As avid foodies in Florence, nothing excites us more than finding fresh truffles.
In Italy, truffles are regularly sold from fool stalls at markets and fairs. Some grocers will sometimes have them, as may certain delicatessens (“gastronomia” or “alimentari”). If you’re truly lucky, you may have a truffle-hunting friend or neighbour who that can keep you in good supply.
Highly prized, truffles are of the Tuber genus in the fungi family. They are also likely one of the ugliest of foodstuffs that humans consume!
Misshapen lumps that grow in relation to tree roots, truffles have a pungent flavour that has a petrol-like smell.
Indeed, some products peddled as “truffle oil” can contain chemical aromas deriving from petroleum. Generally, however, real truffles are not preserved in oil as they present the risk of c. botulinum toxin poisoning. As fun as free Botox may sound, it’s best to stick to the real and rare thing.
If you cannot avail of true truffles, the next-best option is truffle salt flavoured with real pieces of truffle. It is the ultimate way to pimp up your popcorn, sass up your steak, make elegant eggs or marvellous mash potatoes.
The secret to using truffles is to let them be the star. Italians mostly use truffles on simple bases, with the truffles grated atop at the end of the cooking process. Some examples include pasta coated with a light amount of butter or fried/scrambled eggs (which, incidentally, Italians eat for lunch or dinner, being that breakfast is usually something light and sweet like a pastry).
After finding a couple of “Scorzone” black summer truffles recently, we prepared a simple risotto by chopping an onion that was then cooked in a dash of extra-virgin olive oil until soft and clear. Next, we added carnaroli rice to the pot, stirring it into the oil and letting it toast for a minute. Next, in went a glass of white wine (following the “one for the pot, one for the chef” rule, of course). Once that had evaporated, fresh vegetable stock was scooped in until the rice was just covered. Additional ladles were added until the rice was cooked, but still quite firm. At this point, a good grating of fresh Parmesan cheese* was stirred in before the heat was turned off. Finally, the truffle was grated then folded into the risotto, with some shavings spared to decorate the plate.
Risotto is served in Italy as a “primo piatto” (first course). As our “secondo” (main course), we kept in theme, preparing grilled chicken breast served with a “contorno” (side) of steamed asparagus coated in truffle and creamy goats cheese.
Discover more about Italian recipes in one of our hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.
* If real Parmesan cheese (“Parmigiano-Reggiano”) cannot be found, it would be better to skip the cheese altogether than use a fake version which may be labelled as “Parmesan” or something similar. The real deal will have only three ingredients – milk, salt and rennet. You only need a small amount so it’s best to splurge on a small chunk of this cheese gold than use a poor imitation. If you cannot find real Parmigiano-Reggiano, there is the cheaper and somewhat similar Grana Padano. At a stretch, you could also use Pecorino Romano.