Life in Black and White, The Sequel

From the very first moment I tasted white truffles, I was hooked.  I don't know what it is, but that flavor really speaks to me.  The funny thing is that I have no memory of that first time - as if white truffles have been in my blood since birth - and for something I love so much one would think I could remember my first time.  Perhaps I was a truffle pig in a past life.  (Now, wouldn't that make for an interesting past life regression with a hypnotist?)

I once thought that white truffles were merely stronger-tasting versions of the black, but their flavors and aromas are distinctly different.  The earthy, musky scent of the black truffle is much more subtle, while that of the white truffle is extremely heady, garlicky and can be overpowering.  White truffle detractors liken the aroma to that of a teenage boy's gym sneaker.  I personally think they are just bitter because they can't afford them.  The white Alba truffle from Italy - tuber magnatum pico - can run upwards of $220 an ounce!  Oregon is producing very good-quality white truffles at a fraction of the price - but they aren't quite the same.

I have to admit that I didn't buy any white truffles for this post.  Not even the Oregon variety was available.  And it isn't something I generally stock...  Who does?  The famous gastronome (Can we use "foodie" here? Probably not...) Brillat-Savarin probably had them around whenever they were available.  The "diamond of the kitchen" was his moniker for them.

In their stead, I am quite happy to use high-quality white truffle-infused oil.  I like the truffle oil put out by Urbani (they also carry the fresh ones at $138 per ounce).  It is really well flavored and reasonably priced.  It is, in fact, the oil I used to finish today's recipe.  To Brillat-Savarin's diamond, it is my "white gold."  (Note: There has been a major controversy over white truffle oils for the past couple of years.  The conjecture is that most of them are synthetic and not made of anything natural at all.  In one particular article in the NY Times, Urbani claims that their oil is made through a a "natural process" - that is good enough for me.  Some purists have cleared their shelves of all truffle oils but I cannot.  I like the taste and, besides, I am sure it is not the only synthetic food to have crossed my lips.)

And a word about finishing.  White truffle oil is a finishing oil, and it is probably the most obvious of them.  When one cooks with flavored oils or even extra virgin olive oil, the strength in the taste cooks out rapidly when sautéing, stewing, braising or roasting.  Many chefs will tell you to save the good stuff for last, and they are absolutely right.  I admit to using extra virgin olive oil for everything, though, because the cupboard is too small for multiple gallons of the stuff.  But the truffle oil?  Never cook with it.  Just before you take the plates to the table, drizzle a small amount - just a half teaspoon or so - and the entire dish will be well-flavored.

The recipe of the day is inspired by a newspaper  clipping sent to me by my friend Sue in Manchester, Massachusetts - on the North Shore of Boston.  She was one of our group of ten that shared the farmhouse that week in Fiano, Italy about which I wrote last week  She knew of my love of good Italian food and sent the clipping on.  The article - long lost by now - was about an Italian bistro in Boston that served little bread boxes with eggs, cheese and roasted asparagus.  Kind of a glorified "birdie-in-the-nest"or "hole-in-one."  I took this idea and created a Franco-Italian version that you see here.  (Franco for the bread and chanterelle mushrooms, Italian for the cheese and truffle oil.)

Some important things to keep in mind.  The bread used is crucial.  Pain de mie is a very specific bread with a fine, caky crumb.  It is very hard to find, I admit, but there are other options - homemade white bread, firm bakery white bread (unsliced), and I have even had some luck with "English Muffin Bread," also unsliced.  If the crumb is wrong, the boxes will be hard to cut.  Although I show a knife in these photos, it is completely unnecessary - the boxes cut easily with just a fork.

As to the taste, the most important thing to keep in mind is your taste.  You might not like white truffles.  You may prefer black truffles.  You might not like mushrooms.  You might not be able to find Fontina cheese.  You may be allergic to eggs.  Think of this recipe as a starting point to make your own version.  I love it just this way but Mark, a white truffle detractor if there ever was one, uses extra virgin olive oil or lemon olive oil on his.  The asparagus was great... especially good with the lemon olive oil.  Other vegetables and cheeses would be good, as well.  Different semi-hard cheeses work, too - thy just need to melt well in the oven.  It would even be fine without the egg if that isn't to your liking.

So, here is my version - with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, fresh marjoram from the garden (which is amazing with mushrooms!) and a light drizzle of white gold...  Oh, and if you happen to have a white truffle stored somewhere, a few slices on top would be ever so lovely.

- David

Toasted Bread Boxes with Chanterelle Mushrooms and White Truffle Oil

2 slices - each 1 1/4 inches thick - from a loaf of pain de mie, crusts removed
2 large or extra large egg yolks, whites reserved for another use
4 slices - 2 inches by 4 inches and 1/8 inch thick - Fontina cheese
8 ounces fresh chanterelle or other wild mushrooms, sliced if large
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons white truffle oil

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

After trimming bread of its crusts, use a knife to cut a 1 1/4-inch hole in the bread that goes halfway through.  Scoop out the "hole" and eat as a snack while continuing.  This should leave a nice "cup"in which to nestle the egg yolk.

Toast the bread boxes directly on the oven rack for 5 minutes, or until nicely toasted.  While bread is toasting, prepare mushrooms.  Place the butter in a skillet and melt; add mushrooms and sauté over medium heat until done- about 6 minutes.  Add marjoram, season with salt and pepper, and sauté 1 minute longer to meld the flavors.

When bread boxes are toasted (note: the sugar content of pain de mie is high and it browns quickly), remove them and allow to cool a minute or so.  Carefully place an egg yolk in each cup, trying your best not to break it.  Cover each bread box and egg yolk with two slices of cheese, overlapping slightly.  Place on a a greased cookie sheet and bake 5 minutes, or until cheese is beginning to brown an dis bubbly.

To serve, place one box on each of two plates and top with mushrooms.  Drizzle with truffle oil and serve immediately.