My dad was in town the other day, and called me up for lunch at the last minute. Not so surprisingly we went to Piperno’s. This has been my father’s haunt for just about forty years, since we first lived in Rome in the ’70s. So, after four decades of going to the same restaurant, you’d think there’d be no surprises, right?
“Did you see what they have?!” my father asked as I sat down. Knowing my father – and the restaurant – I expected to see a 3 kilo spigola (seabass). But, for once, it wasn’t fish my dad was getting excited about. There were heaps and heaps of mushrooms!
Fall is always funghi time in Rome. But there are good years and bad years. This year, for whatever reasons – rain? sun? the moon?- the mushrooms are particularly good and plentiful.
At Piperno’s they had a huge platter of porcini, but also the much rarer ovoli. Ovoli are some of the strangest looking mushrooms you’re likely to see. They are egg- shaped (hence the name) and bright dayglo orange on the outside.
Our lunch? An obscenely big portion of ovuli salad, followed by perfectly grilled porcini.
I’m not sure why, but there isn’t a huge variety of mushrooms on offer in Rome. Porcini when they are in season. And sometimes ovoli, for a few short weeks a year. Lately I’ve been seeing chanterelles, but even oyster mushrooms are hard to get.
Today, on my way to lunch at Dittirambo (which, I have to say, was not great) I stopped by Campo dei Fiori and saw these on offer.
Where are all these mushrooms coming from? Well, that’s the mystery. The vendors always say they are from the countryside just outside of Rome. But for a while now I’ve heard people saying they come from Romania. I’m not sure why that is supposed to be bad, but the way people say it make it sounds like they might as well be frozen. I’m lucky because in my neighborhood, at the Calabrian store on Via dei Serpenti, they always have fantastic dried porcini, and – in season – big fat fresh ones, as well as crates of galinelle.
And yes, I do bring the dried ones back to the States as Christmas presents. I am pretty sure it’s not allowed, but….well, they make great presents. Ask my sisters.
Insalata di Ovoli
4 Ovoli (or, if you’re with my dad at Piperno, just let the waiter pile them up on your plate)
1 celery stalk
great olive oil
salt and pepper
Ovuli are never cooked. Their delicate flavor would disappear with heat. This salad is delicate and the best way to enjoy them.
Gently brush any dirt off the ovuli.
Slice thinly, lengthwise and place on platter.
Slice celery as thinly as possible, and scatter over top of mushrooms.
Squeeze lemon juice over, and drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper and toss gently.
Using a sharp knife of vegetable peeler, scatter some parmesan shavings on top.
Insalata di Spinaci e Gallinelle serves four as appetizer
4 cups of young, small spinach leaves
2 cups galinelle mushrooms
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Carefully wash the spinach, removing any tough stems. Dry completely and place in bowl.
Brush dirt off mushrooms and quarter each one lengthwise.
Heat frying pan large enough to hold all the mushrooms.
When hot, add pine nuts and stir until lightly toasted. Set aside the nuts.
In same pan, place 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and heat. When very hot, add mushrooms. Try to avoid stirring for the first few minutes. Shake the pan to toss the mushrooms. They should be cooked enough after about 5 minutes.
Add salt and pepper.
Toss spinach leaves with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Toss.
Add pine nuts, toss.
Place salad on individual plates and top each with still warm mushrooms.
a little mushroom dictionary
porcini / porcini / boletus edulis
galinelle/ chanterelle / cantharellus cibarius
ovoli /ovoli / amanita caesarea