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White Truffles Italy's Extravagant Jewel : Taste: Italian truffles, among the rarest edible tubers, can range in price from $700 to $7,000 a pound.

December 07, 1989|ROSE DOSTI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Truffle die-hards will resort to frozen truffles at $130 per seven ounces for extra grade truffles out of season.

So if you wonder why the price of a pasta dish containing truffles at a restaurant is outrageously high, there is good reason.

Fresh truffles, because of their fragility, are air-shipped. To preserve their quality, the truffles are individually wrapped in newspaper, covered with a damp towel and stored in wooden crates under refrigerated conditions to be used within 10 days. Like mushrooms, truffles develop a slimy, viscous texture when overripe and on the verge of spoiling.

Most truffles eaten fresh are shaved from the whole truffle, using a mandolin (mandolino) similar to a wire egg cutter.

Truffles, however, are not generally eaten by themselves, as one would caviar. Truffles are enjoyed as a flavor and texture fillip in dishes containing other ingredients, or as garnish. Often a dish containing truffles is unthinkable without a compatible wine to go with it.

The House of Buccellati, which goes back to the 1700s, creates to this day hand-crafted jewelry and silver, using traditional techniques and tools of the Renaissance. The museum exhibit brought to Los Angeles from its tours in Hong Kong and Tokyo is open to the public at no charge through Dec. 15 at the the Buccellati salon in the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Here is a recipe for the spinach flan that is an ideal appetizer or second course before the meat course in a typical Italian dinner.

FLAN DI SPINACI CON FONDUTA E TARTUFO BIANCO DI ALBA

(Spinach Flan With Truffle Fondue)

1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, cleaned

1/4 cup butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon milk

Salt, pepper

Dash ground nutmeg

2 eggs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Fonduta

4 tablespoons truffle shavings

Cook spinach until tender, about 1 minute. Drain and squeeze dry. Finely chop. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet or saucepan. Add spinach and saute until wilted. Chill.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and stir in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Gradually add milk. Cook over low heat, stirring until smooth and thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste and nutmeg.

Add sauce to spinach with eggs and Parmesan cheese, mixing until well blended. Spoon spinach mixture into 4 individual 1/2 cup flan molds or round or oval cocotte dishes. Place molds in pan and fill halfway up sides with water. Bake at 350 degrees 20 to 30 minutes or until flan springs back when lightly touched. Do not over or under cook.

Let rest 10 minutes before inverting onto serving dishes. Spoon some Fonduta on plate. Arrange flan over sauce, then spoon some additional sauce over part of flan. Sprinkle each flan with 1 tablespoon truffle shavings. Makes 4 servings.

Fonduta

1/2 pound fontina cheese

2 egg yolks, beaten

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup milk

Combine fontina cheese, egg yolks, butter and milk in top of double boiler over hot water. Simmer until sauce is thickened, whisking constantly. Immediately place pan in cold water to prevent further cooking.

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