Two years ago, in an agriturismo in Italy owned by friends, I had the unexpected pleasure of discovering truffle shavings casually tossed into a pasta dish that was served as part of an abundant family dinner.
An agriturismo is a farm house-style vacation that offers food produced by the owners themselves on their property, or procured locally. The truffles were a local product, and the owners, friends of my mother, generously shared them with us.
And so distant from the idea of truffles as a luxury associated with fine restaurants and thick wallets. Because the truffle does command a heady price, often hundreds of dollars per pound, a reflection of the investment of time it takes to cultivate them and then to forage for them.
Looking nothing like its stemmed relatives, this lumpy, walnut-sized fungus is sniffed out from underground and from under fallen and decaying leaves by trained pigs and dogs. And from this humble, very earthy environment, it releases an aroma when its flavor is at full maturity, which is the scent by which it is discovered. And it is this lush scent, and the taste that echoes it, that draws its admirers.
And it is this lush scent and taste that infuses the bottles of truffle oil that can be found on grocery store and specialty market shelves, alongside oils like avocado and walnut.
I have looked at the truffle oils on those shelves in the past, and not picked one up, but the other day I did. Nothing sounded better at that moment than to drizzle some over a simple pasta dish, like I’d had in Italy.
And that’s what I did. Hardly a recipe. I cooked three-quarters of a pound of whole wheat penne rigate that I had. During the 11 minutes that those cooked, I roasted broccoli florets that I had sliced into 1/4″ thick slices, tossed with oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet, and placed in a 350° oven, turning them once while they cooked.
After draining the pasta, I sautéed 5 cloves of minced garlic in a pan I’d generously coated with extra virgin olive oil, since it would coat the pasta, too. I tossed in the pasta, turning it in the oil, added a good handful of chopped parsley, and seasoned with salt and pepper.
When all heated through, I spooned it onto a serving platter, stirring in a 1/4 cup or so of grated cheese, and tucked the roasted broccoli alongside.
And then I opened my little, four-tablespoon-sized bottle of truffle oil. The smell was wonderful. I only drizzled a tablespoon, maybe a tablespoon and a half, over the pasta. That’s all it needed.
I ate it slowly and happily on a February night, as I remembered the August in Italy that inspired it.