It’s been a whirlwind of activity since returning from Denver last week. On Saturday, I drove up to San Francisco to spend the day with Dianne Jacob and a host of other aspiring writers (including Patricia from Brownies For Dinner and Joel from Six By 10 Tiny Kitchen) for a workshop on food writing. It wasn’t your typical way to spend a Saturday, but time flew by as the seven of us discussed everything from the state of food writing today to the importance of blogging, to reporting our brownie and biscotti-eating experiences, all guided by Dianne’s wealth of knowledge in the field. She conducts a number of writing workshops and courses in the Bay Area as well as online, but if classes aren’t quite your style, I highly recommend investing in a copy of her excellent guide to food writing, ‘Will Write For Food’. It’s a concise compendium of everything you’d need to know about food writing peppered with some stellar examples from writing luminaries, like Calvin Trillin, MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David.
After a restful Sunday, it was full-on planning for our second wedding anniversary on Tuesday where I conspired with my imagination to surprise M with an indulgent home-cooked dinner. It was also a week of new beginnings, as I started practicing Ashtanga yoga again at a studio near our home, an endeavor which has been surprisingly exhilarating and enlightening despite my initial reservations about this branch of yoga. Past experiences left me panting mid-way through the practice, thoughts racing, breaths out of sync and wondering “WHAT am I doing to myself?”. Fortunately, I encountered none of that in the studio’s Mysore approach. Despite a 6:30am start, I find myself leaving the studio bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, filled with a peculiar mix of joy, excitement and achievement that I haven’t felt in a while. It comes in that split second when I step out of the studio into the cool morning air into the gentle sunlight, like a parting gift.
So, yes, things have been busy around here. But I did want to share my excitement about planning Tuesday’s dinner. It all started when I read a post from a fellow BlogHer Food attendee (whose blog I cannot recall, unfortunately), who picked up a few Black Summer Truffles at the Ferry Building before heading home. Up till then, truffles were one of those ingredients that are too expensive for home cooks, only to be savored in prepared forms – like a butter, salt or infused oil – or scantly shaved over an entreé in a swanky restaurant. Seeing it deployed in the home kitchen by a fellow blogger certainly piqued my interest and I promptly made my way to Far West Fungi to check these esteemed nuggets out for myself.
Hailing from Italy, these tiny fungi were mildly aromatic and clearly the fruits from the tail-end of the season, but no less fragrant. Despite being widely regarded as a less fragrant (and therefore, cheaper) cousin to the Winter Truffle, they still held your nose with a heady sensuality of musk, earth and chocolate. One whiff was enough to stop me in my tracks, savoring its robust nose through to its final note before seeking the next whiff.
As a fan of simple preparations, I grated these over a side of melted leeks that were first boiled, then sautéed in butter to accompany a perfectly tender piece of filet mignon for our main course. The truffles really brought out the sweetness of the leeks, which clung to each other all wrapped up in a buttery coat. It was a simple accompaniment to a generous filet, and definitely did its job in filling us up without overdoing it. There was, after all, dessert to be had in the shape of Thomas Keller’s Mousse au Chocolat paired with slices of pear poached in ginger syrup.
For appetizers, we had a trio of slow-roasted heirloom tomatoes, a generous heaping of Burrata speckled with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, and some mixed olives, paired with a glass of Moët (of course!). The tomatoes are among my dinner party staples, the perfect player in a platter of pre-dinner nibbles alongside other hors d’oeuvres. In this instance, they provided the necessary dash of sweetness to complement creamy burrata and briny olives. A slow, extended roasting process coaxes all the tartness out of each slice, producing a wave of naturally sweet, concentrated tomato essence with each bite.
Needless to say, it was the perfect dinner for reminiscing and pinching ourselves that we had been married for two years (!!). The only thing missing was a proper dining table ornamented with a lovely centerpiece, but I’ll leave that for our third (or fourth, or fifth?) anniversary.
Melted Leeks With Black Truffles
The recipe below serves enough for 2 as a side, but you can easily scale the proportions up to feed more if needed to.
1 large leek, or a few small ones, weighing about a pound in total (450 grams)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
A handful of coarse sea salt
Set a pot of water to boil with the coarse sea salt.
Prepare the leek: preserve the white parts (and some green parts) of the stem, discard the outer layers and rinse the layers well to get rid of any dirt. Chop the stem into 1-inch rounds and toss the leek into the pot when the water starts boiling merrily.
Leave the leeks in the pot for about 10 minutes, or until tender when tested with a fork. The outer layers should appear slightly translucent and swollen with water.
Remove the cubes with a slotted spoon and leave to cool, then half each round vertically.
Melt the butter in a medium pan, then toss in the leeks, moving it around to coat each piece in butter. Sauté until the leeks turn a yellowish green and some pieces start to brown at the edges. Season to taste.
Scoop out on serving plates and grate the truffle over the leeks. Serve immediately.
Slow-roasted Tomatoes (Loosely adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook)
Makes 4 servings as part of an assortment of appetizers
3 to 4 pounds (approximately 1½ to 2 kg) ripe and firm heirloom or vine tomatoes, at least 2 inches in diameter
A handful of fresh thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C.
To peel the tomatoes, set a pot of hot water to boil, then prepare the tomatoes by coring the tops and making small ‘x’ incisions at the bottom each tomato. Place all the tomatoes into a large, heatproof bowl, then pour the boiled water over them and leave to rest for about 5 minutes.
Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and allow to cool before removing their skins. If the skins don’t peel away easily, return them to the bowl and let them soak for a while longer. (If your tomatoes are very ripe, you might be able to peel their skins while coring and making incisions, skipping the water step entirely).
Half the peeled tomatoes by cutting across horizontally and arrange them, cut-side up, on a lined baking sheet. You could cram all the tomatoes together or space them out, it’s up to you.
Harvest the thyme leaves, then mix them up with the salt and pepper and sprinkle the mixture over the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and place the sheet into the oven.
Bake for at least 2 hours (if your tomatoes are small), up to 4 (for very large tomatoes), until the slices shrivel up and look like wrinkled prunes. If your tomatoes are of different sizes, check in regularly to ensure that the smaller pieces do not burn before the bigger ones are done.
When ready, leave the tomatoes to rest on the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing them with a slotted spatula. Serve warm with crusty bread.
The tomatoes can also be refrigerated in an airtight container (with the juices from the pan) for up to 5 days and can be reheated just before serving. They’re equally tasty warm or cold.
We barely used one truffle for the leeks, and we paired it with the Burrata for a home-made pizza dinner yesterday, using Peter Reinhart’s pizza dough recipe. Although I’m not at liberty to share that with you because of the BBA Challenge, S over at Chubby Hubby shared her transcribed and annotated version of Reinhart’s recipe, which in my opinion, is the ultimate recipe for pizza dough. Unless you have an Italian nonna to share her tried and tested version with you, Reinhart’s formula is probably the next best thing. Here are some other lip-smacking ideas for making full use of this highly-prized fungus if you happen to find one lying around in your pantry:
- Black Truffle Soufflé at FX Cuisine
- Black Truffle Risotto at Sunday Dinner
- Black Truffle Potato Salad at Chez Us
- Truffled Omelette at We Are Never Full
- Quail with Winter Black Truffles, Thyme and Riesling at Grub Hacker (sounds like the perfect Christmas meal!)