It’s truffle season again, my darlings; get out your sniffers and let’s get down and get woodsy with it. I have heard tell that this season isn’t considered a vintage year in the grand scheme of things, but my craving is so strong once I go an entire year without a whiff that I’m willing to do just about anything for a fine white truffle from Alba. I asked my friend Shane who works at DeLaurenti to keep his ear to the ground about impending truffle arrival and he gave me the heads’ up a few days ago that now is the time. I headed down to pick up the fine specimen he hand-selected for me, and we did a mini photo shoot with Rachel, the Pike Place Market pig before I collected my prize and hunted for the rest of the ingredients of the feast.
On the menu: tagliolini al toma e tartufo bianco, which is noodles in a sauce of the Piedmontese cheese Toma topped with shavings of truffle. For the antipasto I knew I wanted to do something with duck egg since I’ve been really into them lately. Even though it’s considered more of a first course, I decided that serving a single raviolo with a duck egg yolk inside would actually be kind of an antipasto due to its singular nature as opposed to a plate of pasta. I foraged through the market for the ingredients for the feast and got sidetracked by a gleaming pork belly calling to me from the butcher’s glass case. That’s a tale for another time, but suffice it to say that I’m now curing said belly to turn into either pancetta or bacon; I haven’t decided which makes more sense for my next foray into charcuterie.
I had really wanted to do a sauce of Castelmagno cheese instead of Toma, although both are proprio Piemontese. When we lived in Torino we became very fond of Castelmagno in sauces and Toma sliced and served on a platter of antipasto misto. The fact remains that both are excellent melting cheeses if you buy the Toma young, and though Toma has a milder flavor, that might be a good thing so as not to overwhelm the delicate truffle flavor. Plus, DeLaurenti did not have Castelmagno, which very much surprised me, so that made the choice glaringly obvious.
I schlepped the long haul back to my car with all my market goodies and went home to start the feast. I made pasta dough the size of a boulder because I knew I’d need it both for the tagliolini and the raviolo sheets. I made more still because I had worked myself up about making the duck egg yolk raviolos so much that I was worried I’d need tons of overage in case of the odd screw up. It turned out to be a good thing because there were, in fact, several screw ups, each one peppered with its own choice selection of words not appropriate to publish in this PG-rated diatribe. I seem to have quite the potty mouth in the kitchen which I am going to have to watch out for since Bentley is nearing his mid first year and I think language acquisition is largely based on parental influence. For now though I don’t worry too much, in fact a few good F*#$’s and Sh@*’s impart a nice infusion of passion into the food. Food always tastes better if it’s made with passion, even if the passion is of the flummoxed and swearing varietal.
I’ve been eager to try shoving a duck egg yolk into a raviolo for quite some time, so I undertook that challenge first. I made a firm paste of Crema di Stracchino (in keeping with the Piedmont theme, but you could use ricotta if you so desired) and Parmigiano Reggiano. I cut my rolled out pasta sheets with a cookie cutter and dolloped some paste in the middle, upon which I carefully balanced an egg yolk. I carefully placed another round sheet over the top and sealed the deal with lots of egg white wash, some tricky finger crimping, and a final stamp with a slightly smaller cookie cutter. They stayed together beautifully with the exception of one casualty in the beginning that I sacrificed to discover the best process. I learned from the chef at Spring Hill restaurant in Seattle that it is important to make the raviolos and let them air dry a bit so that they attain a perfect al dente when cooked, so I gave my babies some rack time and moved on to the next project.
I carefully sheeted, rolled and hand-cut the tagliolini for the pasta dish and about mid-way through decided a glass of wine was in order. Hmmm, what to have when preparing a Piedmontese feast? I probably should have started with a young Barbera or Dolcetto since it was not yet the 5 o’clock witching hour, but instead I went straight to the top and opened a bottle of Barolo. It needed to breathe, right? Yeah, Linda, keep telling yourself that! I prepared the cheese, measured out the cream and set up my mise en place for the primi piatti all under the tender influence of gentle sips of a big Barolo. I also roasted hazelnuts and put together a hazelnut chocolate dessert, again in keeping with the Piedmontese theme of the evening.
