Black truffle 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

11.5.10 Fungus Among Us

I’ve heard it said that truffles taste like dirt and I can’t really disagree, though to me they also have a distinctive musky perfume that is vaguely erotic. These hotly coveted fungi develop underground, generally in close association with certain types of trees. There are hundreds of kinds, though the most prized are those of the genus Tuber, the ones referred to by my hero the 18th-century French gastronaut Brillat-Savarin as “the diamonds of the kitchen.” The white truffle, Alba Madonna, comes from the Piedmont region in northern Italy. It grows symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees, and fruits in autumn—as in right now. Their flesh is pale and creamy or brown with white marbling. Prices vary from year to year according to the harvest, which is rooted out by the famed truffle-hunting pigs (and dogs, and men). This year, I've seen them at Eataly in Manhattan listed at upwards of $3,000 a pound. A counter woman was passing a white truffle the size of a small potato to a man who held it up to his nose, inhaled deeply and nodded. "Somebody's going to have a good dinner," I said. "My-a wife-a," he answered in a thick Italian accent. Better than diamonds.
Tagged — risotto
Rice 790 xxx
carnaroli rice

3.26.10 Fit for a King

Risotto is one of those dishes that have been made to seem intimidating: all that stirring! the right rice! the stock! Newsflash: it's overrated. Not its deliciousness, that's indisputable, but its difficulty quotient. Simply assemble the right ingredients, have the patience to hang around the stove for 25 minutes or so, and you wind up with a rich, creamy bowl of goodness that works with so many different flavors. As for the right ingredients, it's really about the rice. A long-grain white rice is what you need for a classic risotto (although farro and barley make interesting variations), such as Arborio, Vialone Nano and Carnaroli, known as the "caviar of rice." Riso Acquerello is a kind of Carnaroli grown in Piedmont, and the one used exclusively by Le Cirque for its famous risotto. In a unique process, it's aged for at least a year to develop its structure and ensure that the grains are polished to perfection. A high starch content allows it to absorb liquid beautifully, so the rice retains a toothy "al dente" quality while acquiring a creamy consistency—the two hallmarks of the ultimate risotto.

There are so many different possibilities for risotto: with saffron for a classic Milanese; with the first peas and asparagus of spring; with pureed squash stirred in; with porcini; and on and on. The recipe, below, is inspired by the Italian master chef Nino Bergese, whose Riso Mantecato is decadent with butter and requires absolutely no stirring at all. I've called my version Risotto da Re (The King's Risotto), because it's fit for royalty: unctuous, luxurious and taken to new heights with a spoonful of rich meat stock ladled on top. It was selected as an Editor's Pick on Food52, an honor of which I do not tire.
Tagged — risotto