cucina bene; mangia bene (the magic of truffles)
Despite the weather, this is one of my favorite times of the year. I am a certified fungiholic and there is a plethora of wild fungi here on the Oregon Coast: chanterelles of course, hedgehog, cat’s paws, prince, chicken of the woods, boletes, and matsutake. My favorite winter fungi are Oregon black truffles. They are available from late October through January and can be found here in the coast range. They have a very different aroma and flavor compared to the Oregon white truffle: they are fruiter in smell where the white is more nutty, and the flavor is much stronger.
Like any truffle, the flavor is greatly enhanced when used with a fat such as butter, cream, olive oil, and even eggs. Try shaving a black truffle over a mushroom omelet, or over a simple dish of pasta with butter and chopped fresh parsley, or mix shaved truffle with softened butter which can be spread on bread, crackers, or used to top a nice juicy steak or grilled chicken breast. Truffles go well with poultry such as chicken or turkey, and lighter meats such as rabbit and veal. Truffles should never be cooked as they are too delicate and the flavor quickly dissipates with the application of high heat. Simply shave or grate the truffle over the finished dish, or add to a cream or butter sauce at the end of cooking to ensure the aroma and flavor remain intact.
Black and white truffles of any variety are highly perishable and should be consumed as soon as they are acquired. They should be refrigerated and the best way to store them is in a glass jar with rice. The rice helps keep the truffles dry, and the truffles infuse the rice with aroma and flavor so it can be cooked once the truffles are gone.
Fresh truffles are much better than anything that may be frozen, canned, or preserved in oil. Many of those products are quite expensive, almost as much as a truffle itself! Yet, in my opinion, the flavor and aroma are inferior to that of a fresh truffle. However, if fresh truffles are just not available, truffle oil is the next best thing as long as it is made with real truffles and not just oil that is artificially flavored with truffle. The Joel Palmer House in Dayton sells a really nice truffle oil for a reasonable price; a little definitely goes a long way too.
We bought a few black truffles last weekend at the last farmers’ market in Corvallis. Tonight, I am going to make truffle risotto for dinner and you can too with the recipe below:
Truffle Risotto (serves 2)
1 cup Arborio rice
2 tbs. unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock, heated
1/4 cup cream or mascarpone
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 small fresh black or white truffle
2 tbs. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté shallot in medium saucepan over medium heat in butter until softened (about 5 min). Add rice and toast for another 5 min stirring often or until the rice turns opaque. Add salt, pepper, white wine and simmer; add stock to cover rice, stir and simmer until stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock a little at a time while the rice simmers and absorbs the liquid. Stir occasionally (a myth is that risotto must constantly be stirred; this just makes a sticky goo that is not risotto) to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan; reduce the heat if necessary. Once the rice is al dente (still a little firm when bitten), add the parsley, Parmesan cheese, the mascarpone or cream, and more salt or pepper if needed. Stir the risotto to ensure the cheese has melted and the rice is creamy. Add a little more stock if it appears dry; the finished dish should be a little wet and very creamy. Spoon the risotto onto heated bowls or plates. Shave the truffle generously over the top of the dish and serve immediately.
Enjoy the risotto with a nice mixed greens salad and a glass of prosecco. Buon Appetito!