After reading Sally's post at Mixed Greens about foraging the tender young beginnings of stinging nettles on Orcas Island in advance of February, I took a quick gander in a local Seattle park to see where we were at. Sure enough, the first sprouts are up, with maybe an inch of clearance and a couple leaves saying hi. Not quite as burly as those early island specimens, but above ground nonetheless.
This put me in a springtime mood, which led in turn to thoughts of spring kings, the spring porcini mushrooms we get on the east slopes of the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas. They've been called spring kings for the longest time because they resemble the king bolete (Boletus edulis) yet lacked—until recently—an official scientific name. That's all changed with their new classification, which you can read about here. I've still got some of these tasty suckers in my freezer, buttons foraged last year. It occurs to me that my experiments with frozen spring porcini were one of 2008's great successes. Now I can feel free to cook recipes that call for fresh porcini any time of year. The spring variety, Boletus rex-veris, lends itself in particular to freezing because it's largely hypogeous—that is, it grows mostly underground, sheltered from the elements—while summer and fall boletes are epigeous, growing mainly on the ground. Spring kings can be dug up while still in the button phase and quite small and hard, making them a better candidate for the freezer.
That said, rex-veris is not edulis; it's a milder variety of porcini, which is why I like to goose it with some dried porcini for backup. Drying helps to concentrate the earthy essence of porcini, and though the reconstituted mushrooms won't have the same firm texture of fresh, they'll make up for it with an abundance of flavor. In the depths of winter a two-barreled shot of frozen and dried is about as good as it gets.
Stewed Pork Loin with Porcini
I found this recipe replicated online at several sites, so I won't bother to source it. Besides, there were a couple eccentric directives that I skipped or altered. Also, I added the dried mushrooms to give it a double-whammy of porcini action, in this case a handful of Leccinums. You can substitute store-bought mushrooms in the likely case that you don't have a freezer full of spring porcini, but try to find some dried porcini at your local quality market to get that rich, nutty porcino flavor. Oh, and despite the fact that you'll use three pans, a blender, and play hide the pork loin a couple times, this is actually an easy recipe. Really.
1 1/2 lb pork loin
1 lb fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced
1-2 oz dried porcini mushrooms, crumbled and rehydrated with enough warm water to cover
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
6 tbsp olive oil
2 cups white wine
2/3 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
flour for dredging
1. Wash and pat dry pork loin, then salt and dredge in flour. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in pan and brown loin on all sides. Remove to plate.
2. In deep pan or Dutch Oven saute half the fresh mushrooms, garlic, and bay leaves in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over moderate heat. Remove the bay leaves when the mushrooms begin to brown. Deglaze with a cup of wine, then add another cup of wine plus the partial cup of stock. Stir in the re-hydrated mushrooms with their liquid and a pinch of oregano, return meat to pot, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, turning loin a few times.
3. Remove meat from pot and with an immersion blender blend the contents (or, alternatively, use a food processor). Meanwhile in a separate pan, saute remaining sliced mushrooms in a tablespoon of olive oil until slightly browned. Return the mushrooms and meat to the pot with the blended sauce and cook uncovered until sauce reaches desired consistency and pork is fork-tender.
Slice pork and serve with a generous ladle of sauce over baked (or grilled) polenta squares. Garnish with a little chopped parsley. Devour with an Oregon Pinot Noir and dream about the spring porcini mycelia that are starting to stir.