It’s been a good fall for mushrooms, with plenty of rain followed by some warm, sunny days. I’ve been out in the woods looking for boletes — being careful not to trample the pine needle duff in their favorite settings as I go.
There are lots of different boletes out there. They like woods like ours, where the understory is fairly open, the ground is sandy, and the trees are mixed oaks and pines. I’m after the Boletus edulis, which you might know by their Italian name, porcini. They’re beloved in Europe and though I don’t know what they’re called in Russian, I know Russians come here from as far away as Boston to pick them.
Boletes have a meaty texture and rich flavor. The best-tasting ones are golden brown, the color of a particularly vivid fallen oak leaf, or maybe a well-baked biscuit. My friend Richard, who first showed them to me, says they look like just toasted hamburger buns from above, and I think he’s right. The undersides are spongy — no gills! — and either white or yellow.
Richard taught me to cut them from the bottom of the stem and then cover the area with dirt and leaf litter so that any exposed mycelia — the tiny root systems important to both mushrooms and forests — don’t dry out.
Some foragers pickle their haul in vinegar. I’ve filed pickling into the “good for you, not for me” kitchen tip category, and while I aspire to pulling out my dehydrator and lining it with thinly sliced boletes, I keep eating what I bring home before that happens.
The thing is that boletes are just asking for a frying pan and butter. Garlic, too, and maybe a bit of onion or a leek. A pinch of salt, and a slice of bread grilled in oil, and you have yourself a well-foraged meal.
This recipe came to me originally from Richard Bailey, an enthusiastic Wellfleet mushroom forager. He says boletes should be used very soon after harvesting and be handled carefully.
If you cut the bolete in half, just the way you might cut a sandwich in half, you’ll see that the mushroom is made of two distinct layers — the firm upper layer and the spongy under layer. If the boletes you’ve picked are not very young and fresh or are getting slightly past their prime, you can peel off the spongy under layer and cook only the firm top layer. Please note: you do not have to do this — there’s nothing dangerous about the under layer — but it’s the part that can add a somewhat slimy texture as the mushroom ages.
1/4 pound boletes, sliced thin
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt to taste
optional: plain pasta or toast, as a vehicle
Slice your boletes gently, as they bruise easily. Set them aside while you melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. When the pan is hot, add the onions and sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Then add the boletes — try to arrange them in a single layer across the bottom of the skillet. Cook for about 10 minutes without flipping or stirring — or until they release their juices and begin to get dry. Then flip them and do the same on the other side. Serve hot, tossed over pasta or layered onto a piece of toast.