always the stuff of epicurean lore, i've only ever seen fresh truffles from afar, sitting preciously under glass in a fancy market. the price tag made me gasp for air and i assumed the closest i would ever really get was the lovely bottle of truffle-infused oil that my friend larissa gave me for my last birthday. i will admit - a bit of the stuff drizzled upon some soup or to finish a risotto adds a wondrous, luxurious earthy flavor that's made a believer of me. ryan claims that truffles don't really have much flavor, and are just ghastly expensive hype restaurants use to wow their jaded customers. it is hard to tell with rare things sometimes if they truly are special and worth their exorbitant prices to attain. is it all just a matter of suspended belief on the part of consumers and the crafty marketing of retailers who pander to foodies? or is it real?
despite this philosophical quandary, it is true that a small container of real black truffles (1 oz, to be exact) lives in the bottom of our fridge as i write this. they are nesting in arborio rice, like three wrinkly turds. see?
sis lauren brought some home from her new gig at one of philadelphia's finest food retailers, an extraordinary splurge, even with a 20% discount. so, like true kitchen royalty, for the past week we've been sprinkling and shaving truffles, like so many flakes of gold, on all kinds of unsuspecting and humble dishes: root vegetable soup, pizzas and pastas. and here goes nothing: the hype is real. these bizarre hunks of fungus make shit taste just amazing.
truffles work well, apparently, with simple clean flavors and only the smallest amount of truffle is needed to impart a whopping amount of its flavor. so we've truffed and truffed, and still have so much left. anyone have ideas about how to best use the remainder?
and, as a quick aside, i must attend to one important matter: it is widely known that the majority of wild truffles are sniffed out by trained dogs and pigs. to some very strict animal righters, this might not make them really vegan because of the animal labor involved. while i respect that take on things, it is not the one i subscribe to right now. i'm ok with the truffles labor industry, or at least, i can let it go. in fact, one of the articles i was reading earlier about truffles mentioned that many times, when the pigs find the truffles, they immediately eat them! oh, just imagine a disgruntled frenchmen throwing his cap to the ground and cursing "merde!" at the deliriously happy pig, chomping on its prize.
and finally, if you ever find yourself with your own little truffle cache, you simply must use some in this very seasonal soup, from my girl sally schneider's comfort repertoire.
Root Vegetable Crema
adapted from a new way to cook by sally schneider (adapted from a chef at chez panisse)
2 teaspoons fat (oil, margarine, butter)
1 medium potato, i just can't get enough yukon gold
1 small celery root, peeled and finely diced (3/4 cup)
1 medium leek, or one small onion, sliced (just the white part if using a leek)
2 small parsnips, finely sliced (1/2 - 2/3 cup)
2 - 4 garlic cloves
1 sprig fresh thyme, or a healthy pinch of dried thyme
a pinch salt (about 1/4 tsp)
a pinch sugar
2/3 cup water
3 cups broth, preferably homemade vegetable stock
freshly ground pepper, white pepper if you have it
tiny pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup soy creamer, or real cream if you cook with dairy (optional)
part or all of a fresh black truffle, pounded into a paste with a mortar & pestle, or a drizzle of truffle oil
- heat the fat in a medium or large saucepan over medium heat. add all the ingredients down to water (not the broth) and bring to a simmer.
- cover and cook for 15 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated.
- add the stock, bring back to a simmer, re-cover and cover for another 15 minutes, until all the veggies are soft.
- puree with your immersion blender. don't stop until it's really, really smooth. or, if you are without, carefully puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender. if you want to go the extra mile, you can strain the soup back into the pot for a more dramatically creamy texture.
- season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. careful with the nutmeg - too much will really overpower the soup. add the soy creamer, and then the pounded truffle paste and stir until completely mixed into the soup.
- finito! a perfect winter soup in, like, 40 minutes.