The highlight of any meal in Paris is dinner at Pink Mama, an Italian restaurant with an open kitchen complete with handsome shouting Italian chefs, a wood fired grill, and an insane pile of gorgeous Italian Umbrian black truffles for shaving over the restaurant's most popular dish, Pasta Tartuffo. One of the world's most expensive foods and difficult to cultivate in North America, Americans have only recently begun to show interest in this fungus nugget reserved nearly exclusively for serving in upscale restaurants. Just as a diamond dealer must take care to avoid the shadowy underworld of forgers and blood, a chef must be certain of a truffle hunter's integrity--otherwise, a black lump of veiny dried out fungus may arrive and no dish will survive the disappointment. Assuming every ingredient has been chosen with care, this may be, hands down, the best pasta dish you will ever make.
Directions for the truffle cream
- In a SMALL SAUCEPAN melt the butter with the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, the chopped truffle, and the mushrooms. Stir for a couple of minutes taking care not to let the shallot brown.
- Pour the wine into the mushroom truffle mixture and deglaze the pan using a wooden spatula to scrape all the fond off the bottom.
- Lower the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
For the pasta
- In a large pot bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add enough sea salt that the water tastes like the ocean.
- Undercook the pasta. It should be slightly tougher than al dente as it will be reheated and cooked more with the sauce.
- In a LARGE SHALLOW POT that will fit the pasta and be used for serving, gently warm the mascarpone and add the truffle cream to it. Add the pasta, the Parmesan, and a tablespoon at a time of the pasta cooking water as needed. Shave the rest of the truffle over the pasta and serve immediately.
A hand held mandoline is a fine substitute for a truffle slicer. The ribbon edges of mafaldine pasta are beautiful, but tagliatelle works well too. This is the time to splurge on high quality pasta. Whole Foods sells a fabulous Mafaldine pasta made by Severino. Seek out Perigord truffles about the size of a golf ball--the best ones with the sweetest, earthiest aroma are harvested in January. Beware of the subtleties when purchasing a truffle--winter truffles are smaller and are of another variety altogether. It may be substituted, but the intensity of flavor will be subtler.
A winter truffle should be less expensive than its Perigord cousin.