Truffle oil? You can have it, but I wish you wouldn’t.
A bit of a rant this week – as much as I love truffles, all truffle products are not created equal. Truffles are curious things. They smell sweet, musky, rank, like a damp forest floor, like a farmer’s unwashed overalls, like warm tennis shoes and sweaty armpits, like parsnips caramelising in the edge of a roasting tin, beefy, savoury, like dried porcini mushrooms, like vegemite, cognac, like garlic slowly turning golden in gently sizzling butter … an intoxicating aroma that you can’t help but notice. A truffle does not smell of all of these things at any one time, sometime the aromas fleetingly waft around a truffle, and when you sniff again the scent that entranced you, or revolted you, is gone. If it is a smell you like, you keep on sniffing hoping to find it again. If it was something that turned you off, you pull away hoping not to encounter it again. It’s when all these aromas get mixed up together and you are drawn to and pushed away at the same time that you really learn the meaning of intoxication. Curious little devils indeed.
But why chefs would think it is cool to drizzle a product that captures the worst of these scents, namely sweaty armpits and warm tennis shoes, over food to give it an air of, well, exotic expensiveness is beyond me. The product I am talking about is truffle oil. I hate the stuff. In fact, I actually loathe it. Drizzling offensively stinky oil over the top of food because it is a trendy thing to do is a trick of lazy chefs. Does the food not taste delicious enough without truffle oil? Truffle oil won’t improve the flavour of a dish and it would be best to correct the dish before squirting stinky oil over the top.
The thing with truffle oil is that it does not usually contain truffle, nor is it usually derived from truffles. There are some exceptions, but I am not talking about those. It is commonly made from a synthetic flavour compound, and herein lays the problem because the flavour compounds are mainly the stinky elements of truffles. Oils labelled truffle aroma, truffle scent, truffle flavour or truffle concentrate are most likely based on a synthetic flavour compound. Ditch it. Stop stinking out restaurants with this foul smell, because anyone who has a fair to middling sense of smell will be infected by its stench in a restaurant – a waitperson taking a truffle oil-infected dish to a diner leaves a waft of foulness in his or her wake. And Heaven Forbid should someone at your table order a dish sprayed with the stuff. It’s enough to make you walk out.
Whoever invented the stuff has a lot to answer for.
Well, on to a cheerier note … this Sunday Auckland is home to the bigger, brighter, buzzier Festival Italiano. 11.00am-4.00pm, Osborne Street, Kent Street and Rialto Centre in Newmarket will be given over to all things Italian, including, of course, gorgeous food and wine (think Farina, Giapo, Gusto at the Grand, Il Casaro, Pasta & Cuore, and suppliers Sabato, JK.14 Wines, Salumeria Fontana, Sapori d’Italia, and many more). There will be market stalls to peruse and Ferraris to dream about, along with Vespas and Italian racing bikes on display. And all the fun of the fiesta of course with buskers, Tarantella dancers and spot prizes. Music is high on the agenda, too, with opera performances, jazz and classical music and a DJ pumping out Italian music in between.
My recipes this week … School holidays are coming up, so some easy ones the kids can do or help you with. Get them peeling and chopping and turn out a colourful tray of baked vegetables with a tahini and yoghurt sauce. It’s such an easy thing to do, and goes with so many things that I fall back on it every week or so when I can’t think of what to have for dinner. Leftovers are good, too.
Then there is my trick for roasting a chicken wrapped in buttered paper. No basting required, just stick it in the oven and marvel at how it emerges gorgeously succulent and full of flavour. It literally steams in its own juices, but the butter will give some browning to the top.
Then a recipe for spinach galettes. These are quickly made thin pancakes, layered with tomato sauce and dusted with cheese. Simple? Yep. And unbelievably tasty.