I am a whore for truffles. I don’t mean that in the sense of “I really love truffles!” or “I’d sell my mother down the river for a truffle.” I mean that I would almost certainly have awkward, tearful sex with someone to get my hands on a truffle. Not someone totally gross, mind you. I mean maybe a close and attractive friend, or perhaps one of your less skeevy movie stars. And only with Chris’s permission. And he’d totally give me that permission, because he also loves truffles.
The first bite of truffle I ever had was in culinary school, and it was a weak-sauce truffle from Oregon, which had been plucked from the ground prematurely and hadn’t had the opportunity to develop that tell-tale funk that comes from real, honest-to-goodness truffles. You want the real thing? It has to be black perigord truffles, plucked in the dead of winter from the cold ground at the base of an oak tree in Perigord, France. Does it sound like I’m describing something mythical, like a tree nymph or a fountain of youth? Yes? Well, good. Because real-life human life lacks the appropriate level of majesty to deal with the flavor of a black truffle.
The first bite of Perigord black truffle I had was draped naked and spread-eagle over a ball of potato confit at Alinea. I put it in my mouth and spontaneously ovulated, shedding tears of ecstacy and wonderment. Love at first bite, plus an insatiable lust that has caused me to search out any avenue in which I could possibly be exposed to the musky, earthy flavor of truffles.
Since I am not a millionaire, or even a thousandaire, really, I am forced to seek out shadows of the real thing. But you know what? Even the shadow of a tree nymph is pretty magical. It’s still the moving, living image of an effing pixie, right? And it still has that trail of pixie dust sparkling effervescently around it. So I’m quite pleased with my collection of truffle essences, and will cuddle them close to me at night until such a day that a Perigord truffle knocks on my front door, legs gripping the sides of a winged unicorn, to kiss the sleep from my eyes and whisk me away to….OMG, I think I’ve finally cracked.
The other day I had a craving for truffle so strong that it would not be quelled with white truffle oil (merely the idea of a truffle, really), nor with the quite lovely truffle salt I got at the Spice House in Chicago. I needed concentrated awesome, and I wanted it to be suspended in butter.
I headed to Central Market to pick up a wad of the delectable fat, and ended up leaving with this: a smorgasboard of truffle cheeses, black truffle oil, truffle butter, white truffle oil…wow. I am a glutton.
But really, who can blame me? Especially when the end result was this: Truffle macaroni and cheese, made with truffle-scented bechamel, two different types of truffle cheese, and topped with a crispy crust of panko crumbs sauteed in truffle butter.
Here is the recipe, per request:
Putain de Pâtes aux Truffes et de Fromage (literally “truffle whore’s pasta and cheese”)
4 T truffle oil (white is less expensive and works fine)
4 T butter
½ C flour
4 C milk
8 oz white cheddar
4 oz boschetto al tartufo (sheep/cow milk blended truffle cheese)
4 oz sottocenere (cow milk truffle cheese)
1 t strong, black truffle oil
Salt to taste
1 lb macaroni (can use elbow, cavatappi, or casarecce—my preference)
1 C panko crumbs
3 T black truffle butter
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. When the water comes to a boil, preferably while you’re working on the cheese sauce, add the pasta and cook to package directions.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the 4 T oil, then whisk in the flour and stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes (to cook out the raw flour taste). Slowly whisk in the milk, working out any clumps that may form, and bring to a low simmer. When the mixture has reached a simmer, stir in the cheeses and continue to stir until the mixture is creamy, cheesy, and homogenous. Taste, and add the remaining 1 t truffle and any necessary salt. A bit of white pepper wouldn’t go amiss.
Stir together the cheese sauce and the pasta, and pour it all into a casserole dish. Prepare the bread crumbs by melting 3 T truffle butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Toss the panko crumbs in the butter, ensuring they’ve all received a coating. Scatter the breadcrumbs over the macaroni and cheese, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the panko start to get golden in color. Serve immediately.
I almost cried when I bit into this. I mean that. I had actual tears in my eyes, and knew that the single bite had made me a better person, inside and out.
The truffle mac left while I was asleep, leaving nothing but a phone number on my pillow. I’d call it, but I know it’s a fake number. Guys like that truffle mac are love ’em and leave ’em types, and I’d only end up broken-hearted. Besides, I’m holding out for my Perigord prince charming.