Rain these past few days and warm sun: mushroom time. I spotted a couple yesterday under the oak trees.
What memories of past mushroom hunts – and here is a note on funghi days:
In the late 70’s when we farmed our land, I often went mushrooming with my contadina (farmwoman) neighbors. When warm days followed a rain, it was time to put on rubber boots, grab a walking stick and basket and head for the woods.
Willow baskets were woven by the farmers at the fireside on winter nights – when the repairing of tools was done and also the making of necessary new implements. These baskets were used for the grape and olive harvests. But also for mushrooming: “così, le molliche arnascono”, as our neighbor Chiarina (and often my companion for hunting funghi) would say in Umbrian dialect. Rough translation: “so that the crumbs will be reborn” (ie, so that the spores will return to the heavy loam of the woods). Chiarina taught me the names of the mushrooms – and as a result, I do not use the botanical names of most of them but only their names in dialect.
Like every contadina (and contadino!), Chiarina had her favorite spots for funghi. (Rarely were funghi locations shared with anyone outside the immediate family). She knew where the precious porcini would pop through the earth; where to find the reddish and ivory-colored lardaie; the best spots for the bright yellow manine (by a stretch of the imagination, perhaps they did in fact resemble “little hands”). The famigliole (“little families”) popped in clusters under oak and poplar trees in open fields. The earth-colored puzzoni (or “stinkers” – easily distinguishable by the moldy smell under the cap) were omnipresent in our woods during mushroom season. If I went mushrooming on my own, I took my basketful to Chiarina or Mandina (my nearest farmwomen neighbors) to check them out, never quite trusting my own funghi-recognition capabilities. Now and then, we read in the papers about people ending up in the hospital with mushroom poisoning. The porcini and puzzoni especially have evil “twins”!
In December this year, we had rain followed by unseasonally warm weather. On the first sunny day, our daughter Giulia headed for the woods with her Papà. An hour later, they returned home triumphantly with overflowing baskets. Off we all went to see Chiarina. She and her mother, Antonia, inspected them for us (see photo). Some were discarded with admonitions of “o Dio mio!” but enough “passed” for delicious funghi tomato sauces and many side dishes of roasted mushrooms.
Mushrooms can be prepared in a variety of ways: the porcini are delicious any way that you cook them, eg, roasted on the grill with minced garlic, parsley and olive oil on top (the best way to cook puzzoni, too). The manine enhance any tomato sauce, whether for pasta or for polenta. Lardaie are tasty preserved under oil as an antipasto – or if prepared al funghetto, which means in fact “the way to cook mushrooms”.
Here is how to prepare mushrooms (even cultivated ones) al funghetto:
Cover the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and sauté one or two finely-minced garlic cloves in the oil til golden. Add mushrooms and simmer briefly til cooked. Add finely-chopped parsley just before done and salt to taste. Serve.
Zucchini and eggplant are often prepared al funghetto as well.
Read more on mushroom hunting – in Tuscany
Read more on on our rural life