My sister had one black truffle delivered to me early as my Christmas present. Before I opened the box I knew what it was. The truffle’s pungent aroma announced its presence like it was clawing at the clear plastic jar it was encased in. When I saw its size — two inches/5cm round — I knew it would last for 3 meals at least. I decided to use it boldly but simply. Niki Segnit’s always provocative Flavor Thesaurus gave me good ideas for food pairings. Among her suggestions, pasta, chicken, and cabbage appealed to me.
The first dish I made was a basic tagliatelle al tartuffo.
I made a one-serving batch of pasta. These directions for egg pasta dough produce excellent pasta dough. It’s now the only way I make egg pasta. I attribute the difference between this recipe and all others I’ve tried to the insistence on 10 mins or more kneading, followed by 30 mins of rest. I applaud, too, the direction to weigh the eggs after cracking them open rather than assume all large eggs are the same size. The dough handled as easily as leather.
Once I cut the dough into thin strips, I put salted water on to boil. I grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese on to a paper towel. In a small nonstick skillet, I melted butter, threw in a crush garlic clove, and diced fontina. The cheese nearly fried, so I turned the heat down to a minimum while the pasta cooked. I seasoned the cheese sauce. When the pasta was al dente, I used tongs to transfer the dripping pasta from the pot to the skillet and tossed it to coat with butter and cheese. I poured the contents of the skillet into a bowl, tipped the grated Parmesan on top of the pasta, tossed it, and, using a cheese shaver, I shaved slices of truffle on to the pasta. I mixed in a quarter cup of hot pasta water to make more of a sauce. And then I ate it. It was very good, but subtle.
My next experiment involved roasting a chicken.
A free-range chicken with truffles under the skin is not a pretty sight. The truss, red bruise on the breastbone, and the diaphanous skin with the shaved truffles showing through makes this poor bird look battered and bruised. It’s a little creature, less than four pounds, as farmer’s market tenderly-curated chickens tend to be. I certainly paid more for it than I have ever paid for a store bought organic one.
Yesterday, I sprinkled the chicken with salt to perform a dry brine and then put it uncovered in the fridge overnight. This afternoon, I removed it from the fridge about an hour before I intended to roast it. After setting the oven temperature to 400, I rubbed the chicken’s skin with butter. When the oven came to temperature, I put the chicken in the oven with the legs pointing to the back, à la Diana Henry, and left it to roast.
While the chicken roasted, I started my third truffle experiment.
I cut a small Savoy cabbage in half and then in quarters. When I cut out the core, I cut those wedges into eighths. On a sheetpan covered in foil, I spread the cabbage strips. Olive oil, salt and pepper, and then tossed the leaves with my hands and patted the cabbage back into a relatively even layer. It was ready to go as soon as the chicken was done.
The chicken took only 35 mins to roast. I whipped it out, slapped it on the stove, and put the cabbage sheet pan in the oven. I knew the cabbage would take close attention to ensure that it didn’t burn. So I let the chicken sit and watched the cabbage. It charred a little, which was what I wanted. At the point the cabbage looked as though it would burn, I removed it from the oven. Then, with my microplaner, I grated fine shaving curls of black truffle over the cabbage. To top it off, I poured chicken juice over the cabbage.
And the result was a bit anti-climatic. The flavor of the truffles was, again, subtle. Perhaps too subtle. It added nothing to the meat of the chicken. The swoon factor showed up in the conjunction of the cabbage, truffles, and buttery chicken juices. The combination produced a flavor of extraordinary depth and deliciousness. The truffle added a pronounced layer of umami but did not stand out on its own. Maybe that subtlety had to do with the four days since its arrival in my kitchen. Maybe it wasn’t that great a truffle, although the source seems reliable. The only previous experience I have to compare it with were some plates of truffled pasta in Tuscany, but who knows how the chefs there might have goosed the flavor. In any case, I’m glad I had this chance to play with a truffle. But I think I may investigate high quality truffle salt, like this one.
Only one question remains: will the broth be as good as the juices?