When someone says the word “truffle”, I am always confused about whether the person is referring to that black, ugly, sexy-smelling tuber or a chocolate. The chocolate actually took its name from the tuber because it had the same shape and colour and was a far later invention than the fungus.
Truffles, like caviar and other exorbitantly priced delicacies, have a huge fan following and an equal number of people who can’t seem to see what the fuss is about. The original truffle is the underground fungus of a tuber, prized by gastronomes for several millennia for its ineffable perfume and its supposed aphrodisiacal qualities. Until the 19th century, truffles seem to have been relatively abundant but these days, demand so much outstrips supply that they have passed beyond the reach of all but the rich and famous. There are two major varieties of truffles—the dark brown, almost black, French or Perigord truffle, which is used mainly to flavour cooked foods, and the Italian truffle, from Alba in Piedmont in North-West Italy, which is usually eaten raw, thinly sliced over pasta, risotto and salads. Because of heavy demand and the fact that they are very seasonal in Europe, truffles are now cultivated in the most obscure parts of the world (Turkey, Tasmania and China). Traditionally, they are gathered wild in late autumn and are commonly found in the soil under oak trees. What everybody seems to know is that they are sought out using the especially-trained noses of hounds or pigs.
I love both the flavour and the wonderful heady, leathery aroma of black truffle, although the white one is considered the ultimate. For mortals such as me, who want to enjoy these sensations and the essence of truffles, there are a couple of products which fit the bill. One is truffle oil. Good truffle oil is made by simply dropping some truffle shavings into a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. I have, however, bought truffle oil which has been impregnated with a truffle extract or essence. This is a completely useless product, since it loses its valuable fragrance very quickly. Real truffle oil is now available in India.
The second product is truffle salsa, a mix of chopped truffles and black olives in olive oil. This is both affordable and very usable. For a Sunday morning indulgence, I smother a huge dollop of it on top of poached eggs and buttery brown bread. I used to wait for somebody to come from Australia to bring some from Tetsuya’s, the world-renowned chef and restaurant, but an Italian version (which is probably where Tetsuya got it from in the first place) is now available in The Oberoi, Mumbai, and at the same price, I might add.
Carpaccio is wafer-thin slices of raw anything, in this case beef, drowned in either a mustardy dressing or olive oil and lemon juice. In Alba, where the white truffle reigns supreme, they serve it with asparagus tips, thin slices of Parmesan cheese and shavings of white truffle. Since I don’t have access to white truffle, I have modified their recipe and serve it with truffle oil, Parmesan shavings and rocket salad. This is one of my favourite ways to enjoy truffle oil. People request that I prepare this dish when they come over, since it is so difficult to find in India except in a few good Italian restaurants such as i-t.Alia at The Park, Bangalore, and Vetro at The Oberoi, Mumbai.
Carpaccio of Tenderloin
Serves 4 to 6
250g beef tenderloin fillet
3 tbsp truffle oil
12 to 15 rocket leaves
½ cup Parmesan Reggiano shavings
Juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes
½ tsp salt
1 tsp crushed black pepper
Clean the tenderloin fillet to make it free of visible fat. Cut it into thin slices with a very sharp knife or an electric slicer (this is done better when the meat is still slightly frozen). You have to work quickly to transfer the thin slices to a platter at once. Top it with rocket, Parmesan flakes & truffle oil. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Squeeze some lemon juice just before serving.
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