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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Truffle Season

It's truffle season and Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville NY is getting weekly shipments.

Marcus Guiliano, chef/owner of Aroma Thyme Bistro was quoted in the following article.

Tastings: Eat truffles, drink nebbiolo, spare no expense

“Truffles lend themselves to almost anything, and a little will go a long way,” says Marcus Guiliano of Aroma Thyme Bistro.iStock

If you ask a hard-core foodie what his favorite season is, don't expect the typical "summer" or "fall" for an answer.

There's a very good chance he'll say "truffle." Truffles, those famed and jarringly expensive little tubers, are in season right now, and the most famous truffle market in the world — the White Truffle Market in Alba, Italy — is in full swing. The more robust black winter truffles, found mostly in France and northern Italy, are also at market.

In the kitchen

"As a chef, I just can't pass on these culinary gems," says Marcus Guiliano of Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville. "I have seen them for three weeks now. And every week the quality seems to improve."

When serving truffles, simplicity is key

Tim Free, the wine consultant at Mid-Valley Wines and Liquors and a graduate of the famed Culinary Institute of America, says the most enjoyable concoctions involving white truffles are the simplest.

"The flavor is so intense that it's a shame to complicate the food with truffle-competing flavors," he says. "If you can get fresh white truffles, try them shaved on simple, buttered pasta - very thin, fresh, high egg-content pasta is best - or on scrambled eggs."

If you can't find fresh white truffles, or don't want to pay the extremely high price they command, toss the pasta with truffle oil.

Another famous dish from Piedmont, the Italian region where most white truffles are found, is fonduta, a mixture of local fontina cheese and milk, heated slowly with egg yolks until thickened, then garnished with a poached egg. "Of course, the final touch is shaved white truffle," Free says.

Free offers this simple recipe using truffle oil which, he says, "is not cheap, but it's a whole lot cheaper than fresh truffles, and good oils have a similar intensity of flavor."

Zuppa di Fontina

1 pound Fontina Val d'Aosta cheese. ("My rule for three-ingredient recipes is that all of the ingredients better be top-notch," Free notes. "Buy genuine Fontina Val d'Aosta, not the imitations on the market.")

1 small loaf French or Italian bread, sliced in rounds and toasted

2½ cups chicken stock

Preheat oven to 250 F.

In a saucepan, bring stock to simmer and season. Slice fontina thinly. Layer the toast in a large earthenware/ceramic ovenproof dish. Top with a layer of cheese, and continue layering until ingredients are used up. Pour stock over the bread and cheese. Place in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 6-8.

Cooking with truffles, says Guiliano, is a treat, and he's currently pairing truffles with Alaskan Halibut and Lobster Sauce. But he notes that in truffle country the locals shave truffles over the simplest of foods, such as scrambled eggs. Truffle risotto and angel hair pasta with extra virgin olive oil and truffles are also classic.

"Truffles lend themselves to almost anything, and a little will go a long way," Guiliano says.

Look to Italy

The right wine pairing will bring out the very best of truffles' earthy flavor, and local experts turn to the Italian region of Piedmont, the only place on the planet where both black and white truffles are found.

The perfect combination?

"Truffles and nebbiolo," asserts Tim Free, the wine consultant at Mid-Valley Wines and Liquors in the Town of Newburgh, who is particularly enamored of white truffles. "If ever there were a pair, these two are it. For a real treat, an old barolo or barbaresco (both 100 percent nebbiolo wines) would be perfect, but these get expensive. Lesser-priced nebbiolo wines will do just fine, and there are lots of them on the market."

Nebbiolo, Free says, is hugely popular in Italy despite moderate-to-high prices and a need for some bottle aging.

Barolo is the most famous of the subregions making nebbiolo wine, Free says. "Its wines generally require the most aging time, but also give the biggest rewards to the consumer."

Free recommends the 1998 Cascina Ballerin Barolo "Tre Ciabot" ($36.99/sale $29.99). For something a bit lighter, Free suggests barbaresco, a wine that comes from a region quite near Barolo, and he likes the 2001 Pertinace Barbaresco "Vigneto Marcarini" ($44.99/sale $37.99). "This is fairly full, with a good backbone of acids and tannin. It's good now, but will be even better in 8-10 years," Free says.

Free also suggests the 2004 Rainoldi Sassella ($17.99/sale $14.39), which, he says, "is at its peak from the palate point of view, but the aromatics are still developing," and the 2006 Rainoldi Nebbiolo ($13.99/sale $10.99), "the lightest of the nebbiolo wines listed here, but it still has the right flavors to produce that symbiotic relationship with truffles."

A bargain

Jim Morrison, the wine expert at Consumer Discount Wines and Liquors in the Dunning Road Plaza, Town of Wallkill, agrees that the wine to have with white truffles is, "of course," barolo.

A real bargain — by barolo standards, he says — is the 2003 Corino ($39.99). "It is a modern style barolo with sweeter and more approachable flavors when youthful," Morrison says.

Morrison also likes the "bold, spicy and truly decadent" 2000 Paolo Scavino ($89.99), and "the huge and expansive" 2004 Domenico Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra ($104.99).

Michael Taiani, a Pine Bush-based wine consultant and owner of Wines by the Glass Enterprises, agrees that nebbiolo "is no doubt Italy's king of grape varietals, producing some of the best reds the world has ever tasted — perfumed noses, full-bodied, velvety textures, and incredible balances of fruit and acidity."

Nebbiolos, though, can be pricey, Taiani says, but affordable nebbiolo-based wines can be found, such as Stefano Farina Langhe Alta Bussia ($29), the "consistently delicious" Travaglini Gattinara ($30) and Damilano Nebbiolo d'Alba ($20).

Go modern

Robin Mailey of the Callicoon Wine Merchant looks for modern versions of nebbiolo, which, he says, "exhibit a refreshing quality that some of the more traditional styles don't have," and recommends producers such as Luigi Pira and Maura Molina.

There are wines, though, that won't "break the bank and will still provide those wonderful cherry notes, followed by nice earthy complexity," Mailey says. He suggests Deforville Barbera D'Alba 16, his favorite, along with Fratelli Brovias Nebbiolo D'Alba 28 and Cahors.

E-mail Lisa Ramirez at Lmjramirez@hotmail.com.

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