Timeline: 10:oo am, Friday morning. Thankfully Kevin got paid yesterday, because I practically spent his entire paycheck buying these fresh porcini mushrooms at the outdoor market!

Mushrooms worth their weight in silver (gold will be later, for truffles!)

I have been waiting for several weeks to see fresh porcini mushrooms in enough of a quantity at our Friday market to feel like I’m getting a good choice among many, and today was the day.  I’m definitely intimidated by my lack of knowledge on how to handle fresh porcini mushrooms, let alone cook with them, but I’ve got a great cookbook that explains everything, so I’m going to dive in and give it a go.

This cookbook, called Made in Italy: Food and Stories, by Giorgio Locatelli with Sheila Keaton, came highly recommended by a friend here in Milan who let me borrow his book when we first moved here.  I love how it provides the history of Italian food and areas, as well as recipes and cooking techniques used by cooks from northern and southern Italy.  It’s so much more than a cookbook!  While the author has subsequently written additional cookbooks touting Italian food, this particular book is no longer being published, but you can get it on Kindle.  If you love to read cookbooks (and certainly, if you love to cook!), I recommend your buying it on Amazon through Kindle!

Next, I read the cookbook section on ‘Buying and Preparing Porcini’.  A few tips I learned:

  • Never keep porcini in plastic bags;
  • Never wash the porcini- never;
  • Take a ‘bendy’ knife [editor’s note: what the heck is that?] and,  if you really want to, scrape it over the mushrooms, and then just before you cook them, go over the mushrooms with a damp cloth, then dry them;
  • Be careful- Watch for stones because a mushroom spore might have grown around the stone and you certainly don’t want someone to break their teeth on a stone [editor’s note: no, I don’t…];
  • Usually it is best to cut right through the middle of the mushrooms to check that there are no worms [editor’s note: goodness!  What have I gotten myself into?]

Ok, enough of the scary stuff about teeth cracking and worms, it’s time to get started.  We might not eat till midnight, but here we go!

I am going to make “Risotto ai porcini; Cep risotto,” with the recipe found in the aforementioned cookbook.  In addition to buying produce at the fresh market, I walked to the grocery store (remember, we have no car, and there is a preplanned bus/rail strike today, so my feet are my transportation mode!).  I bought dried porcini mushrooms and a particular type of rice for this risotto, called Vialone Nano.  I had previously purchased another type of rice (arborio) for risotto I made earlier, but this recipe called for Vialone Nano and since I have no idea yet what the difference is, I decided to buy it if I could find it and not risk using a different rice.  Some of you real chefs will probably roll your eyes at my desire to stick closely to the recipe, and Kelly certainly had a way of cooking with whatever she had on hand, but since I am flying solo here and haven’t made this before, let alone even tried it with someone else cooking it, I’m keeping with the recipe as best I can. And guess what?  I found the rice at the store!

 Timeline: 3:00 pm, Friday afternoon. Back to the apartment and here’s my preconstructed dinner.

Preconstructed dinner plans with porcini!

Oh no!  I just got a call from one of the sweet and very fit Italian women I’ve met at the local gym and she asked if we wanted to join a group for aperitivos tonight nearby!  I just didn’t have the heart to tell her the real reason I don’t think we can make it, which is that at the rate I’m going for this dinner, we won’t be eating till midnight and I HAVE to make this today, when the mushrooms are as fresh as possible!  She would wonder about me.  She did say they will be there for hours, so maybe there’s hope yet.

Ok, back to dinner prep.  I will try to give you the blow by blow as I work on this masterpiece (I’m excited and nervous!  Can I pull this off?):

  • Soak the dried porcini in a bowl of water for a few hours until soft [editor’s note:  see?  I’m not sure we will even be eating by midnight at the rate I’m going!] 
  • Prepare the fresh porcini and slice lengthways. [editor’s note:  I’m so glad Kevin isn’t here to watch this- I’m really not going to wash this mushroom?] ;
  • I cooked the garlic in butter and added the fresh porcini mushrooms, making them silky. Then I set that aside;
  • I have a confession to make.  I did cut a few corners, one of which was to use store-bought chicken stock instead of painstakingly cooking my own stock.  There’s only so much I can do in a day, and our refrigerator is TINY;
  • On to the risotto- I heated up the chicken stock, cooked the onions in the butter, added the rice and wine, and added the chicken stock ladle by ladle until the risotto was silky smooth. This takes about 15 minutes of constant stirring;
  • Timeline 5:30 pm, Friday afternoon. Kevin finally made it home, just in the nick of time.  I drafted him as my sous chef and he helped me clean dishes and then do the ‘mantecatura,’ which is when you vigorously beat the cold diced butter into the warm risotto, followed by adding a lot of Parmesan cheese.  The end result- deliziosa!
  • Now it’s time for me to relax.  That was a lot of work for a single dish, but I’m glad I did it, and I can do it next year when the porcini mushrooms again have their fleeting moment of glory!