What if it were the height of the season for Italian white truffles? (It is.) What if your colleague let it slip in conversation that his friend was the head of a major truffle importing company? (He did.) And what if it happened to be pay day and you were feeling flush? (It was, and I was.) Well, of course, you'd ask him if he could arrange a little delivery of top-quality truffles fresh from JFK Airport. So I asked, and he could -- and did.
Thus it was that four ounces of the most hauntingly aromatic little tan spheroids arrived in our apartment just hours after they'd cleared U.S. customs. Even sealed in their little box, they filled the room with that hard-to-describe -- no, indescribable -- perfume. Loamy? No, not like a wild mushroom, though there's definitely an earthiness. Garlicky? Yes, there's a hint of garlic there. Musky? Mmmmmmaybe. But quite, quite wonderful. If you've smelled those questionable truffle oils that too many chefs drizzle over all manner of dishes (a trend that seems, happily, to be waning), you've smelled only one, coarse, dimension of this magical aroma.
Anyway, their fame is justified, at least when they are in such perfect condition as these were: firm, dry and -- did I mention this? -- aromatic.
Now, how to use them? The only thing we were determined to do was to be lavish: my wife and I would finish them off in two sessions, all by ourselves. Beyond that easily attained goal, we knew that, unlike black winter truffles, these were best raw, just slightly warmed by the food that provided an excuse to eat them. It is no accident that the classic accompaniments are pasta, eggs, rice, fontina cheese -- these mild, soothing foods truly do complement the truffle. The best white truffle dish we ever ate had something to do with a very runny poached egg, although I also fondly recall a slice of grilled bread topped with barely warmed slivers of foie gras, crunchy sea salt and lots of truffle slices. But those were restaurant dishes, and we weren't inclined to get creative with our consignment of precious fungi.
So: Day 1 would be scrambled eggs showered with shaved truffles, and Day 2 would be freshly made tagliatelle, buttered and . . . showered with shaved truffles -- followed by a dessert (allow me at least one innovation): truffle grated into plain ricotta, which we then left for an hour to infuse and then served at room temperature drizzled with honey.
That's really all there is to say: what I've named is exactly what we had. No tricks, nothing elaborate. The scrambled eggs were just eggs, scrambled; the tagliatelle were just flour and eggs (with a couple of extra yolks), boiled, buttered and truffled; the ricotta was just ricotta. What can I say? It was all fabulous. The best dish? Probably the ricotta, whose exceptional mildness allowed the truffle aroma to soar.
Oh -- one other thing: as soon as we opened the package, and while we were just starting to think about those scrambled eggs, we toasted a slice of brioche, topped it with a little fontina cheese and let that melt in the toaster oven; while it was still warm, we shaved some truffle on top and shared it right down the middle, even-Steven. No squabbling over who got the bigger half; no sneaking an extra nibble. After all, we still had the better part of a quarter pound of truffles to go: Pettiness could wait till tomorrow.
When not dreaming of truffles or earning his living as an editor, Edward Schneider translates French books on food, cooking and music.