101 Tastes of Croatia – 9. Vrganji

Total Croatia News

Tea Hrzica

Mushroom lover? Read on!

Autumn is here, filled with flavours and tastes I adore. September is generally one of my favourite months because of all the abundance it brings but recent fortunate weather made it even more better due to all the mushrooms that are growing in our forests. Therefore I am bringing you porcini mushrooms as the new topic of 101 Tastes of Croatia.

Although tourists usually focus on truffles as one of our distinctive tastes, I prefer porcini as they’re more common, cheaper, and more widely spread.

This mushroom grows in deciduous and coniferous forests and has a large brown cap, while the stem is white or yellowish in colour and can range from club-shaped to centrally bulbous.

Its cross-section shows white flesh, a broad stem, and spore tubes on the underside of the cap which range from whiteish to a dark green colour depending on how old the mushroom is.

It is considered one of the safest wild mushrooms to pick for the table, as no poisonous species closely resemble it. Although they may appear any time from summer to autumn, their growth is conditioned by the rainfall during warm periods of weather.

Croats consider them as one of the best mushrooms to eat due to its pungent, distinctive taste and the ability to eat them fresh, dried or pickled. It is the most rewarding of all mushrooms in the kitchen for its taste and versatility. Even though it’s (unfortunately) slowly dying out, we have a culture of real mushroom people who search the woods for this treasure and can distinguish all kinds of different varities of mushrooms.

We even have a term we use, mostly for kids in their developing stages, saying that they ”grow like mushrooms” (raste ko gljiva) when referring to their sudden and unstoppable growth. We also say ”sjedi ko gljiva” (sits like a mushroom) for someone who just sits in silence and doesn’t contribute to a conversation at all.

My recent visit to Lika (a mountainous, inland area) triggered my love for this mushroom, even though until five years ago, I couldn’t stand them and hated anything to do with them. A typical spoiled brat. We were situated in a fairly abandoned village surrounded with forests as far as the eye could see and decided to snoop around and try our luck. We ended up with more than 20 kilos of fine porcini mushrooms, much to our delight.

Since many of them were a bit older, I cut them up and dried them on my balcony. The dried porcinis cost an arm and a leg (more than 100 euro per kilo, whereas I found dried ones in a mountainous part of Montenegro for 35 euro per kilo) but they taste divine and bring dishes to another level. They’re mostly used in pastas, risottos, cream sauces and soups, but they can enhance any flavour (just activate them with a little bit of hot water before adding to the dish).

The fresh ones are used in meals like Zagorska juha (a very rich soup made from mushrooms, bacon, root vegetables, potatoes and cream) but I prefer them slightly sauteed with onions and scrambled eggs, and then poured over home made polenta aka žganci (my family has been doing this for generations). The simplicity and the perfection of this dish still amazes me and just proves that fresh, incredible ingredients don’t always command a lot of work.

The recipe is as follows (for 4 persons):

– 4-6 eggs (home grown, organic are the best, the yolk should be bright orange)

– 3-4 medium sized fresh porcini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced

– 1 large yellow onion

– salt and pepper

– polenta


1. Heat up a bit of oil or preferably lard, then saute a sliced onion.

2. When a little bit of colour begins to show, add the mushrooms and sautee until they soften up and the liquid they release evaporates. Don’t overcook them as they need to stay slightly chewy, let’s say al dente.

3. Then add eggs beaten with a pinch of salt and pepper and scramble until the eggs are done.

4. Pour over the fresh cooked polenta and sprinkle some fresh parsley on top.

5. You can also avoid the polenta and just make eggs with porcini, as shown in the picture below.

So, if you’re in Croatia at the moment, roam through the forests in search of these beauties, or, if you’re feeling a bit unsure of your mushroom knowledge, buy them at local markets as they’re available for only a short period of time!


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