Focus on Food

Truffle Treasure

Getting a kick from Champagne

Story and Photograph By Rose Shewey

If I were to change my path in life and choose a different craft, I’d become a truffle hunter. I would train a Lagotto, a curly-coated dog famous for its truffle hunting qualities, and move to the Piedmont region in Italy where I would happily spend my days roaming the outdoors, looking for subterranean treasures.

If you have ever tasted a fully ripened, wild truffle — not the second-rate, cultivated stuff — you’re likely on board. The musky, sweet and gamey aroma of truffles is intoxicating and has you scheming for ways to get your hands on more.

In fact, I would happily hunt for any wild edible fungi for the rest of my days even though, truthfully, I have never dared to go mushroom picking without an expert guide. I have it on good authority that even in the U.S. Army’s own SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) school, students are instructed to avoid mushrooms at all costs as the chance of, well, survival is greatly diminished if you accidentally ingest the wrong kind.

Wild mushrooms are as mysterious and elusive as they are feverishly sought. Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are a fascinating world of their own. With their velvety caps, tender gills and whimsical, almost otherworldly appearance, mushrooms have always held a special place in my heart.

When it comes to preparing mushrooms I take a page out of the Alsatian playbook. To some, it may seem decadent, but in the cuisine d`Alsace folks have known for centuries that modest, earthy crops shine like a star once infused with Champagne, as the pearly acidity rounds out their natural flavors. I have quasi-celebrity backup on this: Goethe, Bismarck and Voltaire, all staunch Champagne enthusiasts, would have given us the thumbs-up, no doubt about it.

 

Mushroom Champagne Tagliatelle with Truffle Oil   (Generously serves 2)

16 ounces mushrooms (wild if available or a gourmet mix), sliced or quartered

2 tablespoons oil

1 shallot, diced

Several sprigs fresh thyme

3-5 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 tablespoon arrowroot flour or all-purpose flour

1 cup Champagne or sparkling wine (demi-sec for sweetness, otherwise brut)

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup heavy cream or full-fat coconut cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 pound tagliatelle pasta, cooked to taste

Truffle oil or Parmesan cheese for serving

Mushrooms are best dry-sautéed: Heat a heavy skillet over medium to high heat, add mushrooms and stir frequently until they release their juices. Add oil, shallot and fresh thyme. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and tender, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute, then add flour and slowly pour in wine and stock, stirring to scrape browned bits from the pan. Simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Turn down the heat, stir in heavy cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over cooked pasta with grated Parmesan cheese or truffle oil.  PS

German native Rose Shewey is a food stylist and food photographer. To see more of her work visit her website, suessholz.com.

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