Ceps – hidden treasure of the woods.

Since I went on a mushroom hunting weekend in the New Forest back in the last century, I’ve been very interested in foraging for mushrooms, and on moving to La France Profonde have been encouraged to take every opportunity to do so. I’ve found trompettes de la mort by the bag full when out with my walking group, who didn’t want to wait for me and my foraging friend José to catch up, but we were greedy and scrabbled around under the bushes to fill the bags, stored in my backpack which I am never without, to fill with free bounty from the countryside or leftover meat from a restaurant lunch for the “dog”. Don’t tell anyone, I haven’t got a dog.
I’ve also spotted morels, when out with the group, but this time, there were so many that we all collected them and everyone went home with a significant amount. José, was most put out by this, as he has been searching for morels all his life and never found any, but I as a newcomer, found them before he did. He had been looking in the wrong place and by chance, I had found the right place, in the gravel at the edge of the lane. Once we knew this, we have since found many more of this strange mushroom, so loved by chefs.


I’ve never had any luck finding chanterelles or ceps until this year, when after a very wet summer, some say the worst they ever remember, I was invited to go out with friends on their own land and look for the most highly prized mushrooms of all, ceps. Once I got my eye in, I found many of the dark capped Penny Buns, a very appropriate name as that really is what they look like. On the edge of a dried up ditch, I found two enormous ceps, wondering if their size diminished the flavour, I don’t think so, as I see very large ones for sale on the stalls of market sellers.
Back at the house, we sliced and fried some up in butter, with garlic, salt and pepper and ate them on buttered, toasted, sourdough bread sprinkled with chopped parsley from the garden and a glass of the local Gaillac red wine. They were excellent, and couldn’t have been nicer or fresher. The rest were sliced up and dried for use in stews and risottos. Because we were only collecting one type of mushroom, or at most, two, it wasn’t necessary to have them checked by the local pharmacist. I suppose that there are many more that are edible, but I prefer to be safe and leave any I am not completely sure of.
We also found a few of the beautiful orange chanterelles, which glow like little jewels in the gloaming of the woods and which confusingly are known as girolles in this area. Back home, I searched the Internet for advice as to what to do with all the ceps, particularly looking for Italian recipes for porcini, or little pigs, as they call them as I think the Italians have more imagination or I maybe I should say (more politely) different recipes from the French. I’ll just keep the chanterelles to eat on toast. In the end, I sliced most of the ceps and laid them out on racks to dry. I’ll use them in sauces for pasta, risotto or in stews and casseroles.
I have really enjoyed my mushrooms forays and look forward to going out again later in the autumn, to look for winter chanterelles and pieds de moutons, before the first frosts turn them all to mush.


Cep risotto

Based on a recipe by Giorgio Locatelli.


75g butter
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
250g fresh porcini, wiped with a damp cloth and cut into 1cm slices. Check for stones (and worms!) If you can’t get these, use chestnut mushrooms or a mixture.
150ml dry white wine
1 onion, chopped as finely as you can
8 pieces of dried porcini, soaked in water for two hours and chopped
400g Canaroli or Arborio rice
2.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a pan, add the garlic, sweat gently until soft but not coloured, then add the fresh porcini slices and /or mixed mushrooms and two tablespoons of wine, cook until crisp at the edges and golden brown. Add 20g of the butter. (Adding butter at the end avoids burning it without any loss of flavour) Season, cover and set aside.
Bring the stock to a boil, then turn down to a simmer add the strained soaking water from the dried ceps.
In another pot, melt the remaining butter and sweat the onion for a minute or two, to soften.
Add the dried ceps and rice, and stir to coat in butter.
Add the rest of the wine, allow it to evaporate, then pour in the stock, a little at a time, allowing the rice to soak it up.
Stir all the time.
Repeat for 15-17 minutes, until the rice is cooked.
Lower the heat, add the fresh cooked mushrooms and parsley, and stir in lots of grated Parmesan. Check the seasoning. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

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