Truffle Shooting

Rare,exotic and expensive truffles are now making an appearance on select menus in the city

Written by Debjani Paul | Published: April 13, 2013 3:31 am

Rare,exotic and expensive truffles are now making an appearance on select menus in the city

They can change even the most ordinary dishes into a gourmet recipe,food connoisseurs swear by them and chefs treat every miligram like gold. If there’s one ingredient that deserves such reverence,it’s truffles — an edible fungus that is much loved and cherished in European kitchens but barely known in India.

Foodies in Pune have an opportunity to acquaint themselves with this legendary ingredient as some restaurants now include truffle-laced dishes in their menu. Priced between Rs 18,000 and 1.5 lakh for a kilogram,truffles are notoriously expensive and sourced only from Italy and France. They grow underground and can be found only by truffle hogs and dogs,whose sensitive noses pick its subtle scent. Also,this elusive fungus can only be harvested in a span of two to three months,adding to its cost.

However,for Chef Federico Volpi,the Italian chef at Prego,his appreciation for truffles far exceeds any concerns about their availability or price. His menu has quite a few items that use both truffle and truffle oil,such as Pumpkin gnocchi with black truffle and Chicken roast with vegetables and truffle. “Truffle can completely turn around a recipe. Nothing can replace its taste or smell,” he says.

For those curious about its taste,the descriptions vary wildly from “earthy and mushroom-like” to “floor of the forest” and even “old,over-used socks”. Chef Volpi has his own perception. “It smells a bit like gas and the taste is intense,” he says. A sample of the Pumpkin gnocchi with black truffle shavings explains why the world raves about truffles. Bathed in cream sauce,the pumpkin gnocchi is sweet and soft and what would be a simple recipe on its own,is completely uplifted by the addition of truffle.

But what exactly is so compelling about truffles that gourmands are willing to pay exorbitantly just for a taste of it? According to Aniruddha Limaye,executive chef at Courtyard by Marriott Hinjewadi,it’s the very scent that draws people in. “Truffles emit gases perfected for the sole purpose of attracting animals to them. It’s that gas which makes truffles so distinctive,” he says.

He,however,uses truffle only upon the guests’ specific demand. “I have served truffles to a lot of expatriate guests. Those who know how difficult it is to find a truffle will ask for it. They are ready to pay a large amount just for a drop or two of the oil or a few wafer-thin slices of it because they know how rare it is. For some dishes like Wild mushroom risotto with tarragon and White tomato cappuccino,we add truffle oil for the wow factor,” he says.

Chef Limaye says the shavings of truffle are best used in hot dishes such as pastas in cream sauces,so that the heat of the dish will release some of the gas and scent from the truffle. For all other dishes,he advises using truffle oil instead.

April Rain’s chef,Milind Sovani,also swears by truffle oil and uses it to season one of his signature items — Naan-E- Khaas. “This naan is cooked with a mix of wild mushrooms. Since truffles pair so well with mushrooms,we drizzle a few drops of truffle oil on top. So when you bite into it,you get the taste of those mushrooms and the lovely scent of truffles,” he says.

Most people who look at the description of the naan on the menu ask Sovani what truffles are. “When I explain it to them,they all want to try it because it is so different and rare. When they taste it,they begin to like it too. This is how more people in India will begin to like truffles,” he says.

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