Velvet Pioppini – Fairytale Funghi

Wandering happily around a wonderful Italian supermarket in Aosta, I came upon some beautiful, miniature mushrooms labelled pholiota aegerita. They looked as if they belonged in a fairy circle.

So naturally I had to buy some and to find out what they tasted like, and how best to cook them.

Velvet pioppini grow together in clusters
Velvet pioppini grow together in clusters.

Various names for velvet pioppini

Research wasn’t straightforward as it turned out that these lovely mushrooms go by a number of different names. Agrocybe aegerita is another scientific name, and more colloquially they are also known as velvet pioppini, and also poplar mushrooms (or black poplar mushrooms), because they like to grow on poplar stumps and logs, and in crevases of live poplar trees. In China, where their use in cooking is widespread, they are called tea tree mushrooms (茶树菇), but they are now becoming popular also in Europe and The States.

What do they look like and taste like?

They look gorgeous…. Small brown caps on long cream colour stems – they’re like something out of a fairytale. They taste as good as they look – strong, slightly sweet, intriguing taste.

What can you do with them?

  • Here in Italy they eat them a lot with pasta….
  • But I’ve just thrown them into a frying pan already sizzling with chopped onion and garlic, seasoned them and added some dried oregano. Then I reduced the heat and added in some leftover cream cheese. I served the mix either with baked potatoes in their jackets and prosciutto, or on toast
  • I am just about to make a risotto with black rice and I think they will go perfectly in that.
  • Or alternatively they would make a good accompaniment to a small joint of veal…
  • or some steak… fact, if you slice an aubergine, and roast it with oil, salt, Urfa pepper, and garlic crushed in its skin in a hot oven (210ºC) for half an hour, adding about 250g/8 oz of velvet pioppini about ten minutes before the end, together with some more oil and about ⅓ cup/75g mascarpone, you will have the perfect accompaniment.
  • They’d make a brilliant soup.
  • You could throw them into the odd stew….
  • have them on sour dough toast, buttered with some tarragon and garlic butter – and use more of the butter to fry the mushrooms – stir in some goats’ cheese, turn down the heat, and serve immediately on the hot toast.

Now I wish I had bought a lot more of them.

In Singapore I came upon these, suspiciously like pioppini, mushrooms. They came dark or white capped. They were an optional extra to be added to soup.

How do you cook velvet pioppini?

They are a cinch to cook. Cut off the end of the stem, clean gently with a soft cloth (or a mushroom brush if you are anal enough to have one of those) – don’t wash. Fry in olive oil (or flavoured butter as described above) for a few minutes and simply serve, or add to whatever else you are cooking.

velvet piopinni
velvet piopinni, great lookers
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