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Heaven from earth

Cooking

With black truffles from a great source, more is more. Shower them on the simplest dishes for the richest effect.

February 22, 2006|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

Just for the record, though, when French three-star chef Paul Bocuse makes his scrambled eggs with truffle, he uses an astonishing 7 ounces of truffle for eight eggs, or just about one of the truffles we received for each egg! No butter for the maestro either, as he tells it in his 1992 cookbook, "Regional French Cooking" -- just a mere dollop of creme fraiche. And once he whisks the eggs with the truffles, he leaves the bowl to sit for an hour to further infuse the eggs with the taste of truffles before he cooks them.

In fact, it's the simple dishes, like these eggs, that show truffles to their best advantage.

So what to do with a second truffle? Roast a chicken with some truffle slices tucked under the skin. We shaved six fine slices and slid them in under the breast. And as the chicken turned a dark gold in the oven, you could see the slices through the transparent skin, promising something delicious.

In fact, the truffles lose much of their taste in the cooking. Most of the flavor comes from truffle butter whisked into the juices just before serving.

Truffle butter? If I had just one truffle, I might be tempted to turn it all into truffle butter. Just mince up the truffle trimmings and fold them into softened unsalted to lightly salted butter, the best you can find. We used Double Devon Cream butter from Trader Joe's. Roll it up into a log and wrap in plastic film. It can then be frozen without losing any of the flavor. The proportion is about one part truffles to two parts butter.

I used some a couple of days later to fold into a baked potato -- fantastic! You can toss fresh egg noodles or \o7tagliarini \f7in some of the truffle butter too. The simpler the better.

You can also use the minced truffle shavings to fold into a mayonnaise for \o7celeri remoulade\f7, an idea I got from one of Patricia Wells' cookbooks. I had a little of the remoulade left over the next day and found the truffle flavor had deepened overnight, so this is something that benefits from being made ahead.

Vinaigrette, too, is a good use -- it seems to capture the truffle's flavor in the oil. Make a vinaigrette with olive oil and wine vinegar that's not too sharp, stir in a tablespoon of minced truffle and marinate halved, steamed fingerlings for a surprising potato salad. Sprinkle on more minced truffle, and chives, before serving.

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Fancy-free

ANOTHER truffle went into a recipe from three-star chef Guy Savoy for lentils with black truffles. Somehow, I knew the taste of those tiny green lentils against the full-blown earthiness of the truffles had to be interesting, and it was.

It proved my point: You don't have to be a skilled chef to do something wonderful with this ingredient.

Leave the foie gras and intricate sauces to the restaurant chefs. You'll get a bigger hit if you invest in them yourself and show them off in simple dishes where the truffles and not a million other ingredients shine.

Rhone or Rhone-style wines seem to have a particular affinity for black truffles. Maybe it's because both are earthy and lavishly perfumed. Somehow when a Syrah or a Roussanne or a Viognier crosses paths with that miraculous fungus, they make some kind of magic.

Eggs are notoriously difficult with wine. Add a truffle, and it seems to change the balance.

The fleshy richness of a Condrieu or Beaucastel's glorious old vines Roussanne, or barring that rare bottle, their white Chateauneuf-du-Pape sidles right up to the egg and the truffle, playing the eggs' bland goodness against the dusky earthiness of the truffle. Viognier, with its scent of violets, is another great match. Guigal Condrieu is a great example; even better is the producer's stunning single vineyard Condrieu called La Doriane.

Roasted chicken with truffles wants a red, which could be a Hermitage from Chaves or a Chateauneuf from any of the great producers, such as Domaine du Pegau, but they're not inexpensive. Domaine Grand Veneur, however, is a good, moderately priced Chateauneuf-duPape. A Gigondas or a Crozes-Hermitage would also do nicely.

For the lentil and truffle dish, I chose a Mourvedre from southern France, specifically Domaine Tempier's Bandol rouge, for its bright fruit and darker tones. Domaine de Puech Chaud Coteaux du Languedoc, a Syrah from Cote Rotie producer Rene Rostaing, drinks equally well with this rustic yet sophisticated dish, and may be more of a bargain.

Now that I've done it, I'm thinking of making this an annual event. I'll just have to decide which of my friends make next year's truffle list.

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A great source for fresh black truffles

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