Porcini mushrooms are a deliciously nutty gourmet mushroom frequently used in Italian cuisine, although they are undoubtedly delicious in many other kitchens as well.
The porcini encompasses a few different species of the mushroom. The boletus edulis, or what is commonly referred to as the king bolete, is the most common variety and is the porcini mushroom most familiar to consumers.
The Edible Porcini Mushroom
Porcino, or porcine, means “piglet” in Italian. These edible mushrooms are also known as the king bolete, cepe (in France), penny bun (England), and Steinpilz (which means “stone mushroom” in German).
The caps can grow up to 12 inches in diameter and be a bit sticky in texture. They are usually brown or a slightly reddish-brown.
The spores under the cap are spongy. If you look closely, you’ll notice that they are entirely different looking from other mushrooms that typically have more traditional gills. The underside looks like a bunch of tubes rather than gills. These are designed to release the spores. Fresh porcini mushrooms will emit a smell similar to that of fresh sourdough bread, a bit musty and sour.
Porcini mushrooms have an unusually thick stem, making them even more unique in appearance. Porcini mushrooms are generally far denser than other fungi. In fact, one porcini mushroom can weigh up to 2 pounds when fully matured!
Porcinis are most commonly found in hardwood and coniferous forests near pine trees, as well as chestnut, hemlock, and spruce trees. They tend to fruit in the late summer through the fall.
Cultivation of Porcini Mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms are mycorrhizal, which means they create a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the plants or trees that they grow near. Because of the unique aspects of this type of relationship, porcini mushrooms aren’t easily cultivated and require relatively perfect conditions to create the ideal little porcini. In fact, attempts at mass production mostly fail because to recreate the symbiotic relationship on a mass scale is pretty impossible.
It is possible to grow your own porcini mushrooms using a bit of corrugated cardboard and porcini spores. This can be a relatively inexpensive alternative to finding freshly harvested porcini mushrooms in the peak of the season.
If you don’t have a green thumb or loads of time, dried versions are available year round, which makes them slightly more convenient for your porcini cooking desires.
Health Benefits of Porcini Mushrooms
Like many other fungi, porcini mushrooms are unusually high in protein and make a fantastic meat substitute in vegetarian or vegan dishes, particularly considering their slightly nutty flavor and meaty texture, much like the shiitake mushroom but with more of an earthy flavor.
In fact, according to an article in Science Direct, dried porcini mushrooms contain more protein per ounce than any other vegetable replacement protein source other than soybeans. Rehydrated porcini mushrooms also have more dietary fiber than other mushrooms.
Dietary fiber has long been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer, but beyond this, dietary fiber has been shown to improve memory and even prevent some infectious diseases! It’s a highly impactful nutrient, and utilizing natural food sources is a fantastic way to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. Dietary fiber is typically limited to plant foods, and porcini mushrooms are a preferred option to increase your daily dietary fiber intake.
Porcini mushrooms have also been found to aid in the absorption of nutrients from other foods. A study featured in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology found that including porcini mushroom powder while cooking pasta actually helped the pasta retain its nutritional composition by preventing it from absorbing too much water.
Dried Porcini Mushrooms
Due to the short harvesting season and somewhat limited availability of fresh porcinis, it is far more common to find the dried variety in your local grocery store or specialty store. If you can find whole dried mushrooms, that is ideal. Look for a strong smell and avoid any packages that have crushed or crumbled pieces. The flavor will likely not be as strong when they are rehydrated.
Fresh porcini mushrooms are more commonly sold in Europe, but don’t despair; you can find them in North America too. Although it is possible to find a local distributor or harvester, particularly at a local farmers market, it’s best to ask around to learn about any sellers if you’re looking for fresh mushrooms.
When buying fresh porcini mushrooms make sure only to purchase young varieties. If the cap is dark, soft, or covered with a bunch of black spots, the porcini mushroom will be too mature for eating. Check the underside of the cap for these same signs to be sure. Additionally, if the underside has a green hue it is past its edible state.
Worms are particularly fond of porcini mushrooms. Be sure to check the stalk for small holes. While harmless, they could eat your fresh mushrooms before you do!
Cooking with Porcini Mushrooms
Preparing porcini mushrooms with both dried and fresh mushrooms is a bit similar, although you’ll need to add extra time to rehydrate the dried variety.
Rehydrating Dried Porcini Mushrooms
Bring a pot of water to a roaring boil. Add the mushrooms so that the water completely covers them. Reduce heat and cover for 15-20 minutes. You can use the mushroom water as a replacement for other liquid or as a stock in your recipe for a bit of extra flavor.
After draining, chop and add to your recipe as instructed.
Fresh Porcini Mushroom Cooking
When working with fresh porcini mushrooms, it’s essential to clean them first by brushing them with a damp cloth after you have checked for worms. Do not wash them with water, especially hot water, unless you will be using them right away. Wet mushrooms can become soft or mushy if left to sit for too long.
After you have cleaned your mushrooms, chop and add to your recipe as instructed.
Porcini mushrooms add a scrumptious umami punch when grilled or stewed with a few sprigs of fresh or dried thyme. They make a mean wild mushroom risotto or pasta as well. Enjoy our Easy Porcini Mushroom Tomato Bruschetta below!
Easy Porcini Mushroom Tomato Bruschetta
This simple recipe can be used with either fresh or dried porcini mushrooms. For purposes of convenience, we’ve described the recipe instructions with dried porcinis. If you come upon fresh mushrooms, it’s a simple adjustment (and really, if you find fresh porcini mushrooms grab ‘em and cook ‘em! You won’t be disappointed)!
Ready In: 40 Minutes
- 1 half package of dried mushrooms, or approximately 4 whole porcini mushrooms
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 plum tomatoes
- A splash of crisp white wine to taste
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a nonstick pan or pot over medium-high heat.
- Add garlic and sauté until it’s fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- While the garlic cooks, roughly chop the porcini mushrooms and break the tomatoes up with your fingers.
- Add mushrooms to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. They will release quite a bit of water and shrink as a result. This is the desired effect.
- Toss in tomatoes and their juice and the thyme. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- Add a splash of white wine to help rehydrate the mushrooms and flavor the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve with fresh bread or over pasta.
- Porcini mushrooms: Contain the highest amount of protein for any plant per ounce except for soybeans. Rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber.
- Plum tomatoes: High in lycopene, which has been shown to help prevent cancer.
- Garlic: Daily consumption of garlic is linked to a reduction in cholesterol. Garlic can also help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and healthy monounsaturated fats.
- White wine: Contains many healthy antioxidants, lowers cholesterol, and may just reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Fresh bread: Sprouted grain bread is best to provide protein, folate, and vitamin C.
- Pasta: Many varieties contain enriched nutrients, including iron, folic acid, and several B vitamins. Whole wheat pasta provides 25% of the daily requirement for fiber.