As fall quickly approaches, I’m reminded of the incredible gifts my favorite season brings. The crisp air, the changing leaves, the smell of bonfires, and of course, the food.
Fall serves up hearty meals that awaken the senses and warm the soul – it’s a visceral experience for me.
As I sit here browsing the Lungotevere collection with its beautiful color palette and thoughtful details, my mind returns to the autumn I traveled to the Abruzzo region for an unforgettable gastronomic adventure.
One of my most prominent memories is an early morning truffle hunt we experienced as we were learning about the seasonal ingredients of the region.
Joined by an eclectic mix of solo travelers who loved food, wine, and adventure as much as I do, we dragged ourselves out of warm beds and into the hotel lobby just before dawn. Skipping our morning cappuccino ritual, yet incredibly excited for the new experience, we climbed into our awaiting van and struck out into the countryside of the Majella National Park.
Led by Primiano our trufiano, or truffle guide, and his furry doggy sniffers, Ruby and Miss, we had absolutely no idea where we were going or what we were doing. We did, however, quickly learn that dogs are now the preferred truffle hunting choice, as pigs tend to eat what they find – who knew?
As we drove for miles in the dark and the sun began to peak through the mountains, we finally reached our destination. Donned with our warmest jackets, mittens, and matching wellies, we stood at immediate attention in the cold as Ruby and Miss darted off sniffing every tree, ravine, and moss covered patch. We ran after them thinking it would take a bit of time before anything actually happened, but just like that, eureka!
The more seasoned of the two dogs, Ruby, began scratching the surface and digging like mad while Primiano pulled her back so she couldn’t damage the delicate skin. Armed with a small spade and his bare hands, he dug the rest of the way himself and was rewarded for his efforts. First spot out of the gate and we found two perfect black truffles. Amazing!
It almost felt too easy, but we continued following the dogs as they scratched a few more dirt patches. This time, no luck as they just smelled previous digs where someone had already removed the black beauties. Again and again, someone had beaten us to the treasure.
Just as we were about to give up and call it a day, Ruby gifted us with one more trophy. After Primiano shoveled even deeper into the soil, we couldn’t believe our neophyte eyes – a glorious pile of the most aromatic black truffles we’d ever seen. This made the caffeine free, early morning trek all the more worth it. Needless to say, we were incredibly grateful that the last group of hunters missed them completely so we could experience a fruitful hunt our first time out.
Later that day as we made our way back to the Hotel Villa Danillo for our next cooking lesson, we too were rewarded for our hard work as we sliced and grated our glorious treasures onto homemade pizzas and handmade pastas. Pungent and pleasing, a meal infused with this Italian delicacy discovered just hours before was a most memorable gastronomical moment for my new travel companions and me.
I can still smell that aromatic fungi as we speak, hoping some day soon to return to one of my favorite fall travel adventures.
RECIPE AND WINE PAIRING
We couldn’t talk about truffles and not give a recipe and wine pairing, but this recipe is really quite simple – you just have to get your hands on a black truffle.
There are many recipes for pasta with black truffles out there, and it is rather easy to adjust to your liking should you feel creative, but keep in mind the strong flavors when you do.
In this recipe, I use spaghetti, but you can use fettuccini or you can toss it with your favorite ravioli or even gnocchi.
Spaghetti with Black Truffles
- 1 lb. spaghetti
- 2 Tbs. kosher salt
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
- 1 to 2 black truffles
- ¼ to ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the salt, and cook the pasta per the instructions. You’ll want the pasta al dente; so reduce the cooking time by 1 minute to reach that consistency.
While your pasta is cooking, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. Once it’s melted, grate one of the truffles into the melted butter and lightly sauté – 2-3 minutes should be enough.
Once the pasta is finished, and before you drain it, reserve about 2-3 ladles of the cooking water in a bowl for later, then drain the rest of the water from the pasta in a colander.
Transfer the drained pasta to a warmed serving bowl. Add the sautéed truffle, the remaining melted butter, and the optional cheese if you like. Toss it well to combine, and add some of the reserved cooking water for consistency as needed – not all at once, just add, as you need. You don’t want the dish to be too sticky or dry. The salted cooking water not only adds moisture to the dish, but also a nice flavor as well.
Using a truffle shaver if you have one, or a vegetable peeler will do, thinly shave the second truffle over the top. Give it another light toss and serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: If you’re new to truffles and think the taste might be too much for your liking, you can skip sautéing the grated portion and simply slice the truffle over the top at the end.
Truffles are very earthy and aromatic so you’ll want a more mature wine to match the flavors. For Italian reds, look for something like a good Barolo, Brunello, or Nebbiolo. If you want to go French, look for a good burgundy. And with American wines, a nice pinot noir could be a good match. You want a wine that is a bit more delicate so the flavors aren’t competing with one another.
If you’re already spending good money on a beautiful black truffle, I recommend you splurge on the wine as well. You won’t regret it if you do. Here are a couple of Italian Barolos to choose from, slightly different in price.
On the lower end, but still around $36 a bottle is the 2011 Reversanti Barolo from Piedmont, Italy. It has a nice ruby red color and you’re going to get flavors of licorice, berry fruits, roses, and hints of vanilla and tobacco. That complexity makes it a nice companion to the black truffles.
If you want to spend a bit more, and maybe prefer a California wine, try the 2013 Gloria Ferrer Gravel Knob Vineyard Pinot Noir, Los Carneros for around $50. This wine can go with a variety of foods to be honest. It has a nice blackberry spice, dried strawberry, and earthy quality. If you love pinot noir as much as I do, this is a nice splurge.