My petite Scottish grandmother looked at me critically through the lenses of her silver-rimmed glasses. ‘You do what?’ Her voice was shrill. We were talking about hunting wild mushrooms.
Trawling the shops on New Hope’s main street some time later, we ended up in a slick store that sold cheeses and specialty foods. I picked up a cellophane package tied with a fancy bow. ‘Look, Grandma,’ I held up the porcini mushroom slices. ‘One of the mushrooms we found last year. We dried our own, just like these.’
She adjusted her glasses to look more carefully. Her eyes got round as she pulled away from the bag. ‘Good lord,’ she said, bending her head to speak to the little dog wagging its tail at her feet. ‘Can you believe it, Dinky? Twenty-two dollars for a bag of dried up mushrooms!’
Yes, you can pay a premium for dried porcini and if you’re really particular about your mushrooms it might even be worth it. The mushrooms in that shop were likely the best quality porcini, with large unbroken slices. Since that story happened some years ago, the price is likely higher as well. In Europe, several grades are sold, depending on quality, size and how well the mushrooms are dried.
There are other ways to get the flavor, without paying full price:
- You can hunt your own, and either eat them fresh or dry them for later, during which process their flavor intensifies. Porcini, also called Ceps, King Bolete and Boletus Edulis, range widely across the Northern Hemisphere. They are easily recognized by the sponge under their cap, bulbous foot and pattern of webbing on the upper half of their base.
- You can buy lower quality porcini, which will have broken pieces or may be bruised. After you’ve made a broth or a long-simmering recipe with them, you probably won’t notice the difference.
- You can buy mixed wild mushrooms in small packages in many grocery stores. They will yield an intense gravy you can infuse into more readily available crimini or button mushrooms as I’ve done in the recipe below.
Wild Mushroom Bruschetta
Yields 12 pieces of bruschetta
1 small bag mixed dried wild mushrooms
(mine was 25 grams from Trader Joe’s, and had porcini, shitake, black and oyster mushrooms)
1½ cups boiling water
12 pieces of good bread, about 2”x3” and sliced ½ inch thick
(I used a half loaf of my Lago di Como Bread)
8 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms
4 teaspoons good olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
A few grinds of fresh black pepper
2 small cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of chopped parsley to top
6 teaspoons of shredded parmesan cheese (optional – see note)
Reconstitute the mushrooms: Put dried mushrooms into a small saucepan and add 1½ cups boiling water. Let sit for 20 minutes. Bring to a simmer over low heat for a few minutes and then turn off the heat again. Even though the package tells you that 20 minutes steeping is sufficient, I find that 40 minutes is better.
When the mushrooms have finished steeping and have cooled somewhat, squeeze the juice out of all the mushrooms and put the spent mushrooms into a bowl. Save the juice in the pan for the next step, decanting to remove debris if necessary.
Reduce the broth: Put the saucepan over medium-low heat and let simmer rapidly. When broth has reduced by more than a half, lower the heat and gently simmer until you have reduced the liquid to ¼ cup. This process will take 20 minutes or more.
Crisp the bread: Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil onto a sheet pan. Touch each piece of bread to the oil and then turn over. Bake in a 350º oven for 10-12 minutes per side (325º for 10 minutes per side if using convection). You want the toast to be crisp but not browned, and not as hard as croutons. A little softness on the inside is okay. Times will vary depending on your oven and the type of bread you use.
Make the mushroom topping: Chop the crimini mushrooms finely. Add 3 teaspoons olive oil to a 10” frying pan, add the mushroom dice and the salt, and slowly cook over low heat. For best results, the mushrooms should take at least 15 minutes to cook. Add finely chopped garlic (or use a press) and the pepper in the last 5 minutes.
From the squeezed mushrooms, find the softest pieces, which will be the porcini. Chop these and add to the mushroom dice. Discard the other mushrooms. Right at the end of cooking the dice, add the reduced mushroom broth.
Build the bruschetta: Put the toast pieces onto a platter and scoop on the mushroom mix. Top with chopped parsley. Serve the bruschetta warm or at room temperature.
Note: If you’re serving these bruschetta at a stand-up party, bake on a half-teaspoon of shredded parmesan per piece to hold the topping in place.