Of all my food fantasies, I’ve long harboured a wish to become a discriminating, sharp-eyed, wild mushroom gatherer. But whether you know me or not, I can verify that I come nowhere near to fulfilling any part of that particular job description. I dream idly of being secretly shown the ropes by an experienced harvester, someone to point out the obvious winners and warn against the life-threatening losers, and I occasionally spot individual hunter-gatherers in the nearby wood and try to entrance them with insightful gastronomic observations. But to date, all my ingratiating attempts to become one of their new best chums have failed miserably. What a joy it would be to have the opportunity to deploy my personally gathered funghi harvest back in the kitchen, extending an enthusiastic imitation of French and Italian cuisines beyond wonder.

In earlier conversations on the subject with Francesco, a friend based in Emilia-Romagna, a blessed funghi region, his excitement at the proliferation of local wild mushrooms rises merely to the tranquil. They crop up so regularly in shops, markets and trattorias during the season, that they are regarded in the same way as we might view a side portion of frozen peas gracing a weekday supper. Frankly, given that our fields and woods are peppered with such wild bounty, the Italians think us certifiably insane not to grasp the opportunity and extract them daily from their dank habitats. Instead, many of us faced with a cluster of mushrooms, or more threateningly a single specimen, spend most of our time hopping from one existential foot to the other, terrified of a painful death if we let one anywhere near our dinner plates. Dreams of skipping back from the woodland with an artisanal truckle full to the brim with ceps, trompettes and girolles, rushing the stove to prepare Risotto con Funghi for eager guests, still remains little short of fantasy.

In the culinary interim I am relieved to note that even committed Italian porcini consumers are thankful that when former gluts have occurred, someone has had the bright idea to simply dry them out. This serves to desiccate the cell walls, and allows their rich unami flavours to deepen and intensify ready for the moment that re-hydration is undertaken. The fact is that many Italian dishes firmly specify the use of the dried specimens, just as they do dried rather than fresh pasta. So, nils desperandum, although the occasional shaved fresh funghi over salad or with an omelette would still be desirable, recipes such as the one here actively celebrate the virtue of dried porcini.

Baked Pappardelle with Pancetta and Porcini from The Good Cook (2011) by Simon Hopkinson

500ml milk

20g dried porcini mushrooms

40g butter

25g plain flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

100g papparadelle

50g Pancetta cut into 2cm pieces

4-5 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5.

Warm the milk in a saucepan, add the porcini mushrooms, remove from the heat and soak for 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve suspended over a bowl, pressing lightly on the mushrooms with the back of ladle to extract all the milk.

Heat the butter in a clean saucepan, add the flour and stir over a low heat for 2-3 minutes without colouring the roux.

Pour in the porcini-flavoured milk all in one go and whisk together vigorously until smooth. Cook the sauce for a further 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain in a colander, tip into a roomy bowl and carefully stir in the sauce, porcini and pancetta until well combined.

Place the pasta into a lightly buttered oven-proof dish. Smooth the surface and cover with two tablespoons of the parmesan. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until bubbling around the edges and golden-brown.

Serve the dish piping hot at the dinner table and have extra cheese at the ready.