Things to do with porcini #2

First, take 500g of fresh porcini. In my case, the Boletus edulis presented itself as one large fruitbody growing a metre or two to the side of one of the busiest paths in Christchurch’s Hagley Park. A few years ago, porcini of that size were not unusual, but picking pressure — particularly by one selfish git who commits fungal infanticide on a regular basis and then hawks the results round local restaurants — means that big mushrooms are now as rare as hen’s teeth. It’s the tragedy of the commons: if you don’t pick them when you find them, someone else will, so the little porcini never get the chance to mature. We all lose, and the potential harvest is drastically reduced: my 500g porcini was only 50g a few days ago. B edulis production in Christchurch was estimated to be several tonnes per annum when they were first identified about ten years ago, but I would suggest that it’s a fraction of that now, thanks to picking pressure. If it weren’t for one or two spots I know…

Clean and slice your porcini. Don’t wash the mushroom – it could absorb water and become mushy. Just wipe it free of dust and earth with a damp cloth. Trim the stalk, and remove sections that have been badly eaten by maggots. In the case of last night’s porcini, the little buggers were chewing through the base of the stalk, but the cap was untouched. The pores were beginning to turn greenish yellow (from white), the sign that the fruitbody’s spore production is maturing. That’s another reason why picking small is a bad idea. The baby mushrooms get no chance to dump spores into the environment, to produce fresh mycelium to infect the roots of the trees around. This gives other fungi an advantage in the war for root space, especially those that don’t get picked, or don’t rely on fruitbodies to reproduce.

Go to your butcher and buy 500g of his best bacon. It should be dry cure, or at least not stuffed full of water in the curing, and have a reasonable amount of fat — neither lean nor streaky. Pop into the cheese shop and buy some parmesan (reggiano, of course). Avail yourself of some fresh flat leaf parsley and good garlic. We have flat leaf parsley growing wild round the farm, thanks to a previous owner who diligently scattered seeds everywhere, and my father’s kitchen garden produces excellent garlic. If you have time, make some fresh pasta, and slice it into tagliatelle. I didn’t have time, so used some very high quality dried linguine.

Fill your largest pot  with water and put it on the fire (shades of de Pomiane there — a deliberate homage: thanks for the introduction all those years ago Paul), and put in more salt than you could possibly believe necessary — not enough for a 10% brine, but enough that the water tastes distinctly salty. When it’s boiling, take it off the heat, and start preparing the sugo (sauce). Chop the bacon into bite sized pieces and fry it in some extra virgin olive oil in your largest pan until it sizzles and is beginning to brown. The time this takes will depend on the amount of water in the bacon. Put the water back on the heat and bring it back to the boil. Add enough pasta to feed two, three or four people: I used 300g for three. My pasta was supposed to take 10-12 minutes to cook — it took longer, it always does. Add the porcini to the bacon and carry on frying, stirring regularly. Add some salt (lovingly hand evaporated from the sea of your choice) and pepper (freshly ground). Peel/smash three cloves of garlic and chop them up, then add them to the bacon and mushrooms. Wash and chop a large handful of parsley, and grate enough parmesan for your purposes.

After ten minutes, start testing the pasta for doneness. Keep stirring the frying pan. Just before you drain the pasta, add the parsley to the frying pan and stir it in well. Add the strained pasta to the frying pan and thoroughly toss it in the sugo. Serve on to large plates, offer the parmesan and some red wine. My choice was Te Mata Woodthorpe Cabernet Merlot (a snip at about NZ$19 at the moment), but my good lady wife – whose favourite this dish is – preferred the Chardonnay. There’s no pleasing some people.

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