This autumn, Gordon Ramsay Restaurants are celebrating the power and beauty of the truffle in our Truffle Makers campaign. We spoke to Union Street Café’s Executive Head Chef, Davide Degiovanni, to find out how to use and look after truffles at home, as well as hunt out some of his top truffle tips.
‘These arrived this morning,’ says Davide, opening a huge polystyrene box in the kitchen of his Southwark based restaurant to reveal 1.5 kilos of nubbly black and brown truffles. The intoxicating scent of truffle was immediate. He pulls several large specimens from the box. ‘We buy truffles by the kilo every three days,’ he explains. ‘These were picked three days ago.’
It’s the beginning of autumn – when people start to get most excited about truffles. At this point in the season, the summer truffles are dwindling, the beautiful black truffles have arrived, and there is a joyous anticipation for the impending white truffles - the ultimate prize for any chef.
‘The white truffles, which are the most fragrant, are only available for two months and the best quality ones are only available for six weeks,’ Davide explains. He hails from Manta in Piedmont, very close to Alba, which is famed for its white truffles, so he has grown up with an immense appreciation for these ingredients.
When he gives us a closer look at some of this morning’s truffles, they look very similar from the outside. However, as Davide pares a strip from the top of each, the difference is striking. ‘See how different the pale summer truffle is compared to the chocolatey brown interior of the winter one?’
The taste of the darker winter truffle is much stronger and the aroma, a little like cheese, is more beguiling. But the texture? Well, it lends itself to grating.
How to clean & store truffles
Unlike mushrooms, it’s not possible to clean truffles simply by dry brushing them – truffles are dug from the earth and are usually very dirty when collected. ‘The supplier should clean them first, otherwise you’re paying for soil,’ says Davide. ‘Then at home you brush them gently under running water and leave them to dry.’
One easy way to store truffles at home is to fill a sealable jar halfway with risotto rice, then bury the truffles in the rice and add the lid. This will allow the rice to absorb some of the flavour, adding an extra flavour profile to your risotto, and will also keep the truffles dry. ‘This is fine if you are at home and want to enjoy a truffle risotto,’ says Davide. ‘But life in a restaurant is a bit different!’
Davide sometimes pops white truffles alongside fresh eggs in their boxes at Union Street Café, but otherwise recommends wrapping cleaned and dried truffles in a new tea towel then putting them in a sealed plastic container or, better still, a polystyrene box as this will absorb the humidity and stop the truffles from spoiling. ‘Keep them in the fridge and change the towel every day or the truffles will go bad,’ he says.
How to cook truffles at home
With an ingredient so precious you may feel the need to try and cook something fancy and complicated, but with truffles the opposite is true. ‘The simpler the dish the better, but make sure your ingredients are top quality’ says Davide.
‘Cheese, butter and eggs are the perfect accompaniment to truffles. For white truffles you need nothing except fresh tagliolini, butter and a little of the pasta cooking water. Always, always use egg pasta for truffles,’ he adds.
For black truffles he suggests proper carbonara, made with guanciale, eggs, Parmesan, egg pasta and the pasta cooking water. ‘NO cream!’ he waves a finger. ‘Toss the pasta in the sauce and then just grate the black truffle over the top. Black truffles are better grated than shaved – the flavour comes up better.’
In home kitchens, he also recommends truffles grated over cheese fondue, or steak tartare sprinkled with olive oil. ‘The fat extends the truffle’s flavour.’