This has been a big week for me, in all the ways that really count. First, I got a shipment of black truffles in the mail. They’re Oregon, not Perigord, but I think that the black Oregon truffles, when picked at their peak and sent from a reputable source, are only slightly less pungent. When tossed with butter and fresh pasta, I would challenge you to be able to tell me they’re from Oregon. And while I know I have recently been sort of obsessed with truffles, it’s truffle season, so maybe cut me some slack. I feel like a star-crossed lover for the whole of spring through fall, so when winter hits, and these beauties start coming out of the woodwork (ha!), I get really overstimulated.
Fresh truffles aren’t much to look at, if you don’t know what they are. They’re kind of black and knobbly. Once I got myself hooked, I then started to see them as beautiful. As works of art. I imagine it’s kind of like when people have babies, and this wrinkled, bloody, screaming alien-thing that looks like it’s been coated in cocoa butter and viscera comes out, and they see it and are like “oh, it’s beautiful!” even though it’s still pretty gross until it gets toweled off and burritoed, and even then it takes a few weeks to be cute to anyone outside of its parental circle. But you have to lie and be like “oh my GOSH your baby is SO PRECIOUS” because if you tell the truth and say “your baby looks like it crawled out of the bowels of Castle Greyskull” then the overtired parents might eat your soul. So, even if you don’t see truffles as works of beauty, I respectfully request that you lie to me. In a just a few moments you’ll see it wrapped in the adorable onesie cocoon of pasta and ham and butter, and I think you’ll feel better on the whole.
But first, I should continue to elaborate on why my week has been so great. Becky (or “Bex”)came from Colorado to visit me, and for those of you who don’t know my bestie Bex…well, you should. We’ve been friends since the first day of 9th grade. She’s fantastic, and came out to run the San Antonio 1/2 marathon. I’m super proud, because this was her first 1/2 ever, and she’s lost like 60 pounds since January, and now she’s all sporty and good at soccer and a babelicious runner-chick. Anyway, it was fun to have her in town, and to make truffley foods for her, and to run the first 10 miles of the marathon with her setting the pace. She’s a great pace-setter. I only have two speeds–sprint and amble. She’s really steady, and that helps so much in the distance runs.
Chris and I ran the marathon, which ended up being a mistake because it turned out to be 78 degrees with 92% humidity on the back 10, and when you couple that with a lingering piriformis injury and some other blows to the team motility, it meant the slowest marathon I’ve ever run. And by “run” I mean “run/walk.” 26.2 miles that were divided about 2:1 running to walking, which sounds fine unless you’re actually involved in said marathon, in which case it’s FOREVER. I had salt dried all over my skin in white streaks, and for the entire second half I had to pee but couldn’t because of the condition of the Porta-potties along the route.
An aside: What the hell is up with runners and explosive colonic “situations”? It’s like they all get together to decide what their meals will be the night before, and come up with a plan of liver and onions, cabbage rolls, fiber cereal, and dairy. Every available facility is just COVERED with their gastric indiscretions. Floor to ceiling. It’s repulsive and gag-making and makes you seriously wonder about the healthiness of running in general. Did you know that TWENTY percent of the runners in a marathon report unexplainable rectal bleeding afterwards? I didn’t make that up. Are you grossed out? No, you’re not. You try entering a race bathroom and THEN you can be grossed out.
After we FINALLY completed the race, and poor Bex was waiting for us patiently at the end, I was starving. They had giant bags of bagels, riceworks chips, Cytomax, bananas, fruit roll-ups, and I couldn’t eat any of it until I got home because I was too afraid of what was on my hands from being in the vicinity of those bathrooms. I’m not a germaphobe, but I am a poopaphobe.
Fortunately, my body had been sustained on delicious Gu packets (note-do not try the vanilla gingerbread Gu; it’s awful), and was still running strong off of the pre-race carbo-loading.
And that’s really the end goal of this post. To show you the pre-race carbo-load in all its glory.
Hand-made fettucine with diced Niman Ranch ham, sauteed in barely-browned butter with freshly shaved black truffles and real parmaggiano reggiano. A sprinkle of gray salt, and we were in business. First of all, this was really great pasta. I tend to have trouble making pasta that I can really be proud of. It’s either jagged on the edges or has uneven thickness or whatever. But this was like someone’s Nonna had made it while listening to old Sinatra albums and letting her laundry dry on a clothesline.
Second of all, the combination of ham, salt, and brown butter is one that I can’t really put into words. TRY THIS. That’s what I can say. Get some good, farm-raised ham and saute it in brown butter.
5 T European butter (or rich American butter)
4 oz diced ham
1 t sea salt or gray salt
Heat butter in hot skillet until juuust beginning to brown. Toss in the ham, remove from the heat, and toss to coat. Return to heat. When the ham is heated through, you can toss some thyme in, pour it over a couple of eggs on toast, and you’ll be in hog heaven (get it!?) without having to source truffles or go to the trouble of hand-making pasta. See? I’m all about YOUR comfort!
Note: I say farm-raised not because of ethics, in this case (although that’s a strong side benefit), but because the nasty factory stuff, like Smithfield, doesn’t have any flavor integrity. If you’re going to let the ham shine, as this type of recipe does, you need to make sure you’re getting flavorful, authentic, appropriately-fatty ham. Niman Ranch has GREAT ham, and I like their farming practices. Try googling pig farmers in your area, or going to a local farmer’s market. They’ll often have the farmers there, selling their wares. Shake their hand, ask what their farm is like, and you’ll have a good idea what you’re getting without having to pay through the nose for “designer” meat.
Isn’t she a beaut? Doesn’t it make you all want to come visit me here in my lil’ dungeon of a state? You should really get here before Texas secedes from the union, because at that point you’ll need a passport and some cowpoke boots. And also probably they won’t let me import truffles when they’ve seceded, because “them foreigners is evil, and them truffles is like false idols.”