"The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber, and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord"- Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
L ast weekend I stumbled upon a petite black truffle at Far West Fungi. Astounded by its relatively low price and strikingly fruity aroma, I inquired (giddy but appearing contained). It turns out this particular fragrant, licorice-black knob was from Oregon, our state’s neighbor and my new best friend. I snatched it up immediately, unsure of its culinary fate but certain of my ensuing delight.
TRUFFLE season begins in late Fall and lasts through Winter. Many of the most prized (and thus expensive) truffles are imported from the Perigord region of France and the Piemonte region of Italy – just one of these little guys can set you back several Ben Franklins! However, there are plenty of equally delectable truffles foraged and cultivated in the States, though their supply is quite variable; those who are fortunate enough to find one should act immediately.
Thoroughly inspect a truffle before purchasing, making sure there are no signs of wetness or spoilage and that its characteristic aroma is very strong (the smell wanes as the truffle ages in storage).
Refrigerate truffles for up to 3 days in a glass jar, immersed in a bed of Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Overnight, the truffle will imbue the rice with its meaty, musky, faintly fruity aroma; consequently, you have the beginnings to a scrumtuous risotto on your lucky hands. If you fail to find one of these Italian varieties, use whatever rice you have on hand, as rice is necessary for preventing condensation and spoilage on your precious onyx jewel. Once ready to use, NEVER clean a truffle with water. If you are convinced it is dirty, gently clean it with a mushroom brush (available at kitchenware stores) or soft, clean cloth.
Because I am a shameless chemistry buff, I must share two little tidbits that I find absolutely fascinating. If you are purely uninterested, feel free to skip this paragraph, but know you are missing out on what could be the key to an effortless conversation conversion at the occasionally tense family Christmas table…
NERDY SCIENTIFIC FACT 1: One of the chemical compounds that imparts the unique fragrance and distinctive taste to the truffle is glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is an amino acid, one of 20 basic building blocks to all of the proteins in nature. It is also the compound that Japanese scientists isolated from kombu (a nutrition-packed seaweed) to make monosodium glutamate, or MSG, when they discovered glutamic acid was responsible for the health improvements, food tenderizing and addictive umami flavor they had been studying. Unfortunately most of the MSG today is produced with a synthetic version of glutamate and is toxic.
NERDY SCIENTIFIC FACT 2: Other chemical compounds that give truffles their characteristic musky aroma happen to also reside in the saliva of male pigs. (Keep reading, it gets better.) Having discovered this useful fact, European truffle hunters began employing sows (female pigs) to seek out truffle sites. Overcome with an amorous urge, the sows billow through the woods until they fall upon the ground whose dirt conceals the scent-emitting mass. It is continually obvious to me that Nature has a sense of humor, so it is no surprise that these aphrodisiac compounds have been discovered in the underarm sweat of the human male. I just love this! All those haughty-taughty French chefs that swoon over their precious truffles are actually attracted to them because they smell like a big, sweaty man! (Please don’t allow this thought deter you from trying the recipe below.)
For this post’s recipe, you may notice that there is no picture of the finished dish below. Well, tough :) – when it comes to a delicate truffle dish such as perfectly soupy risotto, just al dente pasta or hot out of the cast iron pan soft scrambled eggs, there is no place for pausing. Some dishes lose their essence in a matter of seconds - simply enough time to behold their beauty, enhale their aroma and begin to indulge.
SOFT SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH OREGONIAN BLACK TRUFFLE
12 farm fresh eggs 2 tablespoons crème fraiche Sea salt to taste 2 tablespoons butter 1 small truffle
Notes: When dealing with truffles, it is best to use a tool called a truffle slicer to make paper-thin shavings. Alternatively, if you would like to grate the truffle, a microplane would be perfect. Both of these tools are widely available at kitchenware stores.
1. Preheat an enamaled or well-seasoned cast-iron pan over medium-low heat. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, crème fraiche and a hefty pinch of fine sea sat with a fork, until just combined (overbeating eggs can make them tough). 2. Drop butter into the preheated pan. Once the foam subsides, pour the egg mixture into the pan and give it a swirl. Stir the eggs slowly and continuously with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula until they are just shy of set (they should still be runny in parts). Remove them from the heat and continue to stir until they are done, but still soft and moist. Scrape the eggs onto a plate (preferably one that has been lightly warmed). 3. Use a truffle slicer to make paper-thin shavings of truffle atop the eggs. Serve at once.
An additional trick to give the eggs extra truffle goodness: Bury the truffle in a bowl of a dozen fresh eggs (still incased in their shell), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Then prepare the luxurious scrambled eggs recipe above.