When the guests finally arrived I laid out some bresaola for them to nosh on and we all took turns imbibing the lovely aroma of the truffle. I made quick work of boiling up the raviolos though we had to go through one or two before we got our cooking time down pat. I wanted the yolk a bit runny but not so much that it was still entirely raw. I served it in a buerre noisette and of course shaved tartufo bianco- over the top- deeeelish!
Our Italian dinner guests had brought two very nice bottles to accompany the meal, a Barolo and a Barbaresco. Since the Barolo I had opened earlier miraculously disappeared rather quickly, we opened both of them to accompany dinner. I whipped up the sauce last minute- I like to do this with a cheese sauce since they really only take a few minutes to come together and if you let them sit for too long they separate. We tossed in the tagliolini, shaved on some truffle and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the evening. I have to agree that the truffles this season aren’t quite as strong as they have been in years past, but the price is also considerably lower and they do satisfy a truffle craving in a pinch. I will leave you with a few shots from the truffle festivals in Piedmont that we used to frequent when we live there. Following that is the recipe for the tagliolini which would make a great weeknight meal without the shaved truffle on top. I did not include the recipe for the raviolo since I didn’t measure quantities this first time making it, but look for it in a post soon as I intend to make it again and refine it further.
Tagliolini al Toma e Tartufo Bianco
- 12 oz semolina flour
- 10 egg yolks
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ c water
- All purpose flour as needed
- Place the semolina flour in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Add the egg yolks, oil, and salt and begin to knead on medium low speed, scraping down the bowl with a spatula. As the dough starts to come together, add the water and increase the speed to medium. At this point your dough will start to form a mass, and you can add all-purpose flour until you reach the desired consistency of pliable dough that is not overly-sticky to the touch.
- Remove dough from mixer and make into 3 balls. Flour a large work surface and begin rolling out one of the balls into an oval shape. Roll the dough to as thin as you can possibly get it, and repeat with remaining balls.
- Carefully hang each sheet of dough over on object such as the back of a chair and cover with tea towels that have been ever-so-slightly misted with water. Let dough rest for ½ hour.
- Bring the sheets back to the floured surface and roll out the dough one final time, using as much strength as possible to get the dough truly flat. Next, generously flour a sheet of pasta and roll it up so it forms a short tube, not the long way so that the tube is long- this way you will have long strands of pasta.
- Using a chef’s knife on a cutting board, cut the tubes into individual pasta strands as small as you can make them. Once you have cut one of the tubes into their strands, use your fingers and unroll the strands so that they do not stick together creating kinks in your pasta. Place the strands in a bowl, repeat with remaining two tubes, and cover bowl with a moist tea towel if you are not planning to cook right away.
- To cook, add a tbsp of olive oil and a tbsp of salt to a large stockpot of water. Bring to boil, add pasta, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until noodles are al dente.
- 1.5 c heavy cream
- 6 oz cubed Toma cheese (not too aged or it will not melt properly)
- ½ cup butter cut into 8 pieces
- 2 egg yolks (I use duck eggs)
- Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish
- White truffle shavings
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring the heavy cream just to boiling point on a low simmer. Add the Toma a few pieces at a time, stirring to incorporate and melt it into the cream.
- Once all the cheese has been added and the sauce is relatively smooth, add the butter one piece at a time.
- When the butter is fully incorporated, whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl. Temper the eggs by adding a few tablespoons of the Toma sauce to them and whisking thoroughly. Remove sauce from heat, add tempered egg yolks, stir thoroughly and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed.
- Toss the noodles with the sauce and plate individual portions. Add truffle shavings and parmigiano to each serving and serve immediately.