processor and grind to a fine powder. Allow mushroom powder to settle before opening lid.

Combine with the salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic and sugar.

Coat steaks with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with the porcini rub.

Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours.

Thirty minutes before cooking remove steaks from refrigerator.

Heat large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat to shimmering. Place steaks in hot pan and cook for 5 minutes, then turn over with tongs and cook 3-4 minutes more for medium-rare.

Transfer to a cutting board. Tent with foil and let stand 5 minutes.  

“Give me a home where the buffalo roam” was never part of Peter Glatz’s game plan but the opportunity to spend a year cooking in a highly touted restaurant in Oklahoma City was just too enticing to pass up. During his hiatus from Springfield he will continue to share his culinary adventures with IT readers. Tempura-battered bison testicles anyone?

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