If you don't remember Richard, he's the one who took me foraging for morels this spring, and when it comes to local mushrooms, he knows his stuff. Last week was a particularly good one for mushrooms—plenty of rain followed by some warm, sunny days—and so he decided it was time to introduce me to his favorite family of late summer, early fall mushrooms: boletes.
Boletes are soft and fleshy, and grow out from the ground. They grow in cooperation with the roots of trees (mycorrhizal is the official word for the relationship), and are generally found in open forests of mixed oaks and pines. They are soft and fleshy, with a stalk, a cap, and a spongy bottom made up of layers of tubes underneath. (If you see gills, put the mushroom down. It's not a bolete.)
The most common type, and the one Richard says tastes best, is golden brown—the color of a particularly vivid fallen oak leaf, or maybe a well-baked biscuit—on top. He looks for them by that color, and their shape—they have a rounded, sort of helmety look that jumps out fairly readily from the leaf litter and grass of the woods. When he picks them, he cuts them from the bottom of the stem, then turns them over to check for the spongy bottom underneath. They're out for a while—from as early as July through the first frost—and unlike morels, you can easily expect to get a whole bucketful on a good foraging trip.
Of course, then you have to figure out how to eat your haul. Richard says he's dried them before, sliced and arranged on baking trays in the oven, and that it went fairly well. Mostly, though, he just eats them: sautéed in a bit of butter and garlic and olive oil until they lose their juice, and start to get dry.
He's encountered a few bad boletes along the way—some bitter ones, and apparently there's also one variety that's toxic enough not to kill you, but to give you a fairly terrible stomach ache—but he says that if you stick with the golden biscuits, boletes are pretty safe. Of course, that doesn't mean you that if you decide to go out you shouldn't go with an experienced friend, and bring a book. (That link, by the way, is to the chapter in Mushrooms of Cape Cod and the National Seashore on boletes. Scroll down past the Bird's Eye Fungi, and there you are.) It's just to say if you're interested, it's worth finding a knowledgeable guide and getting going, because for beginners, Richard says, boletes are the easiest mushrooms of all.
According to Richard Bailey, you have to be careful how you handle boletes when you cook them. They bruise easily under your fingers and fall apart easily in the pan, so to be successful, you have to slice them carefully, cook them for a while on one side, and then carefully flip them over and do the same on the other. Don't undercook them, as in order to have a palatable texture they need to release their juices and dry up. Oh! and if you're looking to make a meal from your harvest, click on over here for an excellent recipe for mushroom lasagna.
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 pound boletes, sliced thin
salt to taste
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. When the pan is hot, add the onions and sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so, then add the boletes. Try to arrange them in a single layer across the bottom of the skillet; it's okay if it's not quite big enough. Cook for about 10 minutes without flipping or stirring—or until they release their juices and begin to get dry. Then flip them, and do the same on the other side.
Enjoy hot, tossed over pasta or layered onto toast, or incorporated into the mushroom lasagna mentioned above.