In case you missed it, last month I joined forces with two Bologna bloggers — Teresa of the Gourmand Traveller and Sarah of Bologna With Love — to form BoBu (Bologna Bloggers Unite). This month, the BOBu bloggers are writing about Autumn.
Autumn is, hands down, my favorite season to be in Italy. September is my favorite month of all. The weather is not too hot, not too cold, and the sun usually shines unhindered for at least the first month of fall. It’s the perfect weather for hiking (one of my usual favorite pastimes, although I injured my knee in July and haven’t been able to hike this year). The cooler weather gives you permission to slow down, a welcome repose after frenetic summer fun. It’s weather that invites you into cozy trattorie and complements the hearty cucina Bolognese.
Autumn brings some of my favorite foods: figs, persimmons, winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower, chestnuts, beets, celery root, and kale. And, fall brings the wild mushrooms much celebrated in Italian cuisine– funghi. When I think of fall in Italy, one image I picture is me, exhausted and content after a long hike, digging into a warm plate of tagliatelle ai funghi (pasta with wild mushrooms) at a mountain rifugio (alpine hut/restaurant). Another is of me savoring the simple, but delicious dish uova al tartufo nero (fried eggs topped with shaved black truffle) humbly served on a white plastic plate at a local mushroom festival. From late September into November, you can find Italians celebrating their beloved funghi at sagre (food festivals) throughout Emilia-Romagna and Italy. At the sagre, you can taste samples of typical mushroom dishes and buy mushroom-based products (fresh and dried mushrooms, infused oils and butters, and more). Throughout the fall, you can also find fresh wild mushrooms for sale at Bologna’s farmers’ markets and in Bologna’s historic shopping district, the Quadrilatero.
With this blog post in mind, I have been taking note of all the funghi that have crossed my path over the last couple of weeks.
I came across porcini secchi (dried porcini mushrooms). These are a great pantry staple, because they can last for up to a year if stored properly. Dried porcini are primarily used for flavoring. You extract the flavor by reconstituting the dried mushrooms in warm water and then use the resulting mushroom stock to give an umami punch to soups, stews, and risottos. The reconstituted porcini can also be used in recipes like fresh ones, though their texture is different.
I found a variety of fresh porcini at the Mercato della Terra (Saturday morning Slow Food Market), at the Forgotten Fruits sagra in Casola Valsenio, and at La Baita shop in the Quadrilatero (via Pescherie Vecchie 3/A). Fresh porcini have a nice, meaty texture and a more mild taste than dried porcini. The mushroom vendor at La Baita, Gualtiero, is very knowledgeable about his wares and happy to answer questions. Gualtiero told me that the flavor of porcini can vary depending on what type of tree the mushrooms were growing near. The porcini in the top part of the photo below were harvested near castagno (chestnut) trees. A staple dish on many Bolognese restaurant menus is tagliatelle con i funghi porcini.
There was a sign in La Baita shop advertising the Fungo Porcino IGP di Borgotaro, a porcino mushroom marked with the IGP certification (Indicazione Geografica Protetta or Protected Geographical Indication) from the town Borgo Val di Taro. I learned that Borgo Val di Taro, in the province of Parma about two hours from Bologna, hosts a porcino festival in late September every year. I also discovered that James Gandolfini Senior, father of actor James Gandolfini, was born in Borgo Val di Taro.
At La Baita, I also spotted the rare, egg-shaped ovoli mushrooms, or Caesar’s mushrooms. These mushrooms are often served raw, thinly sliced, and dressed with a little olive oil and a drop of white-wine vinegar or lemon juice; though the picture below notes these particular ovoli are solo da cucinare (only for cooking).
I came across galletti mushrooms, also known as finferli, gallinacci, or chanterelles. I saw galletti mushrooms at La Baita, the sagra in Casola Valsenio, and, on numerous occasions, at the Sunday morning farmers’ market in Piazza Carducci. I ate galletti last winter when we were in the Alpe di Siusi (where they called them finferli) on top of the spinach pasta gnocchetti tirolesi. In Emilia-Romagna, galletti are also typically served with tagliatelle pasta.
This week, La Baita had Black Chanterelles or Black Trumpets, known as Trombetta dei morti (Trumpets of death), which are cherished for their earthy, smoky flavor. They are named such because they usually appear in markets around the beginning of November near the Commemorazione dei Defunti (All Soul’s Day).
I spotted the prized and pricey truffle, both black truffles and the more expensive white truffles, which are typically served shaved over a dish. Not everyone is crazy about the flavor of truffle, but I’m a fan. I’m especially fond of the fried egg and truffle combo. Last year, I went to the Sagra del Tartufo Bianco (White Truffle Festival) in Savigno about 40 minutes outside Bologna, and I hope to return this year (takes place the first three Sundays in November). I also learned from fellow BOBu Blogger Teresa that there is a truffle festival in Dovadola, located outside Forli about 1h 15m from Bologna (October 19 & 26 this year). In addition to these festivals, there are an abundant number of truffle-related celebrations throughout the province of Bologna from October into November, collectively marketed as Tartufesta (see details here). If fresh truffles are too much for your wallet or you can’t travel with them, you can buy truffle oil to add the flavor and aroma of truffle to a dish; though you should note most truffle oils are not made from actual truffles, but from synthetic flavorings.
Speaking of truffles, this week Luke ate at Danilo & Patrizia, a restaurant in Bologna praised for their primi, and they served him a unique dish: red-colored tortelloni filled with squacquerone cheese and topped with black truffle. This is an unusual dish because Bolognese tortelloni are typically filled with ricotta cheese and are yellow in color from the egg-based pasta dough (not red).
The typical mushroom dishes you see on menus in Emilia-Romagna are tagliatelle con i funghi porcini (the most commonly seen), tortelloni ai funghi porcini, lasagne ai funghi porcini, crostini con funghi (toast topped with mushrooms), cotoletta alla Petroniana con tartufo (chicken cutlet with truffle, named after Bologna’s patron saint Petronius), scaloppine ai funghi porcini (veal with mushrooms), and filetto ai funghi porcini (beef fillet with mushrooms). Not as common in Emilia-Romagna, some of my favorite mushroom dishes are risotto al tartufo nero (risotto with black truffle), risotto ai funghi , and farro risotto with porcini. Emiko Davis, a food writer who lived in Florence for many years, has some appetizing mushroom recipes on her blog and elsewhere including fried eggs with truffle, fried porcini, pappardelle with ovoli, and polenta crostini with mushrooms.
Autumn in Italy has captured my heart. It’s the slow Sundays where I find myself lingering at a sagra in a small town I had never heard of before, surrounded by Italian families and impressive views, that I fully realize that I live in Italy and that I live in a special place. The celebrations around Italy’s mushrooms and other fall harvests also serve as a reminder that both food and life in Italy follow the seasons. While Americans are in the middle of a farm-to-table revival, eating seasonally is something Italians have been proudly doing all along.
Please comment and share your mushroom stories. What’s your favorite Italian mushroom dish? Any tips on cooking or shopping for Italian mushrooms?
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