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Gastronomy: Mushrooms and Truffles
by Tr: Diane E. Graves
English translation of "Gastronomia", one of the series of "El Pais Vasco, ven y cuentalo" 2nd edition, January 1993 Author: Patxi Anton Idroquilis Editorial: Gobierno Vasco, Departamento de Comercio, Consuma, y Turismo. Viceconsejeria de Turismo. Translated unofficially by Diane E. Graves
Chapter 4: Mushrooms and Truffles
The Basque Country is a country of dedicated mycologists, or mushroom experts, as well as mushroom eaters, even though until several decades ago only very few species were eaten, out of the innumerable possibilities that can be found in a woody and moist country such as ours. Today our recipe books include varieties that until very recently were disdained, and this allows one to sample fresh mushrooms year round.
By agreeing with the knowledge of the most valued mushrooms in Basque cuisine through the variety of recipes that our chefs offer, one can thus avoid long hikes in search of mushrooms as well as the risk of not distinguishing between edible and poisonous species.
Mushrooms are usually preferred grilled, baked, or scrambled with eggs, these methods being the best in order for one to appreciate the delicate flavors and textures of different species. Perhaps the most exquisite is the "perretxiku" (lyophylum georgii), so fragile that it will not bear sauces and is usually eaten scrambled with eggs. Lightly fried and then carefully blended with eggs, "ontto beltzak" (boletus edulis) are highly regarded.
The grill and the oven offer the perfect preparation for other species so widespread as "gibelurdinak", mottled or silvery (clitocybe nebularis and geotropa). Grilled, with eggs, as a stuffing or a garnish, in shish-kebobs with meat, as a base for sauces, or even raw, the most commonly used mushrooms in Basque cuisine often include "senderuelas" (marasmus oreades), "barbuda" (corprinus comatus), "champi˝ˇn" (psalliota campestris), "pie azul" (rhodopasillus nudus/saevus), "nÝscalo" (lactarius deliciosus), and a long list of miscellaneous possibilities that can only depend on locations, time of harvest, and on the imagination of the gatherer.
It is also necessary to mention truffles, which are found in Araba, specifically in the area of Campezo, which, though not always considered by traditional cuisine, have incorporated themselves vigorously into modern cuisine.
In addition to egg scrambles, truffles have become one of the most luxurious additions to sauces, creams, etc. in Basque cuisine.
Where to enjoy mushrooms:
Although nowadays one may eat fresh mushrooms year round, spring and autumn still continue to be the optimal seasons for sampling the most valued species. In this case, when is more important than where.
In Araba, springtime mushrooms ("perretxiku") sprout simultaneously with the festivals of its patron saint, San Prudencio. During these dates, in markets such as the one in Ordizia, the first samples of these exquisite mushrooms appear, and for the first few weeks they reach price levels that are, quite frankly, extraordinary.
The majority of distinguished restaurants collaborate with expert providers, privileged connaisseurs of the niches where this specie hides, tenaciously and regularly, year after year, because of which springtime cuisine can offer as one of its basic elements preparations including "perretxiku" and "xixa".
With help from the lunar cycles and the frequent rainfalls, in autumn the humid forests are filled with mushrooms of other equally enjoyed species, these being the months when these earthy products are most easily found in restaurants.