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The summer of truffle love: part 2

Last week we welcomed summer with three of my favorite quick and easy recipes. Now that the solstice has fully arrived, here are four more everyday luxuries you can enjoy with family and guests (or all by yourself, if you're feeling selfish). And the best part is, they all feature easy ways to incorporate my favorite ingredient of all.

Truffled Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
You may remember I said last week this is my wife’s favorite? Try it. It might be yours.
  • 8 slices of bread, French brioche is best, or good white or whole wheat
  • 1 tablespoon of French butter (the Plugra brand is very good)
  • 4 slices of Swiss cheese
  • 1 ounce jar of da Rosario black truffles
  • da Rosario black truffle olive oil
Build two sandwiches while you warm the skillet. For each sandwich: on one slice of bread, place one slice of Swiss, then a layer of truffle shavings cut paper thin. Now drizzle black truffle olive oil on top, and repeat: another slice of Swiss, a layer of truffle shavings, a drizzle of truffle oil. Crown each sandwich with its top bread slice.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in the warm pan. Keep the flame low so the cheese doesn’t super-melt and the bread doesn’t burn. Turn carefully to grill both sides of bread. Remove from heat, cut each sandwich into four-to-six pieces and sprinkle with a touch more truffle oil. Serves four as appetizer.

Truffled Potato Salad
This dish will make you famous at your next potluck.
  • 1 pound of tiny red potatoes, washed
  • 2 tablespoons of minced chives
  • da Rosario White Truffle Olive Oil
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise (use the real stuff)
  • Lemon slice
  • Salt & fresh ground pepper
  • 1 slice of a clove of garlic
Cut the baby reds into eighths and boil until fork-tender. Remove, drain and let rest in medium mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of minced chives.

In a separate bowl, whip together four tablespoons of mayonnaise, one tablespoon of white truffle olive oil and a sprinkle of lemon juice. After you froth it up with a fork, add a tiny crush of garlic. Now pour the mayo mix over the potatoes and gently blend. Refrigerate. Serves four.

Steak and Mashed Truffle Potatoes
This side dish tastes even better than it sounds.
  • Your favorite cut of steak (NY strip, T-bone, sirloin, any will do)
  • Mashed potatoes, ready and waiting
  • 1 ounce of da Rosario black truffles; plus 2 tablespoons of the same
  • Sea salt
Grill your steak the way you like it (no salt yet, it will dry out the meat.) When done, let it rest. Now mince 1 ounce of black truffles as fine as you can. Stir the truffles fully into the mashed potatoes, and finish with 2 tablespoons of minced truffles sprinkled on top. Salt steak and serve four.

Roast Baby Bella Mushrooms with Porcini Olive Oil
This is my new favorite dish of the summer.

10 ounce package Cremini mushrooms (or dark button mushrooms)
da Rosario Porcini Olive Oil
Pinch of salt

Lightly grill the mushrooms. Then coat with 1 tablespoon of Porcini Olive Oil. You’ll swear you’re eating roasted porcini. Makes a great side dish or appetizer.

What's your favorite recipe? Post a comment below and let me know!

The summer of truffle love

Three easy dishes

Stuck for new ideas for summer meals? You’d be surprised at how tasty some all-American comfort dishes get when you add some truffles. Mashed potatoes, starchy, creamy and buttery, are a perfect vehicle for delivering the wild truffle taste. Truffle products on grilled meats and vegetables are a quick and easy way to carry the truffle flavor of the forest; my wife loves truffles in her good old grilled cheese. Even mega-chef Alain Ducasse offers Macaroni and Cheese with Truffle Reduction on his menu.

Here are a few dishes my family and friends really love that don’t require heaps of time or money:

White Bean & Truffle Puree
A very nice summer appetizer with pita chips or bread for dipping.
  • One 27 oz. can of cannelloni or Great White Northern beans
  • da Rosario White Truffle Oil
  • Olive oil, sea salt
Drain the beans and mash with a fork) or puree in food processor. Add sea salt to taste and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend. Add 2 tablespoons of White Truffle Oil. Blend again.

You’ll smooth it into a white frothy paste. (If it’s still a little dry, add a drizzle of White Truffle Oil on the top.) Enjoy.

