Porcini or ceps are considered the king of wild mushrooms. We take some recipe inspiration from the country where they are most revered
The porcini or cep, a name used for four members of the Boletus genus in the UK, is a royal find for foragers wherever they may be in the world. While the British may call the most well-known (Boletus edulis) the penny bun for its alluring, slightly glazed-looking caps, the Italians named them porcini — “piglets” — in recognition of their meatiness.
Apart from the penny bun (Boletus edulis), the summer bolete (Boletus reticularis), bronze bolete (Boletus aureus) and pine bolete (Boletus pinophilus) can all be described as “Porcini” or “Ceps”.
In Poland, where mushroom hunting is considered a national past time, these coveted boletes take centre stage for Christmas Eve (Wigilia) celebrations, with the majority of the country serving them minced up in pierogi (dumplings) suspended in rich, colourful beetroot soup (Borscht). The combination of earthy and sweet flavours makes a real showcase for these mushrooms, which are packed with umami flavour, particularly when dried. Their meaty texture also holds up very well as a filling.
Traditionally, no meat can be eaten on Christmas Eve in Poland, so on this night Uszka (meaning “little ears” in Polish due to their shape) with borscht is always vegetarian. We have also used a traditional recipe for the Pierogi dough that doesn’t involve eggs or butter, making this a fully vegan treat.
Porcini are no longer in season in December, so dried mushrooms are usually combined with other fresh mushrooms, we used a combination of dried and fresh to make the filling for the dumplings.
True borscht contains juice from pickling beetroots (Kvass) that is left to ferment for up to six days, adding a sourness. As we know that freshly foraged mushrooms wait for no man, we have used a quicker and more basic version of borscht to enable you to enjoy porcini when you find them, without too much labour.
This recipe serves 3-4 depending on whether this is main meal
For the Uszka (makes approx 18):
Ingredients - filling
Approx 175g fresh Porcini/Ceps
20g dried Porcini
1 medium onion
Olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Place the dried porcini in a pan and just cover with water. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 30-40mins while you’re preparing the rest of the dish.
Finely dice the onion and add to a pan with a glug of olive oil. Sauté gently until the onions turn translucent.
Slice the fresh Porcini/Ceps and add to the pan. Cook on a low to medium heat for 10 mins or so until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Allow the mushrooms and onion to cool slightly before putting into a blender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the dried porcini from their cooking liquid and add them to the blender. Blitz into a chunky paste. Reserve the liquid for flavouring the soup.
Ingredients - Pierogi dough
360g plain flour
180ml boiling water
60ml cold water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vegetable oil
Sift the flour into a bowl and add salt. Slowly pour in the boiling water while stirring.
Cover with a towel and allow to sit for 5mins.
Pour a little of the cold water at a time into the mixture, crumbling up any floury lumps that may appear with a fork or spoon. Cover again with a towel and set aside for 10 mins.
Add the oil and knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth.
To assemble and cook
Cut the dough into rounds using a 3” cookie cutter, add the filling and fold into half moons. Pinch the dumplings at each end and fold again to meet in the middle.
Once the borscht is ready, the assembled Pierogi can be quickly cooked in boiling water. They will be ready when they float.
For the quick borscht
4 average-sized whole beetroot, peeled
1lt vegetable stock
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Reserved liquid from cooking the porcini/cep
Chopped fresh chives to garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 200deg/180deg fan. Wrap the Beetroot in foil and bake for 30-40mins until tender.
When cool enough to handle, slice into narrow strips
Bring the vegetable stock to the boil in a large saucepan and add the sliced Beetroot, chopped garlic and red wine vinegar.
Simmer for 15-20mins until reduced. Add in 50-100ml of the Porcini/Cep liquid, taking care to avoid pouring in any of the grit that can sink to the bottom.
Serve immediately poured over the pierogi.
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!