Monday, May 25, 2009

Truffle Kerfuffle

I have been cooking for about as long as I can remember. I prepared my first family dinner of chicken cacciatore when I was about 8...and it was fabulous :). Every summer my grandparents (both sides) would come and visit us. They lived in New York, we were in California...and such a trek required a long stay. They'd show up every June for 3 months. Mind you, our house wasn't small. It started small, but made its way to the "winchester mystery mansion" category as the years went on. It seemed whenever my dad found a few scheckles in his pocket, he would add a room, change a room, or pave a room. No matter how big the house got, it never seemed large enough to house the 4 extra people, plus various tag-a-longs.
So...I spent every summer on the couch. And, in my swim suit...i would sleep in it, get up in the morning, go to the pool...come home, sleep in it...
My mom was too busy entertaining to pay attention...and I took full advantage. I am sure it rendered me infertile, but who thinks about that at 9?
The extended family visit was all about sitting in the sun, playing gin and eating. When I say eating, it's not oh, i think I will have a sandwich. It's waking up to the smell of lunch cooking before you've even had breakfast. Every evening ended with cake, coffee and fruit. Dinner menu planning was constant, full stomach or was a priority. I find myself doing that now and're such a pig, no wonder you love truffles.

I didn't discover truffles until I was living in Seattle in the early 90's. I spent a year in Italy and never had a truffle. Could be because I was on a paupers income. Well, that's not really fair. I had a certain amount to spend every month and I spent it on traveling, gelato and alcohol. I didn't frequent the type of restaurants that served truffles. Shocker.

I love Seattle...that city rocks and rains and rocks again. I lived in a neighborhood called Madison Park. I had a lovely apartment with a view of the lake and the traffic. I barely spent any time in it. In Seattle, it's not strange to see people the store, to a restaurant, to Pike Place. And on Saturdays, that is exactly what I would do. Coffee at Tully's (the best)... a walk up and over the hill...stopping at little shops along the way...then a downhill swoop directly to Pikes Place Market. PPM is so much more than just the guys who throw fish. It is a treasure trove. It was there that I first discovered the intoxicating truffle.

There was a friendly purveyor who noticed I was smiling. Rather than run away from me, thinking I was insane (remind me to tell you about the lady who saw aparitions when I was a eucharistic minister), he engaged me in conversation. "hey smiley" he said..."why are you so happy?". And I didn't know...I just was. That is what Seattle does for me. It probably was because it was the first day in months that it didn't rain...but I didn't know for sure then, and I don't know now. And then he showed me something...
a box of rice
and in the rice were these rough round orbs
and that's when my love affair began
I don't remember his name, but I remember his hands, dipping into the rice and one by one pulling out the edible gold. I signed my 401k over to him, and that was that.
I coveted the much actually...that it rotted.

Throughout the years, the truffle has become more popular and more readily available. Still, I prefer to get my truffle oil from Italy. I can always trust that it will be pure and potent. I have tried to purchase it from import stores here in the states and found many of them to only smell like truffle and taste like grapeseed oil. Truffle oil needs to hit you smack in the olfactory...not linger in the air like cheap eau de toillet. Here's the deal...spend the money and then use it.
Some of my favorites are
Truffle Honey. Amazing on cheese, or whisked with a bit of orange juice and used to glaze chicken, cornish hen or pheasant.
Truffle Salt. Get a piece of triple cream cheese and sprinkle on top and serve on a cheese platter. Use in place of salt in your pastry and put on top of chicken pot pie. Mix in unsalted butter and use it in scrambled eggs.
Truffle Oil I prefer white, but everyone's palate is different. Testing and tasting is the only way to know which suits you best. Use it in your mashed potatoes, float it on top of french onion soup, or mushroom melange. Truffle macaroni and cheese had been on my to-try list forever. I recently had the opportunity to create my own version at a family dinner. It was a hit, so I pass the recipe on to you. Pace yourself, it's good, but it is full of fat and calories. I'd say a Tablespoon has your daily requirement!
Truffle Mac and Cheese

1/2" piece of pancetta--diced
2 cloves garlic—finely chopped
½ medium onion—finely chopped
3 Tbs dry white wine

3 cups milk (2% or whole--warmed
4 Tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup shredded asiago
1 cup shredded raclette
1 cup truffle cheese (hard or semi-hard)--chunked
dash Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup cream
2 Tbs Truffle oil + more for drizzle
1-2 lbs cooked pasta
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp truffle salt or 1 tsp truffle oil
thinly shaved black truffle (optional)

Slowly brown the pancetta. Just as it begins to sweat, add onions. As onions begin to get a bit yellow, add the garlic. When the pancetta begins to get crispy and the onions begin to golden, add wine. Bring the heat up a bit and add the butter. Once melted, add flour and stir to create a roux. Make a light roux, cooking until flour loses it's grainy taste, but before it begins to brown. 5 minutes should do it. Add milk. You do not have to warm or heat will speed the process up if you do, but if you want to start with ice cold milk and save a can. Add milk and whisk to combine. Heat slowly until it thickens (consistency of pancake batter). Add salt, cheese, worcestershire, cream and 2 Tbs truffle oil. Mix in thinly shaved truffle if using. When it is melted and melded, add pasta and mix until well combined. Do not use too much pasta, you want the creaminess of the sauce to pool in the nooks and crannies. I use big shells for this. Place in casserole dish.
Combine bread crumbs, butter and truffle oil or truffle salt for a topping. Sprinkle on top of pasta to form a nice crust. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and the crust is browned. Remove from oven and lightly drizzle with truffle oil. Serve hot....then make an appointment with your cardiologist.


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