PORCINI, FARRO, BORLOTTI, & FRESH OLIVE OIL
Porcini have such a refined and characteristic flavour that they don’t need a lot of adornment – just a bit of olive oil, a hot pan, a few drops of lemon, a touch of seasoning, and maybe a bit of parmesan if you're feeling fancy. To stay true to this simple preparation, but at the same time turn one or two mushrooms into a meal, this recipe looks to another classic Tuscan combination – that of farro and borlotti beans. Here, the stew of beans and grain is prepared separately to the porcini, but they are combined on the plate, brought together with a healthy splash of grassy green olive oil.
I experimented with two versions of this recipe – the first soupy, and warming, favouring a big shallow bowl, the second more ‘starter sized,’ almost a warm salad bed for the pan-tossed porcini… Both are pictured here, the only difference in the preparation is the amount of stock to add. I couldn’t decide which version I liked better in the end – it depends on the occasion I suppose!
- 1 leek – finely sliced (white part only)
- Small bunch of wild garlic – finely sliced, bulbs & tender leaves (or one clove of regular garlic - crushed)
- 100g dried borlotti beans (soaked overnight)
- 150g farro
- Up to 1 litre good quality vegetable stock
- Small handful of dried porcini
- 1-2 fresh porcini mushrooms, depending on size
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme – leaves picked
- 1 small lemon
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Handful of shaved parmesan
- Freshly bottled extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-based casserole and gently fry the leek and garlic together until soft.
Next, rinse the pre-soaked borlotti beans and add these to the pan. Add enough vegetable stock to comfortably cover the beans, then bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover, and continue to cook gently for 35 minutes. (Here in Italy beans are said to ‘grumble’ (brontolare) as they cook, a reference to the rumbling sound given off as bubbles of heat rise to the surface and burst with a plop… Incidentally, the same word describes the grumbling and growling of a grumpy person or brontolo!).
While cooking, peek under the lid occasionally to ensure that the beans have not dried out and add more stock if necessary.
Meanwhile, soak the dried porcini in a little boiling water, creating an infusion.
After the 35 minutes cooking time is up, add the farro to the pan with the beans, along with the soaked porcini, their soaking water, and another splash of stock. If you are aiming a soupy finish, add a lot of stock; add less if you want the grain to absorb most of the liquid. (Note that farro does not expand and take on liquid to quite the same degree as a lot of other grains you may be used to – barley tends to absorb a lot more liquid for instance).
Stir everything together, season with a generous amount of salt and pepper, and then allow to simmer for a further 25 minutes.
Prepare the fresh porcini by wiping off any dirt or grit with a damp cloth. Don’t be tempted to wash them with water as they readily loose their nutty flavour and firm texture if they absorb water.
Next, remove the very bottom of the mushroom stems with a knife (these tend to be very gritty), then cut thickly into slices, through both the stem and the cap, trying to keep these together in the process!
When the beans and farro are almost done, add a squeeze of lemon, half the thyme leaves, and half of the parmesan cheese. Stir together, and continue to cook over low heat while you fry the porcini.
Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet. When hot, add the sliced porcini, pressing these gently as they cook to ensure a good contact with the pan. Turn carefully when golden on one side, then toss in the remaining thyme leaves. When the mushrooms are looking lovely and golden all over, add a generous squeeze of lemon, and a little salt to season.
Spoon or ladle the beans into bowls, or onto plates, then top with the pan tossed porcini. Scatter the remaining parmesan, perhaps a little more thyme, and then drizzle all over with fresh green olive oil.