Get your fill of ‘shrooms this fall by foraging and cooking, with inspiration from Zino Ristorante’s porcini dinner
Special to the Daily
The local mushroom harvest has been abundant this season, and as Zino Ristorante co-owner and executive chef Nick Haley explained at a dinner on Aug. 14, foraging edible fungi can be just as enjoyable as preparing and eating it.
“I get excited every year for the mushroom season because it’s a way for me to decompress out in the forest, especially because I work in such a busy environment where it’s kind of stressful,” Haley said. “I use it as an opportunity to get out there and go on this treasure hunt and have a peaceful time in the forest that I really enjoy.”
I agree that finding mushrooms in the forest is fun — a true treasure hunt, yet my favorite part of this mushroom season was at that dinner when Haley created a four-course, porcini-inspired meal at Zino alongside Italian wine selections from Fontanabianca.
Mushrooms and wine
“Porcini mushrooms grow in Italy hand-in-hand with grapes,” said Zino partner and general manager Giuseppe Bosco. “It’s the perfect pairing and chef Nick worked so hard to balance each course specifically to the personality of each wine.”
A Vitello Tonnato of sliced veal, caper and tuna aioli was topped with shaved pocinis and paired with a Arneis Lange Bianco wine — full-bodied with a tight, fresh palate and a fruity finish. Haley’s second and third course were my favorite: Porcini Ravioli with quail egg, house ricotta ravioli, porcini and sage brown butter, served with a medium-bodied Dolcetto, followed by a Porcini Risotto topped with fresh parmesan and served alongside a 2016 Barbera. For the final course, a pour of Barbaresco “Bordini” went beautifully with Waygu steak, caramelized onions and purple potatoes, finished with a Nebbiolo reduction.
“I’ve been cooking with mushrooms since I worked in Italy and for the past 17 years here in the valley,” Haley said. “I really love them, and the porcini mushrooms are so earthy and there are so many classic Italian dishes that pair well with them — they are just meant to be together.”
Haley lived in northern Italy, where Italian porcini mushrooms are harvested, and he’s especially fond of them with Italian wine.
“And I love that most Italian winemakers, like the Fontanabianca family, are farmers and have such a passion for what they do,” Haley said. “When you go to Italy, they are just so proud of their product that they want you to try it because it’s something that they have had in their family for generations, so they are definitely proud of what they produce and they bring that energy to every dinner.”
As described by the Fontanabianca winery, the wine welcomes “the taste of the territory of Neive, rich in perfumes and elegance.” Mushrooms, like grapes, tell a story of their native land, the terroir.
Every year, depending on what the valley provides, Haley said he incorporates mushrooms into special menu items for as long as possible.
“It has been an ideal mushroom season with all the snow this past winter, and we also had good rainfall in the beginning of summer,” he said. “It really has to do with a lot of rainfall and hot temperatures, which we had.”
Haley said the best way to tell how great of a mushroom season we’re having is to go camping. He said to notice when there is morning dew lifting off the forest floor, creating a mist.
“This year we had really good porcinis, but now it’s kind of drying up because we haven’t had any rain in three weeks,” Haley explained. “We should be getting chanterelles right now. But I feel like we may not get chanterelles this year — it’s still possible if we start to get some rain, but we need to get some moisture here pretty quickly. It can turn off as fast as it turns on.”
Mushroom season generally lasts until the first frost, he added.
“That could be middle of September, or really early,” Haley added. “So it’s really on Mother Nature to decide what we’re gonna get.”
From the Kitchen
For some inspiration in your kitchen, here is a porcini recipe from Zino Ristorante co-owner and executive chef Nick Haley.
Porcini Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage
Serves about 5
1 kg flour
30 egg yolks
1 lb. ricotta cheese
½ lb. porcini mushrooms
For brown butter:
6 oz. butter
4 oz. porcini mushrooms
Salt and pepper
Ravioli pasta: In a mixer, mix the flour and slowly incorporate egg yolks. Roll out sheets of pasta with a rolling pin or use a pasta roller. Set aside in the fridge.
Ravioli filling: Slice the porcini mushrooms and sauté in olive oil with sage. After mushrooms are cool, chop them. Mix your chopped mushrooms with ricotta cheese, chopped sage, parmesan, egg yolks, salt and pepper. Place filling inside pastry bag. Place sheets on table and lightly brush with egg wash. Put a half-ounce of mushroom filling in 2“ x 2“ square, and place another sheet of pasta on top. Cut between the fillings with pasta cutter to form ravioli.
Brown butter: In a sauté pan, cook butter until it’s brown. Then add sage and mushrooms. Cook raviolis for about two minutes. Before draining the pot, save two ounces of pasta water to cook in the sauté pan with your brown butter sauce raviolis and serve.
Fall means food and wine festivals and also a chance to see the colors just starting to turn over Vail Pass during a bike ride for charity.