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Feb 13, 2012

Cooking with Truffles: Valentine’s Vegetarian Menu

Washington-20120203-00746For any foodie on a mission to maximize his or her eating pleasure, Valentine’s Day presents a special challenge. The perennial question is, How do you hit a new high and top last year’s memory?

Truffles are often overlooked as the star attraction of a home-cooked meal because of their price tag. Back in the day, Brillat-Saverin described them as "the luxury of grands seigneurs and kept women" (also, perhaps, hinting at their aphrodisiac qualities). In all honesty, those qualities have yet to be scientifically confirmed, but I don't think anybody would deny the sensuousness of any truffle-specked dish…

The truth is, like many of you, I had never cooked with fresh truffles before. Truffle salt, yes. Truffle oil, yes. But not with fresh truffles. I decided to explore the possibilities and find a reasonably cost-effective way for me and my husband to indulge. I did a bit of research, and found out that this time of the year, we are primarily talking about winter black truffles of European origin (French or Italian). In the DC area, you can find them at Arrowine in Arlington (perhaps somewhere else as well), and online.

The cheapest source I found is Urbani truffles which also offers a wide variety of other truffle products (truffle paste, truffle oil, truffle butter, etc.) The smallest amount one can purchase is 1oz ($75), which happens to be enough to pull off a truffle dinner. I supplemented fresh truffles with white truffle oil, black truffle salt, and black truffle butter (which I made myself with the leftover truffle shavings). A nice local source of truffle salt is the Spice & Tea Exchange in Georgetown.

Given the fact that most Valentine's Day restaurant prix-fixe options run $60-90 per person, I felt like putting together the coveted truffle dinner was really no more extravagant than eating out (besides, my husband is vegetarian, which makes the choices rather limited). Another myth I wanted to debunk is that that cooking with truffles has to be complicated and time-consuming (stuffed pigeon breast with chanterelles and truffles, homemade puff pastry with braised sweetbreads and truffles all sound fantastic, but there are other delicious, easy and fast options). You don’t really want to spend the entire Valentine’s night in front of the stove, do you?

Washington-20120203-00760The theme I chose is "casual minimalist with a twist." No 10 or 20-step recipes, very few ingredients per dish, and simple preparation to showcase the truffles and keep the flavors subtle.

My truffles arrived via Fedex about 24 hours after I placed the order online. They arrived in a cooler, in kind of a matryoshka doll setup: the truffles are in a napkin inside a plastic sleeve inside a paper sack inside a styrofoam cooler inside a cardboard box. As for my truffle tools, I did buy a mandoline, but after reading rather graphic reviews I was too terrified to use it without a No-Slice rubber body suit. Luckily, I found a small sharp paring knife (I have small hands!) to be the perfect tool for dealing with the truffles (both for cutting and shaving).

Finally, onto the Menu:

Truffle salad with frisee, haricots verts, tarragon, endives, fennel (seasoned with truffle sea salt, Meyer lemon juice, and white truffle oil). Blanch haricots verts for no more than 2 minutes.

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Truffle sandwiches on sourdough (I love using the 69 cent sourdough rolls from WholeFoods) with a nice layer of European-style butter and truffle sea salt. You can stick the bread slices in the toaster oven for 30 seconds, if you like the sensation of eating warm bread.

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Fresh WholeFoods-brand asparagus & fontina ravioli served with truffles, truffle butter, and truffle sea salt.

Washington-20120203-00774Seared scallops with truffles and truffle butter on a bed of celeriac & potato puree (made with truffle butter, a touch of cream, and truffle sea salt) -– perfect for a pesceterian or meat eater! I prefer a 50/50 celeriac to potato ratio, in order to keep the mashed vegetable flavors subtle. Make a slit in the middle of the scallop, and insert a truffle slice prior to cooking (1-2 min on each side on high, depending on the size of the scallops).

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Cheese course: Sottocenere (truffled cow’s milk cheese with an ash rind), or/and Cacio al Tartufo (sheep's milk cheese with truffle sprinkles)

And for dessert - you guessed it – truffles, in my case, purchased from Cocova (formerly known as Biagio Fine Chocolates). There is a very wide variety of exquisite individual truffles for $2 each. Have them box it up for you, get on one knee, and present Her with a little cute box…

P.S. In case you did not use up all of your truffles, in the morning you can share a soft-poached egg with truffles, and a fresh ricotta and truffle honey toast with your coffee.

Categories: Black Truffles, DC, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Foodie Gifts, Valentine's Day
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