Sicilians have a real passion for collecting wild mushrooms. With an abundance of local varieties (from porcini to galletti, ferla, mazza di tamburo) the topic of fungi is as fascinating as it is delicious. Our friends say the best time to look for mushrooms is after there’s been some rain, and preferably just after a full moon. Lucky for us, our avid mushroom foraging neighbors like to share. We’ve arrived home on more than one occasion to find a bag of freshly picked porcini or galletti left at our front door.
Collecting mushrooms is usually a morning activity, but we had a busy day of work so our friend Carmelo agreed to take us in the late afternoon. We drove north from Linguaglossa on a narrow dirt road along a hazelnut grove that Carmelo has been foraging since he was 10 years old. We passed an older gentleman standing at the open trunk of his parked car and as we got closer Carmelo recognized his friend. The man waved hello with a big smile on his face, proudly pointing to his basket full of mushrooms. There was a little banter between them that I didn’t understand, and then Carmelo said, “Ok, let’s go!…we can’t let him find more mushrooms than we do”. It’s a fairly common sight here to find cars parked along a back road, or people stepping out of the woods carrying a basket full of wild edibles of one sort or another.
As we climbed over a stone wall into the hazelnut grove, Carmelo immediately spotted the little golden treasures we were looking for – galletti. Searching for them in the late afternoon we discovered was a bonus, because the softer light made their little yellow caps almost iridescent along the deep brown forest floor. Also known as chanterelles, galetti are a lovely yellow-gold color with an irregular, feathery cap and an almost fruity aroma, sometimes likened to apricot. In Sicilian they are called galletti (meaning cockerel) because their shape is reminiscent of a rooster’s comb. Galetti are wonderful in pastas and soups, but my favorite is a simple sautée with just garlic, olive oil, a little salt and fresh parsley. I learned the trick of putting them in a dry pan first so the heat makes them release their water, then you add the oil. No matter how they’re prepared, eating galetti mushrooms is a wonderful delicacy.
In Japan there is an activity called Shinrin Yoku, which means “forest bathing”, or a short visit to a forest. Scientific studies have demonstrated that Shinrin Yoku creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the human nervous system. This is exactly how I experienced foraging for galetti that day. You feel the soft ground, deep with layers of decomposed leaves and bark cushioning your steps. You breathe in the fresh, cool air filled with earthy smells of moss, wild herbs, and hazelnut trees. Dappled light falls through the arc of branches above your head, illuminating hundreds of little violet crocuses growing on the forest floor. A perfect quiet surrounds you. And then you look near the base of a tree and spot a cluster of little golden caps. On this late afternoon among the hazelnut trees I understood that part of the reason these little fungi are so treasured comes simply from the joy of collecting them.