It’s truffle season. White truffles, grown in Italy’s Piedmont region, are the most highly prized among connoisseurs – and naturally they come with a hefty price tag. On Nov. 8, 2009, the 11th annual white truffle auction will take place in the castle of Grinzane Cavour, near Alba.
Last year, the top price came from someone in Tokyo, Japan who bid 24,000 euros ($35,700) for a truffle weighing 850 grams (a little less than 2 lbs.) In total, 118,000 euros ($176,000) was raised, all of which went to charity.
You can rightly assume we were not among the bidders, although we did have the good fortune to visit the castle a few years ago. While you may not be rushing to spend a princely sum on a pound of white truffles either, here’s an alternative that won’t leave you broke. It’s not the same as eating fresh truffles, but when you have to choose between mortgaging the house or one of the prized tubers, why not try some truffle cream, truffle oil or truffle honey instead?
Gourmet Attitude, a company that imports fresh, preserved and frozen truffles to some of the toniest restaurants in the country (think French Laundry and Le Bernardin), recently launched a new line of truffle delicacies under the name “La Boutique de la Truffe.” When they offered to send me some, I naturally said “yes” (in the name of furthering research for all you readers, mind you).
I added their truffle cream to a dish of freshly made pappardelle and wild mushrooms – photo above.
I poured their white truffle oil over mashed potatoes and chives.
All of the products had the pungent, aromatic flavor of truffles, even though they contain only a tiny portion of real truffles. We thought the honey and the oil had the strongest truffle flavor out of the three, but our favorite was the truffle cream. It had a faintly garlicky flavor, in addition to a musky, earthy taste.
Maybe we were unduly influenced by the combination of the trio of mushrooms and homemade pappardelle that also contributed to our overall enjoyment of the dish. I have to admit, we would have loved the pasta even without the truffle cream.
But should you find yourself with some truffle cream, try making this pasta sauce. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make home-made pasta, just make sure you buy a really good brand of pappardelle. But if you’re up for the challenge, I’ll be writing a how-to for homemade pasta in an upcoming post.
Pasta With Mushroom and Truffle Cream Sauce
This makes enough for four good-sized pasta portions
2 T. olive oil and 1 T. butter
1 large shallot, minced finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. mushrooms (I used a combination of shitake, baby portabellas and oyster mushrooms)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
salt, white pepper to taste
a few grindings of freshly ground nutmeg
a small bunch of fresh sage leaves
4 T. truffle cream
parmesan cheese, optional
Place olive oil and butter in sauce pan and add the shallot. Sauté until wilted, then add the garlic and sauté for a minute or two. Slice the mushrooms and add to the pan, sautéing them until cooked through. Add the chicken broth, cream, milk and the bunch of sage leaves. Grind some fresh nutmeg into the pan. Let it come to a boil, then lower the heat to a brisk simmer and reduce until it has a velvety consistency. Remove the sage leaves. Whisk in four tablespoons of truffle cream. Pour the sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
There are two schools of thought on whether to add parmesan cheese. In Italy, you would never be served parmesan cheese with most fish dishes (there are some exceptions). Likewise, adding parmesan cheese to a dish with such pronounced flavors like truffles or wild mushrooms is also considered near-heresy. Follow your own palate, but try it first without the cheese and then decide.