I swear I’m not trying to rub it in, but unless you are in central Italy, right now, and unless it rains again, you probably won’t be able to taste the elusive prugnolo mushroom.
There is a prugnolo cult in Umbria. Small signs pop up on restaurant windows simply announcing ‘prugnolo’. Nothing more. No dish is mentioned, no hint that it’s a spring mushroom; it’s an insider thing. That would be an insider who is willing to pay for her pleasure.
They were in the market the other day, slyly seducing me, pretending they were just another white button mushroom. Sprawled about in a basket, they lolled around waiting to be noticed. My favorite vegetable seller got a big grin on her face when I asked, “Prugnoli?” Now, the smile could have been because she liked the mushrooms, or it could have been the thought of a big sale that put the glint in her eye. Regardless, I was curious and wanted to play with those mysterious mushrooms.
As I was selecting my mushrooms, she admonished me to eat them whole, not to slice them. Then in a fit of possibly guilty generosity, she threw in two stalks of leek and told me to use them in the sauce.
l wasn’t really sure what to do with them but I thought a simple pasta with melted leek and sautéed prugnoli might be the perfect dressing to show off our funghi’s special flavor.
The leeks were thinly sliced, gently cooked in white wine and olive oil. The mushrooms were given a light cleaning and tossed into the warm leek mixture, cooking them just long enough to become tender. A final dusting of parsley and a swirl of sweet butter and the prugnoli came to our dinner table.
Did they live up to their hype? My first bite was .... disappointing. Maybe I was expecting the punch of a porcini mushroom, but instead it was a subtle sensation. The little mushrooms have a distinctive tooth: almost a crunch. The flavor is delicate, gently fragrant and it takes my jaded palate a moment to cool down and embrace that understated, yet complex flavor.
As I’m pondering my prugnoli pasta, I look up at my dining companions and we all realize we finished every last drop of pasta in our bowls, and that would be the definition of tasty!
Buon apetito for whatever is in season in your corner of the world!