I live a reasonably predictable life, like you probably do. Not that that’s a bad thing. Rarely is there a day that starts heading down a familiar path then suddenly and impulsively winds up laughing and tumbling ass-over-teakettle down a steep hill, and comes to rest by a meandering creek, sighing in delight, with grass stains on its knees. Sure, silly little stuff happens that I don’t see coming. But rarely is there a day with a genuinely delightful surprise. Am I right?
I don’t count putting in my thumb drive correctly the first time.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that food, beverage, and dogs feature prominently. I do not publicly get worked-up over politics, the endless injustice in the world, or whether or not marijuana should be legalized. Don’t get me wrong; I get worked up over such things, but I also need to sleep at night, which is sufficiently challenging at 60 without being worked up over stuff all the time and trying to sleep. So instead, I worry about whether Henry and Claire’s water dish is full in this very hot summer and which kind of rye might make the best Perfect Manhattan. OK, call me superficial; I don’t care…much.
And I’m pretty brave about trying new food, except for the really weird body parts or monkey brain. But more than anything, I enjoy a good meal, good wine, good company, and that feeling of being blissfully satiated afterward. My fantasies of dining my way through Italy may never be realized, but the thought of them, fed by my 20+ Italian cookbooks, inspire me nonetheless. My Italian stomach is exactly what leads me to believe that if you eat at our house, you must be starving. And I truly believe this Italian proverb:
“At the table, no one gets old.”
I’m sure it was just a cosmic glitch that I was not born of Italian parents or married to an Italian man who loves to cook (not that I’m complaining, mind you; Gary bakes like the angels sing).
It’s just that if I were stuck on a desert island and this were the kind of island that was required to provide just one kind of food for me for the rest of my hopefully long life, it would have to be Italian food. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, since I do get a choice, apparently.
So, anyway, back to the point, if there is one. Gary goes to Seattle to visit his oldest son and his wonderful family more often than I get to, which is good for him, but unfortunate for me. However, I delight in knowing that part of his visit will be a to the local Costco, for decent prices on top-shelf vodka and whatever bright, shiny object might catch his eye which, hopefully, he can then fit into his truck and bring home.
From his last trip, he brought home a small surprise for me that I could not have imagined: For the insanely modest price of $19.00, in one of those idiotic plastic packages that requires the likes of Paul Bunyan, Babe, and a sharp axe to open:
Three black summer Umbrian truffles and a jar of truffle salt (just what I need to unleash my masterchef):
$19.00? Are you kidding me? I’ve paid more for a lunch salad and stale piece of baguette in Maui than that. Pinch me, will you?
I have only enjoyed truffles one other time, on the top of some very adult mac-and-cheese, made by our friend, Deb. I still dream of this dish whenever I am trying to limit my carb intake. These days, however, I appear to be on the disastrous but deeply enjoyable “No Carb Left Behind” diet. Sure, I’ve had truffle oil, but that’s kind of like bland lobster sauce on top of tasteless shrimp at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant; it ain’t the real thing and I know it.
Anyway, now that I have three black truffles in my possession for the first time, I need to figure out what to do with them.
Googling “best pasta dish with black summer truffles” yielded some interesting, but not realistic results such as:
- Chestnut Pancakes with Poached Eggs, Black Truffles, Pan-Fried Foie Gras with Sauce Périgueux
- Poached Egg, and Crab, Carrot and Black Truffle Ravioli in Tarragon Butter Sauce and Chard
- Parmesan and Truffle Souffle
OK, if I had a longer life to live, in Italy, and a large inheritance, I could see myself ordering any and all of those dishes.
But in my current reality, the simple fact of the matter is that I only have a short time today to figure out how to best appreciate the intensity, earthiness, and culinary magic (dare I say alchemy?) of truffles. I want to focus on their flavor, period. So, instead, I think I’ll go for something simpler like these very similar recipes for pasta with shaved black summer truffles:
And since woman cannot live by truffles alone (although I have not seen any research to back this up; perhaps you can initiate a study and I will participate, taking one happily for the team), I have another new taste to try, though not from Costco: Fresh guindillas peppers. According to our friend, Jim, these peppers are eaten with great delight in Spain, which he had the good fortune to enjoy last summer. So, he wondered if we could find the seeds and grow them in our garden, alongside the usual Big Jim Hatch, Jalapeno, Thai, Santa Fe, and Anaheim peppers. Sure, why not?
Jim says that in Mallorca, they simply fry these little darlings in a deep-fat fryer for a few minutes and then finish them off with a little sea salt. He also thinks I could absolve some of my deep-fat-frying guilt by, instead, poaching them quickly with lots of oil in a frying pan. I’m good with that. As long as the words “deep-fat” aren’t involved, I’ll feel better.
