Truffles are a rare delicacy, but you needn’t break the bank to get a taste of the fancy fungi. A drizzle of truffle oil – plus a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and a shower of parmesan cheese – is all that’s needed to add a little luxury to winter mealtimes.
Winter is wild truffle season in Europe – but if you go down to the woods today, you’re unlikely to spot the prized mushroom growing in clusters out of tree bark or emerging from damp leaves. Technically the fruiting bodies of fungi, truffles grow underground on the roots of trees, most famously in Italy and France (although some varieties can also be found in the wild in southwest England). They’re also incredibly hard to find – unless you’re accompanied by a dog that’s been specially trained to sniff out the buried treasure.
Because they’re both rare and delicious, truffles have become one of the most expensive ingredients in the world. The most prized species can cost over £9,000 (€10,000) per kilogram, according to the English Truffle Company, while a giant white truffle was sold for £165,000 back in 2007. At Selfridges, a 50g jar of whole black Melanosporum truffles by French brand Maison De La Truffe costs £145; the same amount of white (or Piedmont) truffles from Urban Merchants will set you back by £190.
But you don’t need to hand over a sizeable chunk of your monthly pay cheque to enjoy the full-bodied, super-savoury taste. A drizzle of truffle-infused olive oil is a cost-effective option that can imbue even the most familiar dish with that distinctively intense, musky, garlicky flavour. A little goes a long way, so it’s worth investing in a good-quality bottle: try Fortnum & Mason Black Truffle Oil (£16.95 for 55ml), or San Pietro a Pettine White Truffle Oil (£16.95 for 250ml, Lina Stores).
Below, you’ll find three Italian-inspired wintry recipes that put truffle oil to good use – alongside breadcrumbs and plenty of parmesan. Laura Santini’s truffled macaroni and cheese adds savoury nuance and crunchy texture to your favourite comfort food, with black truffle oil swirled into the three-cheese sauce and a sprinkling of panko breadcrumbs.
The recipe for Jerusalem artichoke risotto, meanwhile, comes courtesy of Carole Bamford, the woman behind organic foodie mecca Daylesford Farm: it’s topped with a drizzle of truffle oil for a silky, earthy finish.
Finally, if you fancy cooking with the real thing, try the pork cheek and truffle cream croquettes from the Big Mamma team. This recipe uses one whole black truffle – such as this version by Marini & Azzolini (£8.99, Sous Chef) – in addition to truffle oil, but you can stick to the oil alone if you want to keep things simple. Happy cooking.
Laura Santini’s truffled mac ‘n’ cheese
- 950ml double cream
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 30g unsalted butter
- 4 shallots, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 salted anchovy fillet
- 500ml white wine
- 100g grated cheddar cheese
- 100g grated gruyère cheese
- 45g grated parmigiano reggiano
- 2 tbsp black truffle oil
- 500g dried pasta tubes or 400g fresh pasta tubes
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 75g toasted panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- 25g grated parmigiano reggiano
In a large heavy-bottomed pan, heat the cream until it is almost boiling, then turn down the heat, add the nutmeg, cayenne pepper and bay leaf and allow to simmer slowly until reduced by half. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a separate pan, then sauté the shallots, garlic and anchovy until the anchovy has melted and the shallots are soft and translucent but not browned.
Pour in the white wine and simmer until nearly all of it has evaporated.
Meanwhile, put a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Pour the cream mixture into the shallot and wine mixture. Add the cheeses and truffle oil, and season to taste. Set aside.
When the salted water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the packet.
Drain the pasta, but keep a cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pan and add just enough truffled sauce to coat the pasta (you want it nice and creamy but not too rich), along with 3-4 tablespoons of the retained pasta cooking water. Return to the heat for 1 minute, and give everything a good mix to make it extra creamy. Pour into a suitable serving dish.
Mix the breadcrumbs, parsley and parmigiano cheese together and sprinkle over the dish. Serve immediately.
This recipe makes more sauce than you will need for the pasta, but you can keep the rest in the fridge or freeze it for future use.