Honey Truffle Grilled Pork
Treat the other white meat star right with a little truffle love.
  • Four thick-cut pork chops
  • da Rosario White Truffle Honey
  • Sea salt
Grill your chops rare to medium-rare. When done, sprinkle with sea salt. “Ice” each chop with 1 tablespoon of White Truffle Honey; spread evenly. Place them in a shallow bowl with a lid, cover, and let truffle honey melt down into chops as they finish cooking. Bring to table 3 to 4 minutes later, lift the lid, and let the aroma engulf your dinner guests. Serves four.

Baby Rucola, Parmesan Cheese, Pancetta and Button Mushroom Salad
This is the “covered dish” that always seems to go first at potlucks.
  • 2 bunches of baby rucola (enough for four people), washed twice
  • 2 slices of 1/4-1/2” thick pancetta (can substitute bacon)
  • 5-6 button mushrooms
  • 2-3 ounces of Parmesan cheese
  • 2 table spoons of da Rosario White Truffle Olive Oil
  • Lemon and sea salt
Cut the pancetta slices into 10 tiny cubes. Put paper towel on microwave-safe plate, then cubes on top; microwave on high for 2 minutes; spill into salad bowl. Slice each button mushroom into thin scalloped slices with a potato peeler; then into the salad bowl. Squeeze a little lemon juice, then add rucola and 2 or 3 pinches of sea salt to taste. Toss gently. Shave 10-15 paper-thin slices of Parmesan cheese with potato peeler to top off salad. Serves four.

(Note: Some people call rucola “arugula.” I don’t.)

I hope you’ll enjoy these easy and tasty hot weather recipes as much as I do. When the cook stays cool, everything tastes better.

Truffles: A canary in the environmental coal mine?

Global warming + Acid rain = Disappearing wild foods

While there’s a lot of debate about global warming, I know firsthand that the planet is changing in significant ways. How? I’ve been in the truffle business since 1983. In that time, I’ve feared – and watched –the wild truffle struggle for survival. Under siege by climate change and water/soil/air toxins, truffles can either adapt, or die off.

Wild things only grow when they have a clean environment. Many have survived for millions of years in specialized geographic locations. It turns out mushrooms, both above and below ground, are so far unable to adapt to acid rain, one result of a heavily industrialized environment.

Above-ground mushrooms are the first to fail. After that, the truffles, growing 8—20” below the ground, cannot withstand the bad groundwater. They are not protected by the soil, where the truffle spores attach themselves to tree roots. The effects of acid rain can slow or completely spoil the crop.

Sometimes I think truffles confirm the fact that climate change is global. Production in traditional truffle forests in Spain, Italy and France has been slowing down to a crawl for years. For example, in 1965, Spain harvested 150,000 kilos of black winter truffles for domestic and export markets. They came from many different wild regions throughout the country.

Today, the Spanish truffle business is reduced to barely a whisper. And white truffles may be extinct in Italy in ten years. Truffles are so delicate and vulnerable that they perform as one reliable canary in our global mine shaft. Their demise across traditional production areas is telling: something big is very wrong.

Truffles need four seasons, but these days southern Europe only has two: winter and summer. Remember a few summers ago across Italy, France and Spain, when many older people—grandparents who were home in the city while their kids were away in the country or at the seaside for a month—died when a brutal heat wave infested the region with nearly three weeks of merciless heat? All living things (people included) need four seasons to thrive.

At the end of May 2007, Moscow experienced its own severe high temperatures. Summer was not only early, but hotter than the high season… in May. The boiling hot days, and boiling hot nights, and flash floods that are becoming the norm across southern/central Europe have also nearly ended mushroom production in the Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria.)

I hope, and some days I believe we will reverse global warming (see Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth) with a truly international effort. But even if we are successful, there will be many wild plants we will not be able to restore.

Still, there are a few reasons to be encouraged. Truffles are being found in some highly unexpected places. We’re already starting to find truffles in Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Croatia; in Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Russian lake region; and in the Himalayan lowlands — Tibet, India and Szechuan. These previously cold regions have warmed into a milder climate. They all feature intact old growth forests. And they have no heavy industry.

I encourage all readers and truffle lovers to enjoy your wild foods with a truly thankful heart, and, and, and, to do what you can to make sure we reverse our impact on our world – and our palates.