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A dried porcini is a dried specimen of a porcini mushroom, a type of mushroom that grows wild in many parts of the world, particularly in certain areas of the temperate zones of Europe, Asia, and North America in the summer and fall. Porcini mushrooms are an extremely popular culinary ingredient and are widely considered one of the most delectable of all mushrooms. One of its other common names, the king bolete, reflects this status among those who favor mushrooms. Like many mushrooms, a dried porcini has a flavor that is more intense than the same mushroom when fresh and is often used as an ingredient in soups, sauces, and pasta dishes, among others.
A member of the bolete family of mushrooms, Boletus edulis, or the porcini, as it is known in Italy and in many culinary circles, has many names. The most common are king bolete, cep, and pennybun, but other names in localized areas are possible. The porcini mushroom is found in many areas of the Northern hemisphere in temperate forests, among both deciduous and coniferous trees, although it seems to have an affinity for pines. These mushrooms can grow very large, with caps sometimes a foot (30 cm) or more across and weighing more than 6 pounds (2.7 kg).
Efforts to commercially cultivate this gourmet mushroom have consistently failed, and as of the early 21st century, all porcini mushrooms sold on the open market are collected in the wild. They are highly regarded and very desirable. Most porcini mushrooms are dehydrated and sold dried. This is done for several reasons. A dried porcini takes up a fraction of the space and weight allowance of a fresh porcini and is much easier to store, with a greatly extended shelf life. A dried porcini keeps almost indefinitely if carefully stored.
The flavor of mushrooms often determines their desirability more than the actual substance or texture, and porcini are famous for their rich, nutty flavor. For this reason, many chefs prefer to use the dried version over fresh specimens in certain dishes, as the flavor of almost any dried mushroom becomes intensified when compared to the fresh version. Dried porcini are found in many dishes, including soups, pasta dishes, sauces, and risotto, an Italian creamy rice dish. Fresh porcini are often used on pizza, sauteed and served with beef or game, and grilled and eaten as "poor man's steak" with olive oil and fresh garlic and parsley.
Dried porcini, which are available in many modern supermarkets and specialty food stores, must be reconstituted before use. This is done by soaking the dried porcini in hot water for about 30 minutes or until they soften. After the mushrooms have softened, they may be used. Normally, the mushrooms are soaked in only enough water to cover them, and if possible, the water itself is also incorporated into the dish, as it will acquire a significant amount of flavor .