From Pasta Perfect: Over 70 Delicious Recipes, From Authentic Classics To Modern & Healthful Alternatives by Laura Santini (£14.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Carole Bamford’s jerusalem artichoke risotto with garlic and almond breadcrumbs
- 45g butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed to a paste
- 150g carnaroli or arborio risotto rice
- 50ml white wine
- 700ml good vegetable stock, hot
- 60g parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 handful of micro or baby salad leaves, to finish
- 2 teaspoons truffle oil, to finish
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the artichoke purée:
- 320g jerusalem artichokes, peeled and roughly chopped
- 250ml milk
- 50g butter
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
For the breadcrumbs:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 30g breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
- ½ a clove of garlic, crushed
- 15g flaked almonds
To make the artichoke purée, put the artichokes and milk into a pan with half the butter and 400ml of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the artichokes are soft.
Lift them out and transfer to a blender, adding just enough of the cooking liquid (about 4 tablespoons) to form a purée. Add the rest of the butter and the lemon juice and blend again. Taste and season with salt as necessary, then keep to one side.
For the risotto, melt 15g of the butter with the oil in a heavy widebased pan. Add the onion and garlic and soften gently without colouring. Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, over a low heat.
Add the white wine, turn up the heat a little and let the liquid reduce until it has almost gone, then add the hot stock a ladleful at a time, stirring continually and only adding the next ladleful when the previous one has been absorbed.
Keep going until all the stock has gone and you have a creamy, quite loose consistency – the rice should still have a little bite to it.
Add the artichoke purée, the Parmesan and the rest of the butter, stir and take off the heat. Taste and season as necessary.
For the breadcrumbs, heat the oil in a pan and quickly fry the breadcrumbs with the herbs and garlic. Drain on kitchen paper, then combine with the almonds.
Divide the risotto between four warmed wide bowls or deep plates, and garnish with the garlic breadcrumbs and the micro or baby leaves.
Drizzle with the truffle oil, finish with some freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.
From A Love For Food: Recipes From The Fields And Kitchens Of Daylesford Farm by Carole Bamford (£30, Square Peg), out now
Big Mamma’s guanciale and truffle cream croquettes
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Chilling time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 6 slices of guanciale (cured pork cheek/jowl) or bacon, finely diced
- 2 eggs
- 80g dried breadcrumbs
- 2 litres sunflower oil, for deep-frying
- 50g parmesan cheese, to garnish
For the béchamel sauce:
- 40g (3 tbsp) butter
- 40g pasta flour, preferably Italian ‘type 00’
- 400ml milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
For the truffle cream:
- 20g (1 ½ tbsp) unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp truffle oil
- ½ shallot, chopped
- 10g fresh black truffle, chopped
- 200g white (button) mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tbsp white wine
Make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a small pan over a medium heat and mix in the flour. Next, add the milk, salt and nutmeg.
Continue to cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat, stirring continuously, until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
Make the truffle cream. In a deep, heavy frying pan over a medium heat, melt the butter with the truffle oil. Add the chopped shallot and truffle and the sliced mushrooms.
Sauté for 10 minutes before deglazing the pan with the white wine, stirring well with a wooden spatula to dissolve all the caramelized juices.
Cook the béchamel sauce over a low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend in a food processor.
In a frying pan, heat the oil over a medium heat and sear the guanciale for 5 minutes, or until well toasted. Drain on paper towels and leave to cool for 5 minutes.
Incorporate the guanciale and truffle cream into the béchamel and chill for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
When the mixture has cooled, wet your hands and shape into roughly 5cm-diameter balls.
Break the eggs into a shallow bowl and lightly beat. Put the breadcrumbs into a second bowl. Dip the croquettes into the beaten egg and dredge in the breadcrumbs.
In a deep fryer or large heavy-based pan, heat the sunflower oil to 165°C, or until bubbles form on the surface. Fry the croquettes for 4–5 minutes until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with the parmesan and serve immediately.
Enjoy croquettes any way you like. They can be addictive! Small croquettes make great nibbles to accompany a pre-meal drink, while large ones can be served as an appetizer.
If you’re short on time, you can skip the step for making the truffle cream (only this time though). You can find very good truffle cream at delicatessens (preferably organic with real truffle).
From Big Mamma Cucina Poplare: Contemporary Italian Recipes by Big Mamma (£27.95, Phaidon), out now
Photography: Christopher Scholey © Ryland Peters & Small; © Sarah Maingot