The sofa in­ci­dent

As the wild porcini be­gin pop­ping up through­out the lo­cal wood­lands, there’s no bet­ter time to en­joy the sig­na­ture of their nutty, earthy notes in a bowl of pasta with herbs – just make sure they’re picked by an ex­pe­ri­enced for­ager

The Guardian - Cook - - A Kitchen In Rome - Rachel Roddy Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome and won the Guild of Food Writ­ers food writer and cook­ery writer awards for this col­umn. Her new book, Two Kitchens (Head­line Home) is out now; @rachelal­iceroddy

My brother was more or less the age my son is now, six, when my friend and I fed him mush­room soup. As eight-year-old for­agers, we had found a clus­ter of mush­rooms un­der a tree in the wild un­tended bit at the bot­tom of the gar­den. See­ing no red cap or alarm­ing spots, we deemed them ed­i­ble and picked them. We had also found a hand­ful of black­ber­ries and some­thing suit­ably herby, so we put all three in warm wa­ter, stirred, then fed our soup to Ben be­hind the sofa. Ben went yel­low and cried for mum, who asked us calmly what we had done while her eyes gave away her pure and ab­so­lute panic.

It turned out they were only mildly nau­se­at­ing, and Ben was fine. The adults, though, were not. So trau­ma­tised were they that they didn’t even shout. In­stead, we were given the most earnest talk­ing to. Did we know how se­ri­ous this was? Had we any idea what could have hap­pened? I did. De­spite our sib­ling ri­valry, I did not want to mur­der my younger brother; a crime sure to make the front of the lo­cal pa­per. We were made to prom­ise we would never pick mush­rooms again. As yet, I haven’t.

I know a man who does, though. At this time of year, as au­tumn seeps slowly into the air and I cel­e­brate my birth­day, I hope to get a call from a friend telling me her dad has been on one of his quiet and de­ter­mined hunts in the chest­nut woods just out­side Rome. The Bo­le­tus edulis, or porcini, ar­rive wrapped in a cloth, their swollen stems like fat ba­bies’ legs, their caps the colour of ruddy chest­nuts. The flesh is quite unique – thick and nutty with a rich, al­most cus­tard-like qual­ity about it, which is why they are so good when fried or grilled. Porcini dry beau­ti­fully, and make su­perb wild gifts pre­served and stored in pack­ets ready to be soaked back to life, and give flavour and moral sup­port to meals or cul­ti­vated mush­rooms.

De­spite the sofa in­ci­dent, I am very fond of mush­room soup, es­pe­cially the Jane Grig­son/El­iz­a­beth David recipe, also mush­room risotto and an­chovy, and mush­room eggs. For all these recipes, I use cul­ti­vated mush­rooms, bol­ster­ing with wild when I can, ei­ther fresh or from a packet. A favourite way to pre­pare mush­rooms, though, both wild and tame, is to fry them in a mix­ture of olive oil and but­ter, along with gar­lic and plenty of finely chopped herbs. It is a straight­for­ward way, but one that seems to bring out the flavour and tex­ture of mush­rooms most beau­ti­fully. It is a dish for the whole year, but au­tumn is when it seems most ap­pro­pri­ate, as cook­ing slows down, and the olive oil rich dishes of the sum­mer de­mand a lit­tle but­ter. Or in this case, a lot of but­ter! Mush­rooms take and give: soak­ing up fat, but then giv­ing back in the form of in­tensely flavoured gravy, which you can re­duce. Mush­rooms pre­pared this way are de­li­cious on toast, but also stirred through pasta for an ex­tremely sat­is­fy­ing and tasty sup­per dish.

The ideal pasta for these mush­rooms is pap­pardelle – wide rib­bons of fresh egg pasta that cook into an al­most fab­ric-like silk­i­ness and so wrap them­selves around pieces of mush­room while col­lect­ing but­tery sauce and flecks of herbs. Al­ter­na­tively, tagli­atelle works well, too. In ei­ther case, homemade – I use 100g of flour and one egg per per­son – or dried pasta both work.

If you are lucky enough to know how to for­age, col­lect as many ed­i­ble va­ri­eties as you can. Al­ter­na­tively, buy a se­lec­tion of cul­ti­vated mush­rooms – but­ton, chest­nut, oys­ter – and bol­ster with a packet of dried porcini. In their recipe for mush­room pasta, Oretta Zanini De Vita and Mau­reen B Fant note the herbs should re­mind you of be­ing lost in the woods, and sug­gest a mix­ture of pars­ley, thyme and oregano, which do in­deed seem like some­where

wild and bosky ris­ing up out of the pan. They also de­scribe mush­room­ing in au­tumn in Italy, the quiet clam­ber on in­hos­pitable slopes, the torn skin and cloth­ing that arise from get­ting the best spec­i­mens. I like these words around a recipe, they re­mind me of my own child­hood ad­ven­ture – how­ever mis­guided – and make me won­der if this is the year I might try mush­room hunt­ing again.

Pasta with mush­rooms and herbs Serves 4

25g dried porcini 800g mush­rooms, mixed va­ri­eties, wild or cul­ti­vated 4 tbsp olive oil 120g but­ter 2 gar­lic cloves, peeled and finely chopped Salt and black pep­per Pars­ley, oregano and thyme, finely chopped 450g dried long pasta (ide­ally pap­pardelle or tagli­atelle) Parme­san, grated

1 Soak the porcini in warm wa­ter for 30 min­utes, then drain, re­serv­ing the liq­uid. Clean the other mush­rooms by brush­ing away any mud and then wip­ing the cap and stem with a damp cloth. Cut all the cleaned mush­rooms into slices; not too thin. Put a large pan of well-salted wa­ter on to boil in prepa­ra­tion for cook­ing the pasta.

2 In a large fry­ing pan, heat the oil and but­ter. Once the but­ter is foam­ing gen­tly, add the gar­lic and fry for a few min­utes. Add the porcini and cook for another minute to com­bine the flavours. Add the fresh mush­rooms. Sprin­kle with salt and pep­per and cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, for

5–6 min­utes, or un­til the mush­rooms have re­leased their wa­ter and are ten­der and glis­ten­ing. Add a lit­tle of the porcini liq­uid and let it all bub­ble for another minute to re­duce, then sprin­kle with the herbs.

3 Mean­while, cook the pasta un­til al dente. Drain and toss with the mush­rooms. Di­vide between bowls and serve, pass­ing around grated cheese for those who want it.

I hope to get a call from a friend telling me her dad has been on one of his quiet and de­ter­mined hunts

Cook’s tip

You could add a lit­tle pancetta in with the gar­lic, or fry some un­til crisp and sprin­kle it un­til top, prop­erly gild­ing the pasta lily.

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