Porcini mushrooms are popular for their large size and distinctive taste. The word porcini means “piglet” in Italian and is sometimes used to describe several mushroom species of the Boletus genus; however, the term is usually applied specifically to Boletus edulis. These mushrooms are native to parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Cooks use them in a variety of ways in almost any recipe that calls for mushrooms. People harvest porcinis from the wild, and the mushrooms are usually available fresh only in their local ranges.
They are quite distinctive in their size and coloring and are rarely confused with other mushrooms. Porcinis are brown or reddish brown and grow to 12 inches (30 cm) tall with 14-inch (35-cm) caps. Their dense texture contributes to their heavy mass. Porcini mushrooms can weigh up to 6.6 lbs. (3 kg), although smaller specimens make better cooking ingredients. Unlike most mushrooms, porcinis do not have gills; rather, tubes located on the underside of the caps spread their spores.
This type of mushroom should be cooked before being eaten as they can cause stomach upset if eaten raw. Chefs brush porcini mushrooms with butter and grill, sauté, or cook them along with other recipe ingredients. These versatile mushrooms can be boiled, fried, or baked. They are popular in many Italian dishes and make a flavorful addition to soups and salads. Their large caps make them the perfect base for a variety of stuffed mushroom recipes.
Aside from freshly harvested, people can find them dried, canned, or frozen. There is also a pickled version as well as oils flavored with porcinis. When preparing fresh porcini mushrooms, cooks remove the tubes under the cap and the base of the stem before cooking. The dried form is very popular, as their flavor intensifies when dried. Dried porcinis need to be soaked in hot water for 20 minutes to reconstitute them.
Porcinis grow on the ground in hardwood forests and often thrive near trees such as pines, hemlocks, and chestnuts. They reach harvestable size in summer and fall. These mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the trees they grow near, and efforts to grow them commercially have not had much success. Farmer's markets or roadside stands sometimes boast fresh porcinis. In Italy, due to intensive harvesting, pickers must obtain a special permit to collect these mushrooms.