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Not only porcini: mushrooms in Italian cuisine

mushrooms in Italian cuisine

It's all too easy to include porcini in a dish on your menu. Most restaurateurs rely on this traditional and famous mushroom to delight the palate of their guests, with very good reasons behind them which we will see shortly. But there are some lesser-known alternatives that can turn your menu into something truly unique and special. So grab a pen and paper and let's get started! 

King of mushrooms: the cep

 

funghi porcini cucina italiana

 

First of all, we have to say a few words about the cep. Also known as Boletus Edulis, it is a mushroom that when eaten fresh is perfect for seasoning first courses such as risottos and tagliatelle or as an ingredient for main courses such as polenta and pies; it is also very good grilled: a good idea is to add it as a condiment to meat. If you prefer the dried version, always remember to soak them for 30 minutes in hot water and then cook them for about 10 minutes.

One of the peculiarities of the cep mushroom is its difficulty of cultivation: for this reason, most of those found in shops and supermarkets are picked by hand, directly in the woods. In Italy, the areas historically best suited to the birth and spread of the cep are the Ligurian Apennines, the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and the Umbro-Marchigiano up to Abruzzo, but the Alps also play their part; among the most famous Italian markets are those of Sassello, Bobbio and Borgo Val di Taro.

As well as being one of the most sought-after mushrooms, the cep is also very expensive on both the Italian and European markets. This is rapidly favouring the spread of products from Eastern Europe, in particular from Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, where they can be sold at much lower prices, also taking advantage of the favourable exchange rate. All this is to the detriment of the final quality of the cep, since it is much more difficult to guarantee a truly controlled supply chain in countries where the same rules do not apply as in Italy.

Like many of Italy's edible mushrooms, porcini mushrooms are rich in nutrients that contribute to the maintenance of the immune system. For centuries they have been considered a natural antibiotic and an excellent source of mineral salts such as potassium, phosphorus and selenium, which are essential for the body to function properly. The blood also benefits from the vitamins present in mushrooms, which are very useful in combating cardiovascular diseases and limiting the accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries. In short, in addition to their exceptional flavour, porcini mushrooms can also be an excellent healthy and nutritious option, perfect for serving to even the most diet-conscious customers.

In addition to this extraordinary product, there are many other varieties of edible mushrooms in Italy that can make for unique and inimitable recipes.

 

The Golden Prince: the chanterelle

 

chanterelles

 

A typical Trentino delicacy but easily found throughout most of the Alps, the Cantarellus Cibarius (better known as chanterelle) is one of the most popular mushrooms as an alternative to porcini. Depending on where in Italy you are, it is also called Gallinaccio, Galluccio or Galletto. As with the cep, its cultivation is not very profitable and for this reason it is very difficult to find it for sale, except in small mountain markets. 

It is a very common variety and easy to spot because of its intense yellow colour, which contrasts sharply with the typical shades of our woods. It is very popular in the kitchen because it is easily adaptable to hundreds of different recipes. 

To cook them, after careful cleaning, simply fry the onion in extra virgin olive oil and then cook the chanterelles for about 15 minutes, remembering to sprinkle them with vegetable broth from time to time and adjusting everything with the right amount of salt, depending on your taste. When cooked, you can also add a sprinkling of chopped parsley, which will further enhance its flavour.

There is also another way of thinking, which is to add a splash of white wine when preparing the chanterelles. Catering is a very varied industry and we know very well that everyone chooses to use their own techniques and methods: it will be up to the customers' palate to judge and the chef's ability to turn his dish into something unique.

 

All other Italian mushroom dishes

Mushrooms are among the most versatile foods to cook, but you have to be very careful how you prepare them because some of their toxic properties can seriously harm human health. If you are not an expert and would like to try picking mushrooms by hand in the woods, you should always have them inspected by professionals to ensure that you can serve them to your customers without worrying. 

Apart from the famous ceps and chanterelles, which are the most widely used in Italian cuisine? Let's find out the main ones and how best to prepare them, to bring out all their qualities. 

Field mushroom

 

champignons

 

Among the best known are the Prataioli, with their sweet and delicate flavour, perfect for salads, pasta dishes and side dishes for white meats. They are recognisable by their typical loose, thin gills with shades ranging from pink to brown to black towards the end. Usually, the stem is robust and full-bodied, whitish in colour and smooth to the touch. 

