In our family we tend to eat the Thanksgiving meal for lunch. It works well for us as our children do better with long meals in the middle of the day rather than at night; and we have never quite figured out how to eat in the middle of the afternoon. This leaves us with the dilemma of what to serve for the evenings dinner. We don’t want to eat much; however, we want something and it is still a celebratory occasion.Although most children want toys as a gift when parents come back from a trip, what our eldest daughter, Gabriella really wanted was a tube of white truffle paste. This year, she decided that’s what we should have for our after-Thanksgiving celebratory dinner.
Our family loves truffles. So much so that we even named our dog Truffle! Unfortunately for our wallets, our girls actually prefer a white truffle to the chocolate kind. If you’ve never experienced a white truffle, it is more aroma than flavor. It literally perfumes the food. Truffles are not a mushroom as commonly thought, but a tuber. They grow symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar, and beachwood trees and typically fruit late in autumn. In Italy, you can find both black and white truffles. Black truffles are fairly plentiful in northern and central Italy and are marvelous, but it is the rarer white truffle from Alba that is the aristocrat of truffles, much more intensely perfumed than the black and, unfortunately, also much more expensive. The record price in 2007 for a 3.3lb truffle was $330,000.
Truffles also grow outside Italy. Black truffles are found in Oregon and France and the rare white truffle has been found in China. Although entrepreneurial farmers are working on it, they are still not able to cultivate white truffles. In France truffle hunters use pigs; however, Italian tartufai prefer dogs. Truffles tend to grow in the same locations every year and truffle hunters guard their secret locations jealously. Although there are people who will take tourists for a truffle hunt, it is usually more of a show than an actual hunt.
Usually truffles are eaten very simply. Either shaved over sunny side up eggs or homemade egg pasta. They are often eaten at special occasions like Christmas and New Year. Some people believe that truffles were the manna sent to the Israelites through Moses as they traveled through the desert for forty years. My children would have no problem eating that kind of manna.
Although eating the shavings of a fresh white truffle is an amazing experience, it is also a very expensive one. A good alternative is truffle paste. Although there are oils and preserved truffles, we have found that the paste tends to capture the aroma best. We like it best mixed into a risotto alla Parmigiana. The creaminess of the rice carries the truffle flavor perfectly. For us, the risotto and a salad, was the perfect after-Thanksgiving dinner.
Risotto alla Parmigiana
This is the most basic of risotti, although that hardly makes it less delectable.Â It is also an ideal base upon which to place a generous amount of thinly sliced fresh white truffle.Â An alternative is to mix in a 25-gram tube of white truffle paste just before serving.
Total time from start to finish: 40 minutes
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as part of a multi-course Italian meal
6 cups homemade meat broth or 1/2 a beef and chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 6 cups water
1/2 medium yellow onion
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1.Â Put the broth in a pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer.
2.Â Peel and finely chop the onion. Put it in a heavy bottomed braising pan with 2 tablespoons of the butter. Place over medium high heat and saute, stirring occasionally, until it turns a dark golden color, about 5 minutes.
3.Â Add the rice and stir until it is well coated. Add about 1 cup of the hot broth and continue stirring. Add only enough broth to produce the consistency of a rather thick soup and wait until all the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Season with salt and continue until the rice is al dente, 20-25 minutes.
4. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve at once.