Having recently returned from a heavenly (and ever so slightly greedy) three week drive around Italy, my head is still very much in Bella Italia when it comes to food and wine.  

Earthy Autumn flavours abound at the moment and as an “October Birthday Bunny”, I can never resist the woodland bounty of all sorts of mushrooms, funghi and of course, truffles!   Both here in the South of France and Italy, the markets are full of intoxicating scents of these versatile (and exquisitely low in calories!) little wonders.  

For wine matching, mushrooms also show themselves to be pretty adaptable.  They can complement rather than compete with quite aromatic, musky whites such as Viognier (the grape of Condrieu AC in the Northern Rhône), but now with increasing plantings and some delicious examples from Australia from producers such as Yalumba in the Barossa Valley 

However, they really start to take stride when partnered with earthy, moderately oaked red wines.   Which apart from shouting briefly (more of a bark, really) about an affinity with lightly oaked, youthful Spanish Rioja (usually labelled “crianza” as only having a matter of months rather than years maturing in vanilla scented oak barrels), brings me back to Italy.

North–west Italy to be precise, Piedmont and yes, the land of highly prized truffles (in and around Alba for amazing white truffles) and of course, Porcini mushrooms (known as Cepes here in France).  Wines made from the extraordinary complex and intense Nebbiolo grape make those mystical (and sorry – not cheap!!) wines, Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG.   With muscular tannins and classically deep flavours of “tar and roses”, good examples also have a definite hint of the forest floor on the nose – ahhhh Mushroom!   At this time of year, robust stews of beef and offal are often cooked or served with mushrooms and work marvellously with these velvety rich wines (give ‘em time though, you shouldn’t really be broaching a bottle of Barolo that is less than 5 years old!  It will be just too assertive and tough.)   

Also in Piedmont during the Autumn mushroom season, you are just as likely to be served, as part of the Antipasti, some raw (crudo) thinly sliced Porcini simply drizzled with a not too powerful olive oil and delicate shavings of Parmigiano – whilst your palate is still relatively fresh and before the onslaught of who knows how many more Italian dishes and courses, the “mushroominess” is at its most pure and the first few sips of your chosen Barolo or Barbaresco should be most at its most expressive and perfumed. 

Barolo DOCG – Leading producers (of many) Altare, Aschieri, Cavallotto, Ceretto, Conterno, Gaja, Mascarello, Pio Cesare, Prunotto, Voerzio

Barbaresco DOCG – Leading producers (of many) Castello di Nieve, Gaja, Giacosa, Marchesi di Gresy, I Paglieri, Rocca-Rabaja, Scarpa


“Angry Mushrooms on Toast (Bruschetta)”

Serves 2 Greedy People

Rather than limit this recipe to just “wild” mushrooms, I’ve included a handful of ordinary chestnut mushrooms to ease the burden on the pocket.  Unless of course you are a confident forager and happy to gather your own (preferably with a Guide to Edible Wild Mushrooms in your pocket), in which case this is a very cheap meal indeed and no need to add the chestnut mushrooms!

Like the wonderful English cookery writer, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, I “don’t see the point of elaborate mushroom recipes”!

Take approx 250g each of mixed Wild Mushrooms (ceps, girolles, chanterelles, trompette de mort, morels etc) and the same again of Chestnut Mushrooms.  Brush away (or dab with a sheet of kitchen towel) any loose dirt – you should NEVER wash mushrooms as they are so incredibly porous; they’ll instantly soak up any water.  Slice the larger mushrooms, halve or quarter the smaller ones (leave any really wee ones whole) so you end up with an array of similar sized pieces.  Melt a tablespoon (15ml) of Olive oil (don’t use your best Extra Virgin as it can be too pungent) in a decent size frying pan and add a clove of garlic, finely chopped.  Soften, then add the mushrooms.  Fry gently at first as they will start to release quite a lot of liquid, season with salt and pepper, a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, and then just before serving, a squeeze of lemon juice and if you like a kick, a pinch of cayenne pepper or the merest dash of Tabasco can lift it like anything!  A scattering of chopped parsley is optional (but inevitable if you are anything like my herb loving hubby!).

The toast versus bruschetta debate is again totally a matter of taste.   I particularly like a rustic loaf with quite open texture (like ciabatta in Italy or an artisan made “boule” loaf in France), rubbed lightly with a bulb of raw garlic, then drizzled with olive oil.   A hunk of an English cottage loaf, toasted and spread lusciously with butter works equally well.

Pile the hot mushrooms on top and eat immediately.   

As this will be a relatively inexpensive starter / lunch / supper dish – why not splash out on a decent Piemonte red – just make sure you’ve opened it (and preferably decanted or sloshed into another vessel to aerate it) before-hand.  Don’t want the magical mushrooms to get cold while you hunt out the corkscrew!

Helen Brotherton