Sunday, February 18, 2007

I'll take these over diamonds anyday (maybe...)

Happy Lunar New Year!

On a completely untopical if celebratory note, W caught the very tail end of white truffle season and the first inklings of black truffle season on a recent trip to Italy and carted an assortment back. Black ones, white ones, ones as tiny as hazelnuts, ones the size of eggs... As I didn't have the luxury of planning the menu weeks in advance, the line-up was pretty straightforward. Fortunately, simple things do seem to show off the ephemeral character of truffles best. Also, while we had a veritable surfeit of the stuff, we decided it would be much more fun and indulgent to smother every course of one big blowout dinner with generous mounds of truffle shavings rather than ration the lot over several meals.

Bread & Truffle Butter

I can't think of anything else that better defines luxury at its casual best - mini brioches (from a recipe in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice) thickly smeared with yet more fine butter, in this case a pomade of beurre baratte au sel de mer de Guérande and truffle shavings, hopefully downed with copious good champagne. This was sparked off by a description of something along the same moreish lines in Jeremiah Tower Cooks . The aroma of truffles best clings to fat-rich good things like butter, eggs and cream - if you've ever stored a pat of butter and a handful of eggs in the grand company of truffles overnight in an air-tight receptacle so as to start the next day with a plate of scrambled eggs virtually reeking of truffles, you'll know what I mean. The literally truffled butter simply brings the idea to its logical, extreme and delicious conclusion.

Tarte Friande de Truffes aux Oignons at Lard Fumé

An extravagant number from my beloved copy of Simply French: Patricia Wells presents the cuisine of Joël Robuchon . A layer of thinly sliced truffles sits atop a divine mixture of onion, bacon and cream, liberally peppered - as the recipe advises, the key thing is to mince the bacon ultra-fine before using; it's always pretty astonishing how taking care with the way ingredients are cut can make such a difference to the final dish, as the modest quantity of tiny cubes unleashes a wealth of sweet, smoky, meaty flavours, much more so than if you'd merely diced the bacon. It's just as good piled into a buttery pâte brisée tart case or served with garlic-rubbed toast.

Truffle Pappardelle, Parmesan Beurre Fondue

"Gossamer layers of fresh pasta encase shavings of fresh black truffles that, when rolled out, make the dish as beautiful to look at as it is to eat." says Nancy Oakes in Boulevard The Cookbook of this recipe. Seeing as we had the truffles to spare, I simply couldn't resist making this, which calls for a layer of truffle slices to be sandwiched between two whole sheets of fresh pasta dough before thinning the "sandwich" through the pasta rollers again to result in a fabulously mottled appearance.

Wagyu Carpaccio, White Truffle Oil Aioli

Largely inspired by one of W's favourite dishes from one of our favourite restaurants in Singapore, Iggy's (for the complete and comprehensive Iggy's 101, see Chubby Hubby's post here).

There's an entertaining recount of carpaccio's origins in Giorgio Locatelli's Made In Italy, alongside the idea of carpaccio-as-canvas; serve it with what you will so long as it makes for pleasurable eating, the only mandate being that the beef must be the very best you can find seeing as it's served raw. I used slices of Australian wagyu, pounded to a papery thinness. This is then dressed with squiggles of white truffle oil aioli - possibly the best use of white truffle oil - and topped with truffle shavings, rocket and grana padano. Many white truffle oil mayonnaise and aioli recipes abound; I like the recipe in Cindy Pawlcyn's Big Small Plates.

Creamy Polenta, Fricassee of Mushrooms

Scott Conant's rendition of the supremely creamy polenta alla Veneziana con il latte (that I've raved about before) from New Italian Cooking, topped with a fricassee of mushrooms and the pungent cooking juices.

Papillote au Praliné

I didn't get a chance to contrive a truffle-scented dessert like I did here. Instead, a flavour entirely complementary to that of truffles - that of hazelnuts. The recipe can be found in La Pâtisserie de Pierre Hermé (the same book in which this can be found). Here, dollops of hazelnut praliné cream sit on discs of hazelnut meringue succès and are enveloped in rumpled chocolate sheets.

Salted Caramel

As dessert called for tempered chocolate anyways, and I find it tricky to temper in quantities any less than a pound, all it took was a little planning-ahead to use up the rest for these molded chocolates, filled with a richly flavoured salted caramel ganache spiked with beurre baratte au sel de mer de Guérande, which would amusingly bring the meal to full circle - it also didn't hurt that I love salted caramel. The recipe for this beautifully balanced chocolate confection comes from Andrew Garrison Shotts' Making Artisan Chocolates (see here for more signature flavours from the acclaimed Garrison Confections). It's one of the precious few recent books that, while aimed primarily at the layperson, manages to demystify the chocolate making process without skimping on technical and practical explanations - the detail level is pitch-perfect (another publication I'm eagerly anticipating the relase of is Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner).