Starting around October every year families across the Amalfi Coast take to the hills in search of poricini. Usually Saint Francis day on October 4th signifies a welcome change in seasons. Switching swimming for hiking, we climb deep into the towering mountains that spread from Positano all the way to Vietri sul mare. For the keen observer, any hiking trip can subtly reveal a multitude of wild edibles- the king of which is the porcini mushroom.
The porcino (porcini is actually the plural form) lurks under leaves and hides in crannies formed by tree roots. It is often a solitary mushroom unlike the chiodino mushroom which grow in impressive tumbling clusters. Regionally, the best place to find the porcini is high into the Monti Lattari mountain range, the spine that forms the Amalfi Coast. Old contandini have secret foraging grounds and know just how long after a heavy rain to begin searching for the prominently capped fungus.
To find a hidden porcini is a triumph. I have located exactly two porcini throughout my tenure on the Amalfi Coast. One identification was heavily aided by a local shepherd who grew concerned after I nearly mistook a toxic mushroom for a prized porcini. The other was solo magic and as I placed the domed mushroom in my foraging basket, I knew that risotto would be its fate.
Unfortunately, it is both very difficult and prohibitively expensive to cook with whole fresh porcini in the United States. And while you can forage for them, the practice is less common. I have adapted the classic recipe to use a mix of dried porcini and cremini mushrooms. It boasts a powerfully earthy flavor and is affordable to prepare.
Porcini Risotto Recipe
Serves 8 as a primo (first course)
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 celery rib
1 whole white onion sliced in half
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lb cremini mushrooms dry brushed clean and sliced (don’t wash mushrooms with water!)
2 diced shallots
1 sprig thyme leaves
Dash of white pepper
2 cups vacuum sealed Arborio or Carnaroli rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon salted butter (Kerry Gold is my favorite)
1 ½ cups grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese
Soak dried porcini in 1 cup of hot water to reconstitute, leaving in water for 20 minutes
Remove porcini from water, set aside and save soaking liquid
Bring eight cups of water to a boil in a large stock pot
Add porcini soaking liquid, celery rib, carrot, white onion and salt
Reduce to a simmer for two hours
While stock is simmering, dice soaked porcini and heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in wide skilled over medium heat
Sauté porcini and cremini mushrooms in olive oil and set aside
Heat remaining olive oil in a Dutch Oven
Sauté diced shallots with thyme leaves and white pepper until soft and faintly yellow (not singed!) over medium heat
Add rice and toss with wooden spoon to coat in fat
Reduce heat to medium low
Ladle simmering vegetable stock into rice mixture one cup at a time and stir with wooden spoon
As rice absorbs liquid gradually ladle in more simmering stock (it will take several rounds of ladling and stirring— about 20 minutes for rice to plump to rich, edible consistency)
When rice is cooked through but not mushy (taste a grain if you like), remove Dutch Oven from heat, add butter without stirring and close with lid for 60 seconds
Open Dutch Oven, stir in Parmesan, mushroom mixture (save a bit to garnish rice at end) and a final half ladle of stock—Risotto should be all’onda—wavy but NOT soupy
Plate in shallow bowls and garnish with remaining mushrooms, finely grated cheese and thyme sprig
Serve immediately with spoons! Risotto is best enjoyed when hot and eaten with a spoon. Italians like to flatten the rice mound with the back of the spoon causing aromatic vapours to release into the air and slightly cooling the risotto before eating. Pure comfort food!