Carnaroli risotto with white truffles from Alba continued on
Dogs running in the forest at dawn, a sack filled to the brim with dark treasures, ethereal petals landing on strands of fresh pasta—truffles conjure images as diverse as the stunning regions they come from: Périgord and Provence for the black jewels, Piedmont in Italy for the white, and recently, even Morocco and Tennessee.
This month in Alba, Italy, the Piedmont town often regarded as the world capital of white truffles since it holds a live televised truffle auction, Lincoln executive chef Jonathan Benno received the title of “White Truffle Ambassador 2011,” from the Chamber of Commerce. “At the height of the truffle season!” said Benno. “What better time to experience the cuisine of Piedmont.”
Back in New York City, seasonality reaches its peak at the epicurean dining table, each time of year bringing its basket of delicacies, and Benno, holed up in his modernist, glassy kitchen above Lincoln Center, dreams up holiday dishes centered on the most aromatic of all mushrooms. “I went truffle hunting the first time I visited Italy,” says Benno of his earliest experience observing the process in the forest. This fall the chef actually participated in the hunt, gathering truffles in Alba.
With a dreamy air, he describes the seductive quality of white truffle: “I have been lucky to work with truffles very early on in my career at Daniel and later at Per Se. They are almost intoxicating; I love to pair them with eggs or starches.” He adds that the simplest preparations are often the tastiest—a white truffle shaved over scrambled eggs, a salted baked potato, or just tagliatelle with Parmesan.
Truffle Dishes to Die For
Among other dishes, Lincoln will present an appetizer of gnocchi with fonduta and white truffles, and celery root agnolotti with black truffles. The chef will also shave white truffles over a creamy carnaroli risotto with Castelmagno, a mild, nutty cheese from Piedmont, and black truffle strands over tagliatelle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. All dishes are prepared in classic but simple style to highlight the natural aromas of the truffles, which are shaved tableside. Benno also prepares white Alba truffles shaved over a gnocchi di patate al burro. If you cannot decide which one you prefer, Benno will serve a duo bowl that offers half portions of any two truffle dishes.
Evidence shows that truffles have been savored since ancient times. Egyptians ate theirs en papillote, coated in goose fat. Roman and Greek gourmands loved their taste and lauded their aphrodisiac qualities. Today, finely trained dogs have replaced the majority of pigs whose snouts would pick up the aroma from miles away, but who would then need to be restrained by two men or more, so strong was their drive to devour the delicacy.
“Back home in France, a friend of mine owned a tree that produced truffles,” says Philippe Bertineau, executive chef at Alain Ducasse’s bistro Benoit. “One December night someone broke into the property and dug out all the truffles. They never found the thief.” Safe in Manhattan, Bertineau is offering a holiday special of filet mignon Rossini with a double dose of black truffles: first diced into the sauce that drapes the succulent slice of foie gras, then added on top as shavings.
Chef Shaun Hergatt, who owns Sho in the Setai Wall Street Hotel and just received his second Michelin star in October, has chosen cracked soba risotto with shaved white truffles, house-cured egg yolk, and nasturtium leaf. One of chef Marco Moreira’s signature dishes at Tocqueville, creamy Parmesan grits with truffles, features house-cured veal bacon. “I cure my own veal breast rather than regular bacon,” says the chef, “to achieve a less fatty and more intense smokiness.” The dish is finished with a drizzle of truffle milk. And if you pierce the puff pastry pie of the Squab Pithivier with black Périgord truffles and foie gras, make sure to inhale the cloud of truffle steam. Lincoln, 142 W. 65th St., 212-359-6500