Today’s interest is mushrooms, funghi. I’ve never been much of a mushroom fan, I’ve always made and enjoyed stuffed mushrooms, grilled portobellos and the like, but more often than not mushrooms are just not that appealing (to me anyways). I’ve only had stellar mushrooms a few times, once at an Asian restaurant where black trumpet mushrooms were mixed with some thai flavors and wrapped into a spring roll, the other was in Italy.
Mushrooms are a HUGE deal in Tuscany, especially the beloved Porcine (little piglet in Italian). The name makes sense, these short, stubby funghi are meaty, earthy, and ideal for any prep. Even in their dry form they cost an arm and a leg, but it’s worth it, the dry ones are like a umami bouillon, packed with more flavor than 20 fresh ones. Fresh is king when their in season tho, and there was one preparation I had which blew my mind and forced me to reconsider just how good these little guys can be. The cooking was so simple:
Smoking hot pan, little bit of oil, no salt until the end, and the addition of an herb, Nepitella, a form of thyme that taste like a mixture of mint, thyme, oregano, and rosemary all in one. This stuff is almost impossible to find in the states, but a mixture of said herbs or just one will still be delicious.
The dish was made by Martha Specht Corsi, a well known Fiorentino cook, who came to our school (Studio Art Centers International) in Firenze to give us a cooking lesson on some basic Tuscan dishes. Among the recipes were the ubiquitous Tuscan Chicken Liver Crostini, Gnocchi in Sage Butter, and this righteous mushroom recipe for crostini or on its own. Below is my interpretation of the dish, simple but elegant.
The mushrooms are so good it made me laugh, “why haven’t I been eating these more” I exclaimed, it was like a flavor homecoming and brought me back to my time in Piazza del Duomo cooking for all my roommates each night….good times. (that picture is from our bedroom, miss it)
Funghi alla Fiorentina
1 lb mushrooms (whatever’s in season, I found beautiful oysters and shiitakes – see top pic)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1-2 large sprigs of rosemary (or thyme, oregano, just something strong and earthy)
Splash of Chicken Stock
S & P, Peperoncino (chili flake)
Use a heavy pan, preferably ceramic coated for optimal browning. Put the pan on med-high heat while you pull the mushrooms into uniform pieces, a little larger than bite sized. Pulling them apart is much more gentle on the shrooms, plus it adds to the rustic quality of this dish. Add just enough oil to barely coat the pan and toss in the crushed garlic, brown just slightly. Once the garlic is golden toss in the mushrooms and leave it alone…just walk away for a minute. You’ll want to mess with the pan but don’t do it man! The shrooms will develop a beautiful little crust if you just leave them alone for a minute or two. Don’t add salt either, that will release their water too fast and you’ll have boiled shrooms, weak sauce.
Once the shrooms start to brown, toss them around in the oil and allow to settle and brown more and more. Once they’ve reduced in size by almost half toss in the herbs and just enough chicken stock to deglaze the pan and pick up all the tasty bits on the bottom. Squeeze a little lemon juice in for a fresh kick and to wake everything up. Cook until all the liquid evaporates and mangia! Serve as a side or on crostini.
Trust me when I say this taste pretty damn close to the real thing, only difference is the lack of porcine and nepitella, but we can improvise. The result should be slightly chewy, garlicky, herb covered bits of mushroom browned to perfection. The texture is the best part, almost al dente, none of that soggy, rubbery garbage. There are hundreds of mushrooms to try, each with its own distinct look, flavor, and texture so stay tuned for more shroom goodness. Enjoy dudes.