The little bottle of white truffle oil was a stocking stuffer that Mike got me for Christmas of 2004. I have been hoarding it in the pantry since them, doling out a few drops once in a blue moon, but otherwise doing nothing of consequence. In much the same way that I am obsessed with Spain despite having never visited the country, I am obsessed with truffles, having never experienced the real thing in its purest form. For years I have been planning to travel to Italy in October because I was told that is the month when the wild truffles are harvested. Although truffle oil, truffle butter and truffle essence are somewhat ubiquitous at nicer restaurants, I do not equate these dishes with what I imagine to be the penultimate truffle encounter: a generously served shaving of fresh truffle, recently unearthed, over a luxuriously creamy risotto, prepared by an Italian cook whose cousin foraged for the precious ingredients that morning. I know I could procure my own truffles through some internet gourmet food source, but I just can’t do it yet. Aside from the prohibitive cost, I cannot give in because I am still hoping to fulfill my truffle fantasy.
For now, I am settling for my bottle of truffle oil and after a year and a half, I finally created a dish in which the oil is the star ingredient. I wanted to give the truffle oil a simple canvas with the addition of a few ingredients to enhance its earthy bite. I always use whole wheat spaghetti because Mike and I like the nutty flavor that it adds to our food. When I want a very pronounced whole grain flavor, I use Whole Foods 365 brand. In a dish like carbonara when I want the wheat flavor to be practically undetectable I use Barilla’s whole wheat pasta with omega-3. I chose the Barilla for this dish because I did not think the extra flavor element of the whole wheat. Use any pasta you like including the regular white flour versions.
I cooked the pasta while sautéing some chopped portabello mushrooms in equal amounts of butter and olive oil with salt and pepper. Always cook your pasta in generously salted water and never rinse it after cooking so you retain the starchy texture and seasoning. I reserved about half a cup of the pasta cooking water just before draining it. That is all the cooking that you have to do.
When the pasta is done, portion it into serving bowls and top with the portabellos. Add a bit of pasta cooking water or a pat of butter to the hot pasta if it looks too dry to you. Shave a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pasta, then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of truffle oil over each serving. Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil and serve.
The mushrooms complement the earthy truffle oil and the slightly salty cheese is a lovely accompaniment. This is a very light dish on its own, so instead of going the usual route of sliced baguette on the side, we made a first course of roasted red pepper soup with orange cream. Whenever I make soup, it is a large pot of something hearty that is always a meal in itself. A first course soup was a nice change and made my truffle pasta even more elegant as a main dish.
We used a simple recipe from epicurious.com that requires sautéing an onion, adding a jar of roasted red peppers and chicken broth, then blending to create a smooth texture. You can do this in a blender or food processor, but a hand blender or immersion blender makes this job even quicker with less cleanup. I used to work in the corporate office of a large department store, and was gifted with a hand blender that had been used in photographs for print ads. The small electrics buyer had a whole closet full of samples that he had no use for, so I was happy to take them off his hands.
Once blended, you add some freshly squeezed orange juice and garnish the soup with chopped basil and a bit of cream whipped with salt, pepper and orange zest. You could make this ahead of time and serve to guests with so many different main dishes.
If you buy your own bottle of truffle oil, another nice use is to make a spread for crostini with mashed cannelloni beans, olive oil, sautéed red onions, chopped basil and fresh ground pepper. Spread them on toasts, then drizzle with a tiny bit of truffle oil just before serving. The beans provide a simple canvas to which the truffle oil adds another dimension of rich flavor.
I have read recently that wild truffles grow plentifully in Northern Croatia and near Cahors, France. As the list of possible locales for my ultimate truffle fantasy grows, I feel confident that I will make it happen one of these days. Maybe I will pack up and start traversing the globe, following the truffle harvest like a surfer girl after the perfect wave in an endless summer. They will call me “The Truffle Hunter.” The pursuit of fungi is certainly less dangerous than catching 10 foot waves or wrestling crocodiles—and far more tasty.