tartufi

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 8: pici al tartufo nero

My mom and dad loved a good party and New Year's Eve was, needless to say, the perfect occasion. The crowds were large and while the adults played baccarat and roulette in the upstairs salon (yes, Italians like a friendly gamble during the holiday season), we children ran around unchecked across the garden, in a storage room that had cleaned and heated for the night. Somewhere in the early 70's, I remember standing by a ping pong table outfitted to buffet, my senses glued by an enormous bowl of pici-a rustic, handmade spaghetti-graced by month old olive oil and little brown specks of what I knew to be black truffle.

tartufi
tartufi

That first encounter with a seminal holiday food remains a brick in the foundation of my house of food. I have since recreated and taught this dish in my classes and last night, after having ascertained of it kosherness, I made it for a 7th day of Hanukkah celebration at the home of dear friends.


Pici al tartufo nero

Handmade spaghetti with black truffle

for the pici

1/3 pound semolina flour

3/4 pound all purpose

pinch of salt

1 egg

warm water

 

for the sauce

2 garlic cloves

olive oil-preferably olio nuovo, the kind that has been pressed the previous November

salt and pepper to taste

1 handful parsley

1 black winter truffle

grated pecorino (optional)

 

In a bowl, mix the flours and salt. Add the egg, olive oil and start working the ingredients while adding a thin stream of water.

Work in just enough water to bring everything together into a shaggy looking, somewhat crumbly ball. At this stage the mixture should be moist and a little soft but not wet or tacky.

Once you have a satisfactory shaggy ball, that has gathered as close to all of the ingredients as possible, is soft enough to knead but with some resistance, is not too wet and giving, but not so hard that it can barely be pressed together, start kneading.

Grabbing the top third of the ball with your fingertips and pull it up and away from the center. Now use the heel of your hand to press the top third into the middle third. Lastly, still using the heel of your hand, vigorously fold everything into the bottom third.

Turn the dough a quarter hour and repeat the pulling/pressing/folding motion until the dough is smooth and elastic and springs back quickly when poked with a finger.

The pulling/folding/pressing motion will slowly turn the dough inside out and outward in, ensuring that all of it is kneaded, rather than just some parts.

The process will take 10 to 15 minutes at the end of which the dough should be cool and slightly moist to the touch but not tacky. It should also spring back into place quickly when poked.

You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic.

Wrap tightly and let the dough relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce.

Clean the truffle: loosen dirt by brushing vigorously with a clean nail brush, then rinse under running cold water while still brushing until you've removed all the dirt. Dry well with a clean paper towel.

Roll the dough to sheets about 12” long and 1/4” thick. Cut each sheet into long strips about 1/2” wide.

Take the first strip and separate it from the rest. Grab one end, fold it and pinch it shut between your thumb and index finger.

Hold up the pinched end and roll the strip of dough back and forth between the palm of your free hand and a wooden surface. Exert light pressure otherwise you will not be able to roll.

Keep rolling toward the opposite end of the strip while gently tugging the pinched side to stretch the spaghetto.

You will yield a long, thick, uneven noodle that can be dipped in semolina then placed on a sheet pan to slightly dry.

Repeat the operation until you have finished all the dough.

Drop the pici in boiling salted water.

While the pasta is cooking, pour about half a cup of the olive oil into a warm serving bowl, add 4 to 5 spoonfuls of the water in which the pasta is cooking and whisk into an emulsion. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.

The pic will take about 10 to 15 minutes. When done, strain from the water using a handheld strainer or tongs and transfer it into the bowl. Toss to coat evenly.

Using a microplane zester, grate the truffle over the pici. Toss well, adding some more olive oil and pasta cooking water if it appears too dry.

Serve immediately with the grated pecorino on the side.

Truffles and chocolates

When I asked Ernesto what would he wanted for breakfast Saturday of last week, he answered: "Spaghetti al tartufo, mamma-Spaghetti with truffle, mommie". And yes, he was serious. Tartufi marzolini

The first week in March, both Ernesto's current school, Miraloma Elementary, and his former pre-school, La Scuola Internazionale di San Francisco, hold their yearly auctions and every year, my truffle guy ships a generous in-kind donation straight from Italy to contribute to the success of the events.

As he's a stickler for quality, Piero Cipriani always puts in a sample for Ernesto and me to test. This year, we were blessed with 300 grams of bianchetti or marzolini, white spring truffles bursting with uncomplicated earthy flavors that I find best brought out by the subtle addition of anchovies.

By the way, Piero will ship directly from Italy truffles that are dug by cousins of his. Should you be interested, I would be happy to put you in touch with him.

 

On the chocolate front, I have been putting my training at Perugina's Scuola del Cioccolato to good use...

Baci e Cioccolato 1On Valentine's Day, 50 people at San Francisco's Italian Cultural Institute learned how to say "I love you" the Italian way by making and eating Baci Perugina. We all had a blast and went home happily covered in chocolate.

Over the next 2 month, at La Scuola di Eataly in Chicago on Saturday 4/5 and in New York, on Saturday 4/12 and 5/10, during 3 classes on Baci, I will make them, chat about their history, use them as ingredients in two of my original creations, chat about how my family shaped Perugina from a high end confectionery shop in the heart of my hometown into the world wide brand it is today, and share memories of growing up under this delectable legacy.

I have worshiped at the altar of anything associated with Lidia Bastianich since my first risotto at her NYC's legendary Felidia Ristorante in the mid 80's, so I am thrilled beyond what words can express at the thought of teaching at Eataly, a place I consider the ode to all I hold sacred in my chosen field.

Click on my event calendar for details on registering for the Perugina chocolate workshops. I hope to see some of you there and, if you are reading from Chicago or New York, spread the word.

Spaghetti con salsa di tartufi bianchetti Spaghetti with March white truffles (aka: Ernesto's favorite breakfast)Spaghetti ai marzolini

for 6 people: 100 grams March white truffles 5 olive oil packed anchovies fillets 1 to 2 teaspoons green garlic (or 1/2 clove regular garlic) olive oil salt to taste black pepper to taste 1 pound bag of spaghetti 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

Clean the truffles as follows: loosen the dirt with a new nail brush. Finish removing the dirt under running water while scrubbing each truffle with the brush. Dry well with a paper towel. Note that this needs to be a very quick operation, the truffles shouldn't be in the water flow for more than a couple of minutes.

Keep the smallest truffle (or a piece of truffle) whole and place the rest in the bowl of a food processor with the anchovies and green garlic.

Adding the olive oil in a stream, grind into a loose paste. Add black pepper to taste, and salt if necessary, though the sauce should be salty enough from the anchovies.

Place the truffle sauce in a warm, shallow serving bowls.

Cook the spaghetti very al dente in boiling, well salted water. If using, chop the pine nuts roughly.

Fish the spaghetti out of the water with tongs and transfer them into the bowl with the truffle sauce and toss well to coat thoroughly with the truffle sauce.

If they appear a little too dry, add a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce.

Shave the reserved truffle on top and serve immediately as it is or dusted with the pine nuts.

NOTE:

  • I find that truffles are best kept well wrapped in a paper towel then placed in an airtight container.
  • Keep the dirt on them until you are ready to use them, it helps preserve them longer.
  • I have eaten well kept truffles up until after 2+ weeks of having received them from Piero and they were still delicious, though they had lost a bit of fragrance and the texture was a little softer.
  • Should you wish to freeze them, clean them as outlined above then wrap them in paper towel and aluminum place them in an airtight container and freeze them.
  • Better to use them frozen, without defrosting.
  • Note that frozen truffles are better used in sauces rather than shaved.