New York City chef Gabriel Thompson falls hard for porcini mushrooms
Ten years ago while on a two-month backpacking trip through Europe, Gabriel Thompson, executive chef and co-owner of West Village gems L’Artusi and Dell’anima, fell hard for Italian cuisine – and their beloved porcini.
These ethereal, chestnut-hued wild edibles fill the forests of Piedmont and Tuscany, and are named for their stocky shape, which in Italian means “piglet.” The ancient Romans considered them a delicacy and as they haven’t been cultivated, they remain the most sought-after mushroom on Italian tavolas.
Thankfully, they can also be found in the Pacific Northwest, where the temperate climate is ripe for these fungi to sprout. But discovering them takes a keen eye, as they are semi-submerged in the earth and often completely covered by fallen leaves and pine needles. Thompson, who curates a bevy of ingredients from the farmers market, has found a source through purveyor Ian Purkayastha and his distribution company P.A.Q. NYC. His crop hails from Washington State, where his foragers also hand select chanterelles, black trumpets, hedgehogs and morels.
When the harvest begins, Thompson will prepare a Tajarine di Porcini with the crop. “They are hearty and robust, and lend themselves so well to pasta,” Thompson explains. “It’s a truly luxurious, rich, tasty dish.” To make his fresh pasta, he uses the Emilia-Romagna technique using more egg yolks and no water in the dough. The porcinis themselves are sautéed in brown butter and garlic and infused with a sprig of thyme and a tiny bit of white wine. To finish, he adds a mushroom stock intensified by steeping stems and dried porcinis in the liquid.
The porcini season runs from mid-September through November, though it is hard to predict precisely when the first ones will poke their caps above ground. “They pop up overnight, “ Thompson says, “and they go away as fast as they arrive.”
Sadly, so will his ephemeral Tajarine di Porcini. Get a taste while you can.