Late in spring and early in the fall, puddles-bring mushrooms, and mushrooms in Italy bring their gatherers, both professional and amateur, who scour the woods with bent back and a large potato sack in hand. As I am writing this, at the end of September in Venice, baskets full of fresh wild mushrooms are glorifying the Rialto market, displaying porcini (Boletus edulis), yellow and black finferli (chanterelles), spug-nole (morels), chiodini (“little nails,” a long-stemmed, densely clustered variety), and ovoli (orange-capped agaricus).
When Italian cooks say funghi—mushrooms—they are referring to the wild variety, because the cultivated ones are a poorly regarded synthetic version of the real thing. Ovoli are highly prized for salads; but to cook with, the intense musky scent and juicy flesh of porcini makes it by far the most desirable of all funghi.
When working with cultivated mushrooms, I try to find methods that will excite from them flavor reminiscent of Boletus. An example is the combination of dried porcini and fresh cultivated white button mushrooms that I discovered years ago; it is described in my earlier books. Recently I found that I could achieve a comparable result by using white mushrooms and fresh shiitake together. The exchange of flavor that takes place between the two varieties produces such a remarkable evocation of the aroma that one looks for in Boletus that, as long as I have shiitake, I am more peacefully resigned to the absence of fresh porcini from American markets.
There is nothing like olive oil for bringing out the woodsy accent from mushrooms, and that is how I start them. But I love to serve mushrooms with homemade pasta, whose porous texture thirsts for butter and cream, so I add the two in the final cooking stage to achieve both objectives, full mushroom flavor from the mushrooms and an elegant sauce for fine homemade egg pasta.
© 1997 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.