So, instead of throwing together something predictable for dinner tonight, I’m going to make guindillas peppers for an appetizer and pasta with truffles for dinner because the Food Gods have smiled upon me. Who’s with me?
Plus, it gives me a good excuse to stop weeding the vegetable garden.
Peppers first: Even though I take immeasurable grief from Gary for not loving giant salads, I do love good peppers. I admit, though, that my first inclination is to slice or dice them up raw, and then throw them into just about anything but oatmeal. Even though one of my favorite restaurants serves Basque choricero peppers cooked whole every Fall, in much the same way, it hadn’t occurred to me to do the same in my own kitchen. So, it’s high time I cooked up some peppers; here they are:
Since I’m not a poacher by nature (despising under-poached eggs almost as much as 80s perms), I made the rookie mistake of heating the olive oil too high in my large skillet, which made the peppers spit and oil hiss the moment they hit the surface, I managed to fry the peppers quickly without sustaining significant bodily injury. Once drained and sprinkled with sea salt, here’s how they turned out:
With a cold glass of Chardonnay in-hand, when they were just barely cool enough to handle, we gingerly took a bite. Yummy; not too hot, just right. The skin wasn’t so thick that it distracted from the experience. A second bite – a little warmer. After splitting a dozen or so of them, our mouths were on fire…just another reason to run for a small scoop of ice cream to cool off our palettes.
Gary wiped the sweat from his brow. I licked my fingers, regretted it, and made a mental note not to rub my eyes for the next month. Yeah, I’m going to cook these again.
Moving on to the main event:
I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with kitchen tools. Sure, I have plenty of them, but I scoff at those that seem as useful as buying hardboiled eggs. You know what I mean. I simply won’t buy certain things, like a bagel slicer or s’mores maker. But I do truly love my Zojirushi rice cooker, which I know you might think badly of me for. But what about a caviar spoon? Anyone? I’m pretty much undecided about it but am putting it off because of the decided lack of caviar in my life.
But now, here I am, with three glorious, little truffles, asking for nothing more than to be adored and properly handled. And what do I not have, of course? A truffle shaver. After all, I have had no truffles, so why would I need a shaver? Always seemed kind of silly to me, since I have a variety of microplaners and graters, perfect for most anything from ginger to chocolate to cheese. Surely, the most delicate of them will work.
Oh, nay nay. I had no idea what would happen when I cut into them, as they are strange forest creatures with a consistency like no other. I tried my best, but wound up with a messy pile of ill-shapen truffle bits.
I cooked the linguine, dressed it with a little butter and olive oil, and tossed it with the bits of truffle and a touch of truffle salt. A lovely wine was in the glass, but it took a back seat: Truffles first.
It was delicious, earthy, intoxicating. Words were not spoken, as we were too busy eating.
Dessert was not even a possibility. I considered not brushing my teeth that night, just so that I wouldn’t lose the last remnants of the taste of truffles.
Food can change your life. If you’re lucky, the thought of your mom’s cooking still can make you weep. Cooking with someone you love in the kitchen can stop time and space. Eating food cooked by someone who loves you is the best.
So, I’m afraid it’s official: I am a truffle addict. Gary took one bite and then called his son, to pick up four more bottles of truffles at Costco. Wow, Costco. Not the forests of Oregon or Italy. Costco. Wow, what a country we live in. I have no pigs or dogs to sniff them out. I want to put them in risotto, in scrambled eggs, on pizza. On my cereal in the morning; wait, I don’t eat cereal. OK, I’ll eat truffle risotto every morning and nothing else.
I mean, maybe these Costco truffles are from the bottom of the barrel, so to speak. Maybe they are like the mushy morel mushrooms at the farmer’s market at the end of the season. I don’t care. Let me stay naive and happy. As a charter member of Truffles Anonymous, I don’t care.
So, what is my point, if I have one? This little blog post has been gathering dust for weeks now, refusing to be finished. Because I have no point. Or, do I?
George Bernard Shaw once said:
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
A card saying those very words has been hanging in my kitchen for years. You’d think I’d read it more often.
Any food, like truffles (mushrooms for me…maybe chocolate truffles for you?) that can make you stop in your tracks and thank the forces of Nature that created them, is to be celebrated. And maybe even worth buying a special shaver for, don’t you think? It’s not like I’m asking Gary to sell one of his watercraft to buy a damn slicer.
After all, if I don’t own a truffle slicer, maybe the Food Gods will figure that I’m not worthy and pass me by for the Free Truffles for Life Program.
And that would be a damned shame. So here is my next purchase:
If you can get your hands on some truffles; I promise you won’t regret it. If you can’t find anyone to share them with you, let me give you my number.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.