Buried Treasure

View from Deborah and Robbie's house

View from Deborah and Robbie’s House

Over the summer I went on a family holiday to stay with friends in the Ardèche. Its no surprise that the south of France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe; hot sunshine, steep wooded hillsides descending to sparkling rivers and bustling provincial farmers markets selling saucisson, crusty pain au levain (sourdough) and sweet juicy nectarines. For a food lover this is the perfect holiday. You spend your mornings sourcing ingredients and exploring the nearby historic towns, then its back up to the gîte for lunch, stopping off at the local wine co-operative on the way. In the late afternoon the only thing alluring enough to tempt you from the hot rocks on the river-bank is the thought of cold white wine and a fridge full of good produce for dinner.

When we arrived, after saying hello and discussing the cricket score, Robbie tells me with a grin on his face that he has a little project for me. My immediate assumption was that it would involve moving wood or mixing cement, but the task he had in mind turned out to be far more exciting. He had recently been given 100g of black truffle, sniffed out by a neighbour’s dog under an oak tree, and I was to make a meal out of it.

Slicing the truffle

Slicing the truffle

Black truffle, though less expensive than its white counterpart, is considered one of the most delicious foods around. A kind of fungus found using either a pig or a trained dog, it is often used diffused in olive oil or shaved on top of dishes. There are pros and cons to which animal you use; though the pig has an innate ability to sniff the truffles out, it is also inclined to scoff the lot before you can pull her off. Dogs are easier to control, though they do have to be trained. Its hard to blame the pig really; along with mushrooms, fermented fish sauces and meat broths, truffles contain umami – a savoury and very moorish ‘fifth taste’. I decided to make some fresh tagliatelle with a creamy mushroom sauce, and to garnish with shavings of the truffle.

For the pasta, I mixed 4 free range eggs with 400g of pasta flour into a dough, then put it in the fridge for a few hours. Deborah and I extruded the dough through the pasta machine, using all four of our hands to feed lumps of dough in the top, turn the handle and gently ease the pasta sheets out the other side. The sheets then went through again on the linguini setting, before resting on the back of just about all of the kitchen chairs covered in clean tea-towels.

For the mushroom sauce I finely diced an onion and sautéed it with some crushed garlic, plenty of chopped mushrooms a little cream, and some salt and pepper. While dad shaved the truffle with a razor-sharp knife, the pasta cooked in a few minutes in salted water and then the meal was ready. Tagliatelle with mushrooms and black truffle

Tagliatelle with mushrooms and black truffle

The tagliatelle was fantastic, the mushroom sauce a umami hit and to top it all off, the truffle was… tasteless. All the truffle shavings added to the meal was a grainy texture and some stray grit that had escaped our not-so-scrupulous cleaning of the outside of the fungus. After all the hype we were disappointed with the black truffle. However, home-made pasta is always a treat, and the meal was not a complete disaster. Hopefully I’ll try a better specimen some day – I can’t help feeling there must be a reason the pigs go so crazy over these black fungal nuggets! 

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