With fall comes so many beautiful things that I love. Bright yellow leaves of the Aspen trees, a welcome sight to help break up the (somewhat) monotonous evergreen foliage. Slightly crisp air with bright blue skies, perfect for being outdoors. Fewer tourists (at least here in Tahoe!), which means shorter lines at the grocery store and less traffic. But my favorites involve food and cooking, of course. Root vegetables and the ability to create more hearty and warming dishes is really what fall means to me. The tastes and smells just can’t be beat. What else can’t be beat? Fresh white truffles. Probably the most exquisite component of Mother Nature’s fall bounty. Intimidating, yes, but still exquisite nonetheless.
Last year our dear friends John and Lynn organized a dinner revolving around fresh white truffles. It was a great experience. The food, the wine, the company – all fabulous. We vowed we’d do it again, and this November, we did. Earlier in the year, John and Lynn jetted off to Europe for a vacation that included some time in Slovenia and Croatia, which I learned was formerly part of northern Italy, where John’s family is from. During this trip they had a ton of great food, including numerous dishes with fresh truffles. They returned with a wealth of information on the best ways to use those dirty, but tasty, little fungi. This year, we’d embrace the traditional and simple. It paid off.
We decided to go simple, letting the food serve as a backdrop for the truffles, ensuring the flavors enhanced rather than overpowered the main attraction. Last year we were truffle virgins, so to speak, and did not entirely know how complex working with truffles could get. This year, we knew more and all agreed it showed. The food was spectacular. And it wasn’t only the flavor combinations that made it a success, it was also technique – like warming the truffles under very low heat for a very short time so they “melted” onto the food and their oils were adequately released.
The first course was so simple and clean. Lynn prepared soft scrambled eggs smothered in fresh shaved white truffles. It was one of those things where you never can imagine how something so simple could have so much flavor. I’m not a real egg lover, but this was delicious. To maximize the truffle flavors, Lynn housed the eggs (in shell, of course) in a container with rice and the truffles. The smell was out of this world when we opened it up to start cooking.
Next we had homemade gnocchi with a butter cream sauce. This was my first contribution to the evening. I used my trusted gluten-free gnocchi recipe, which turned out soft, with a bit of a chew. Perfect. After boiling the gnocchi, I browned them in a pan with a bit of olive oil, then added butter, jarred white truffles, cream and a tiny pinch of nutmeg to make a quick sauce. Of course, they were finished with shaved white truffles. Just a few of these little guys were entirely satisfying.
Next up was a rustic, earthy roasted mushroom salad made by Lynn. The simple roasted mushrooms, a combination of wild varieties that included fresh baby chanterelles, were a perfect accompaniment to the truffles – hearty, but light and not overpowering. The crisp greens, tossed with a white truffle oil vinaigrette, added a nice freshness to the warm mushrooms. This was really delicious, and a great middle course.
For the main course, Lynn made a sauteed turkey cutlet that incorporated ham, cheese and the fresh truffles. This dish was surprising and wonderful. We paired it with roasted asparagus, drizzled with white truffle oil and a few fresh truffle shavings.
Next up, a beautiful plate of cheeses and nuts drizzled with truffle infused honey. Simple, tasty, satisfying. I love it.
Lastly we had dessert. Shockingly, we had room. There were no “real” truffles in this dish. I made homemade chocolate almond truffles. They had a perfect balance of bitterness, sweetness and richness. It was a great end to this very memorable meal.
And we can’t forget about the wine! John brought in all sorts of interesting and new wines, introducing French and Italian selections that were faultless in their pairings.
After dinner, he also poured a Slovenian or Croatian liquor, Pelinkovac. This aperatif-type drink is bitter and probably comparable to Jagermeister, but less syrupy sweet.
Overall, this was a fabulous and memorable night. The caliber of food this year was far above that from the previous year. Not that last year was bad – believe me, the food was great. But there is something to be said about simplicity and clean flavors. Truffles want to be showcased, not merely an accessory. That is what we accomplished this year.