Poplars

 

pioppini mushrooms

 

Easily found under the name of Piopparelli, these mushrooms have been known and much appreciated since ancient times. They are perfect with all types of meat and excellent with polenta or mashed potatoes. They have thick, whitish gills tending to light brown; the stalk is cylindrical and tapered and is usually between 8 and 10 cm high. The flesh of poplars is white, tender in the cap and slightly more calloused in the stalk.

Honey fungus

 

Chiodini mushrooms

 

Probably the best known edible mushrooms in Italy. They are excellent when cooked and eaten in oil; their gills are not very dense, and their colour varies from white to yellowish to red as time passes. The stalk is usually very thin and slender and can reach a height of 20 cm. The stem is fibrous and covered with white or light yellow scales; the flesh of the chiodini is white, firm and fibrous and the taste is pleasantly bitterish on the palate.

Caesar's mushroom

 

caesar mushrooms

 

Delicious mushrooms, also excellent raw as a salad dressing. Ovoli are also delicious baked and in soups. They have bright yellow gills, free and dense; their flesh is white inside and slightly yellow under the cuticle. Its tender texture and delicate fragrance make it one of the most popular mushrooms in typical cuisines. The stem is between 8 and 15 cm high and is covered with a light down.  

Parasol mushroom

 

parasol mushroom

 

For anyone who has been lucky enough to walk in the mountains as a child, it will be very easy to remember the excitement of encountering the drumstick. Its cap is the only edible part, delicious when breaded and fried or baked. It is a mushroom made up of loose and very dense gills, their stalks reaching a height of 40 cm, which makes them easily visible from a distance. The flesh is white, fragile and has a slight nutty aftertaste.

Oyster mushroom

 

oyster fungus

 

They can be called either geloni or orecchioni, they are delicious when roasted or prepared and served as a cutlet; also breaded and fried, accompanied by a fresh mixed salad. They have thick, yellowish-white gills. Their stalks are usually lateral or often almost absent; the flesh of which blackthorns/orecchions are composed is thick, tough and very elastic.  

Blackthorns

 

St. Georges mushroom prugnolo

 

Blackthorn mushrooms are perfect to combine with polenta, to be used as a condiment together with saffron to make very tasty first courses but also delicious breaded and fried. They have narrow gills and vary in colour between white and pink. Their meat is white, soft and tender, with a smell reminiscent of bread.  

Saffron Milk Cap

 

saffron milk cap sangunelli

 

They are so called because of the red, concentric stripes on the cuticle(sangue=blood). Due to their firm texture and crispness, they are excellent for grilling and are ideal with potatoes and tomato and egg sauces. They can be up to 20 cm in diameter, have cylindrical stalks and are made up of dense gills. One of the most important moments when dealing with sanguinelli is the choice of cap: as it gets older, its surface becomes increasingly scaly, with the ends going further and further upwards. One of the peculiarities of this fungus is when it is cut, where a milky serum emerges from the orange hues, which is why it is also known as Lactarius Deliciosus.

Trumpets of the dead

 

horn of plenty italian mushrooms

 

In spite of their rather unusual and gloomy name, these are excellent mushrooms to eat. The name comes from their ability to feed on carcasses. The trumpets of the dead are ideal as a main ingredient in rice and pasta dishes, but also as a side dish for meat; the combination with pumpkin should also be tried because of the contrasting colours. The colour is pearly and iridescent, with shades of blue mixed with beige; they live very well in damp, calcareous soils.

Morels

 

morels mushrooms spugnole

 

They are also known as Morchelle, because of their upward-pointing, honeycombed surface, which is very reminiscent of a sponge. They have a nutty aftertaste and their meaty texture makes them easily adaptable to many recipes in the kitchen. They can be eaten well cooked after at least 30 minutes on the stove, either fried or as an ingredient in fillings. Their stalks are truncated cone-shaped, tapering downwards and a warm grey colour with some bronze tones; they can be as tall as 13 centimetres. 

 

These are some of the most famous and popular mushrooms to be found in Italy and are used in thousands of recipes from traditional Italian cuisine. Ideal for making your menu different from the others and for creating truly unique dishes.

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