I'm part of a large clan on one side of my family. As I may have mentioned, this side is food-obsessed. They cook, they bake, they eat, they analyze, they review restaurants, they swap recipes, they photograph, they assemble cookbooks. They also mushroom hunt.
At least some of them do. My Auntie Rosie, one of my dad's sisters, and her husband Johnny mushroom-hunted for years, and went well into their 80's. My sister went with them once and returned marveling not only at their endurance for a day of work she described as nearly back-breaking for someone in her 30's, but how methodical they were in their hunting--which is important, of course, when it comes to potentially poisonous things.
As they were with everything else, Johnny and Rosie were generous with their findings. They hunted painstakingly for the right mushrooms, then sliced them, dried them, divided them, and scattered them throughout the family. Often when I would see them, Auntie Rosie would arrive with a bag of homemade biscotti or freshly-picked peaches from a farm they liked to go to, or basil from their garden. I loved all of these gifts. But best of all was when Rosie would pull out a fat little ziplock bag full of pungent mushrooms and say softly in her scratchy little voice, "You like porcinis?" Uh, you bet I do.
To my great, great sadness, Rosie isn't with us anymore. But, some of her treasured mushrooms are. I've been holding onto the last sack of lovely porcinis she gave me for awhile now. Periodically I take them out and look at them, trying to decide whether or not I have something worthy of them. Rosie was an excellent cook, and I never wanted to fritter those delicious, earthy mushrooms on something silly. On the other hand, she was practical and not overly sentimental. She would have laughed at the idea of me holding onto a dusty bag of fungus.
Tonight, I decided to bring two of my favorite chefs together and make Marcella Hazan's chicken with marsala and Rosie's porcini mushrooms. You start by browning the chicken over high heat, then add the aromatics, wine, and soaked mushrooms, and cook everything slowly over low heat for close to an hour, until the meat nearly falls off the bone.
I don't like to cook chicken that long; I'm generally loyal to Marcella, but I know my own tastes. So I took the chicken out after 40 minutes of simmering. The sauce had reduced to a thick, dark, shiny glaze, and the porcinis had absorbed the spiciness of the marsala. I served it over buttered noodles with chives, and in spite of both of us battling colds, the husband and I enjoyed every bite. I think both Marcella and Rosie would have been proud.