A heady fragrance wafts through the room as soon as Chef Alessandro Becchini shaves a few slivers of an unassuming,rock-like ingredient on to Asparagi Bismark fried eggs served on a bed of steamed asparagus at Maritime by San Lorenzo. Its an act that instantly transformed the simple egg dish into a gourmet delight. Look up any encyclopedia,and you will not find a precise definition for truffles, he says holding up a piece of white truffle sourced from the Alba region in northeast Italy. However,Becchini takes pride in truffles found in San Miniato,about 20 kilometres from his hometown,Tuscany.
With no clear scientific definition to its credit,truffle is often confused with a mushroom or a tuber,such as potato. Sometimes people even call it an illness of the tree,a cancer of the roots, says Becchini. The Italian restaurant at Taj Lands End,Bandra,is holding a white truffle promotion that will be on till November 17. A special menu designed for the event will include simple Italian fare with a dash of white truffle,with dishes priced between Rs 1,600 and Rs 2,800.
Scientifically termed tuber magnatum pico,white truffles grow at least 40-50 cms beneath the ground,closer to the roots of trees. Also known as diamond of the kitchen,it takes truffle hunters a pack of highly trained dogs to sniff out this elusive ingredient,available only during the months of October and November.
The white truffle is a luxury item because it is so rare,rarer than the black variety and difficult to find. It is so expensive that sometimes truffle is smuggled out of Italy, says Chef Sahil Sabhlok,executive sous chef at Taj Lands End. A kilo costs from Rs 6 lakh upwards when imported to India,thrice the cost of black truffle,he says.
With no need for cooking,truffle shavings can be used as topping,much like parmesan. Good quality truffles have strong taste and aroma,which works best with bland food items such as veal,asparagus,eggs and can be used in desserts too. You can even store white truffles with eggs,which absorb the flavours and these eggs can be turned into a flavourful breakfast, says Sabhlok. If stored in raw rice,truffles stay fresh longer. This aromatic rice can later be used for cooking, says Becchini.
Its appearance,however,gives little away of the flavour and fragrance it yields. Sabhlok recounts an incident from his days as a trainee: We received a box with white truffle on a layer of hay. Since,the ingredient was unknown in the country my head chef thought it was a piece of stone and was about to throw it away, he says.