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Take a trip to the countryside between October and December and it’s more than likely that you’ll come across many small groups of families and friends, carrying wicker baskets and earnestly poking their way through trees and shrubs. These folks are foraging for wild mushrooms (bolets) and unless this is your first autumn here in Catalunya, you can’t fail to have noticed that mushrooms are quite a thing here. Mushrooms are a key ingredient in many local dishes and this humble forest fungus has become one of the region’s most-loved products. This month every market and greengrocers will be adorned with baskets of freshly-picked mushrooms, mostly hailing from the woodlands of Catalunya.
For the best selection of bolets in the city head to Bolets Petràs in La Boqueria. Boletaire Llorenç Petràs has run this stall for many years and has become something of an institution locally, supplying to the region’s top restaurants. He has written two books about mushrooms and is generally considered the city’s best-known mushroom expert.
It may be easy to buy your bolets at the market, but it’s not nearly so much fun as foraging for your own. Mushroom ‘hunting’ has become phenomenally popular over the last decade and every weekend during the season, thousands of people head out to the areas in rural Catalunya that are considered to be mushroom hotspots. More serious boleteaires (mushroom-hunters) won’t bat an eyelid at trekking up to the woods of Berguedà in the foothills of the Pyrenees for a good morning’s foraging. But, if what you’re really after is a gentle trek with the added curiosity of testing your mushroom-identifying skills, then the Monsteny natural park is a very decent option.
For obvious reasons, before you start serving hand-picked mushrooms for dinner, you need to know what you’re doing. Every year, several mushroom hunters in Spain die, usually after eating the common but highly toxic Amanita phalloides (Death Cap) mushroom. There are approximately 2,000 species of mushroom in Spain of which 25 are toxic, while 175 types can be safely consumed. For safety and practical reasons, boletaires generally concentrate on the most popular dozen or so varieties that are easily recognisable. By far the most sought after is the rovelló, which is a characteristic rusty brown colour. Other popular mushrooms in Catalunya are pinatells, trompetas de la mort, fredolics, camagrocs and llenegues.
To learn your pinatells from your fredolics there are several options. Most of Catalunya’s parks organise guided mushroom hunting mornings. Generally these last about three hours and an expert boletaire explains the different species, showing where to find them and how to cut them. Some of these trips are free while others have a charge of around €3. The best place to find out about them is to go to the natural parks’ section on the Barcelona Diputació website (www.diba.es); choose the park you’re interested in, then click on ‘Agenda’. For something more tailor-made, tourist offices will generally be able to direct you to a professional guide.
This website is a mine of information and essential for any wannabe boletaire. It has a very clear visual guide to ‘good mushrooms’ and ‘toxic mushrooms’, and an app to download that serves as a guide while you’re hunting.
The website of the Generalitat has lots of information to help you forage safely. Do a search for ‘mushrooms’, then click on the ‘Temporada de bolets’ link.
Some gathering (and eating) tips
• Cut the mushroom near the ground with a knife. Don’t clear the area of leaves as you may damage the mushrooms.
• Gather your mushrooms in a rigid wicker basket, so that the spores can be released back into the forest. So, as you gather, you reseed. This also avoids fermentation.
• Don’t pick any mushroom that is damaged in any way, mouldy or frozen.
• Don’t touch any mushroom that you can’t identify. Be particularly careful after it has rained as some mushrooms become darker or lighter with the humidity.
• It’s recommended not to eat them raw.
• Most mushrooms are not very digestible, so eat in moderation.
Rovellons amb all i julivert—the simplest and tastiest way to eat rovellons.
Clean 250g of rovellons very carefully with a damp cloth. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan.
Add the mushrooms and cook until they have released all their water and this has reduced.
Add one chopped garlic clove and a tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Cook until the garlic turns golden. Serve.