During the mid 1980s Walter and I often took a Saturday morning train from Paris to Provence, with Montélimar as our last stop. The route from the station to our home in Vaison-la-Romaine took us through the miniscule village of Richerenches, where during the winter months we’d pass a handful of people milling around cars with trunks wide open. We had no idea what was going on. Then one day when it was warm enough to roll down the car windows the unmistakable aroma of fresh black truffles wafted through the air. Indeed, it was the Saturday truffle market, with truffle wholesalers selling the local treasure directly from the trunks of their cars.
Today, Richerenches is the world’s black truffle capital, and on Saturday mornings from mid-November to mid-March, the village takes on a festival atmosphere, as truffle wholesalers, truffle farmers, everyday shoppers, and tourists gather to celebrate the mysterious mushroom.
January is the height of truffle season, and this past weekend, the market was in full swing with merchants selling truffles and truffled eggs, baby oak trees inoculated with truffle spores, truffle slicers, and even a truffle liqueur at their neatly set up stalls on the main street of the market . It was the most glorious spring-like day, and cafe terraces overflowed with locals enjoying truffle omelets and glasses of local red wine in the sunshine. Around the corner however, you will still find that bustling tree-lined street packed with parked cars, trunks open, and an air of mystery as to the goings on there. The ever distinctive truffle aroma is still a giveaway however, and if you lean in through the crowds, you'll find car trunks open, full of boxes of fresh black truffles, a pair of scales, and truffle commerce in full swing.
Trenne pasta with Jerusalem artichokes, parmesan, and truffles
Fresh black truffles find friends in the simplest of vegetables: artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes. Here, an uncomplicated Jerusalem artichoke sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and truffles team up to create a perfect, wintry pasta sauce. (Note that I scrub the vegetable well, but do not peel it.) No truffles? A fragrant, intense nut oil, such as hazelnut, is a worthy substitute. Any leftover Jerusalem artichoke sauce and be thinned with chicken or vegetable stock and served as a soup.
Serves 6 | Equipment:A blender or a food processor; a 10-quart (10 l) pasta pot fitted with a colander; 4 warmed, shallow soup bowls.
The Jerusalem artichoke sauce:
2 pounds (1 kg) Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), scrubbed and trimmed
2 quarts (2 l) whole milk
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 pound (500 g) Italian trenne* or penne pasta
3 cups (750 ml) Jerusalem artichoke sauce
1 cup (100 g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for serving
1/4 cup (25 g) minced fresh truffles or minced truffle peelings (or 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil)
*Trenne is similar to penne, though while penne pasta is round, trenne is triangular, and flattened, and cut into short lengths. I love both shapes, but have a fondness for trenne, and find it is perfect for soaking up the essence of the Jerusalem artichoke puree.
1. Prepare the Jerusalem artichoke sauce: Rinse a large saucepan with water, leaving a bit of water in the pan. This will prevent the milk from scorching and sticking to the pan. Pour the milk into the pan and add the salt.
2. Coarsely chop the Jerusalem artichokes and drop immediately into the milk. (This will stop the vegetable from turning brown as it is exposed to the air.) When all the Jerusalem artichokes are prepared, place the pan over moderate heat and cook gently until soft, about 35 to 40 minutes. Watch carefully so the milk does not boil over.
3. Transfer the mixture in small batches to the blender or food processor. (Do not place the plunger in the feed tube of the food processor or the blender or the heat will create a vacuum and the liquid will splatter.) Purée until the mixture is perfectly smooth and silky, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside 3 cups (750 mls) of the sauce for the pasta. Store the remaining sauce in the refrigerator for another use (thinned with chicken or vegetable stock, it makes an excellent soup).
4. Prepare the pasta: Fill the pasta pot with 8 quarts (8 l) of water and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the coarse salt and the pasta. Cook until tender but firm to the bite. Drain thoroughly.
5. While the pasta cooks, warm sauce.
6. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl, add the sauce, the cheese, half of the minced truffles (if using), or nut oil, and toss to coat the pasta evenly and thoroughly. Transfer to the warmed bowls, shower with the remaining minced truffle (if using) and pass with additional cheese.
Wine suggestion: I am fond of the Italian wines from the Bonacossi family’s Villa di Capezzana, where wine has been made for 12 centuries. Their well-priced Tentua di Capezzana Barco Reale – a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, and Canaiolo grapes – is a fruity, earthy, mineral-rich red that loves pasta.
The original version of this recipe was first published in Simply Truffles.
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