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Getting the most out of truffles

Though expensive, you don't need much--and a little goes a long way


If North Carolina is to be the next great truffle region of the world, we as good citizens should support this burgeoning industry, and eat more truffles. The exorbitant price of fresh truffles may dissuade you, but the taste is quite powerful, and a little truffle goes a long way. This past season, fresh black truffles were selling at A Southern Season for $999.99 per pound, which translates to about $49 a truffle. That one truffle should be enough to try all the ideas below, or to make one big dinner party seriously decadent.

Truffles infuse whatever you put them in with their intense flavor, and the best conductors for this flavor tend to be basic foods. Part of the fun of cooking with truffles is turning staple foods like rice or eggs into rich and extravagant dishes. When you bring your truffle home, store it in the fridge in an air-tight container with arborio rice. The rice will absorb the intense truffle aroma.

A nice way to start your day like a person of privilege is with scrambled eggs with truffles. You need very little shaved truffle or truffle oil to make the eggs richer and sweeter, and only a little more than that to have powerfully truffley eggs. You can buy a truffle mandolin to shave your truffles super fine, but a sharp paring knife and steady hand work almost as well. Shave a few slices into your eggs when they are almost done, then garnish with a sliver or two more. Serve with toast and mimosas.

Root vegetables and truffles go together incredibly well, and soup is a good place to get the most out of a small amount of truffle. Remember that in any recipe fresh truffle should not be cooked for too long, and should be added only minutes before the dish is finished. Fresh black truffle or a few drops of truffle oil added to any good sunchoke, potato, or squash soup recipe will make the soup 10 times better.

The classic truffle dish is risotto, especially because you can infuse the rice with truffle flavor simply by storing them together. The simplest white wine risotto recipe will do, with truffle shaved in at the last minute and shaved truffle and parsley as a garnish.

Truffles are amazing in mashed potatoes. In all the truffle experiments I did, my favorite was pan-seared venison loin on truffled mashed potatoes with a simple red wine pan sauce, garnished with shaved truffles (see recipe, below). This would work beautifully with any simple and elegant red meat with mashed potatoes dish. Just add truffles to your potatoes as you mash them.

If you do go out and buy a whole fresh truffle, make sure to save a slice to make your own truffle oil. Just drop the slice into a small bottle of good olive oil. And after all this, if you still have a tiny bit left, make some truffle vodka, which in turn can be made into truffle martinis. Again, just drop some shavings into a bottle of good vodka, then give it a little time to infuse.

Fifty years from now, North Carolina's tobacco farms may all be truffle orchards. So quit smoking and start cooking.

NOTE: Black winter truffle season is between November and February and is over for this year. However, most of these recipes can be made with truffle oil, which can be purchased at gourmet stores for $10 to $40. Also, frozen truffles are available over the internet. Or, if you start saving now, you should be able to afford a fresh truffle by next season.

Venison with Truffle Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4

2 pounds venison loin
1 cup red wine
5 large red potatoes
1/3 cup cream
1/3 stick butter
1/2 teaspoon shaved fresh truffle
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for cooking

Boil potatoes until soft. Put aside. Cut venison into four pieces and salt and pepper all sides of the meat. In a skillet over high heat, put just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. When the pan and the oil are very hot sear the venison on all sides, turning with tongs. When all the sides are browned, remove from pan. Add wine to deglaze the pan, and then turn down heat. If you want rare venison, put the meat on a plate to rest for five minutes. If you want medium meat, put the venison in a 400-degree oven for five minutes, then rest it for five minutes. Cook the red wine in the pan, stirring occasionally until the alcohol smell is gone. Mash the potatoes with cream, butter, salt and pepper, and most of the shaved truffle. Serve the venison sliced over the mashed potatoes and spoon the red wine sauce over the top. Garnish with remaining shaved truffle.

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