Our current Cook the Books selection, Peter Mayle's French Lessons, it turns out, is not really a language course, but a cultural tour of some odd French festivals, fairs and markets (a Catholic mass to auction truffles, for instance). I found it moderately interesting, though his novel, Hotel Patis was a much more entertaining read.
Mr. Mayle, by the end of his gastronomic researches, is apparently ready for a purge, and it is here, at the Eugenie-les-Bains spa, with chef Michel Guerard of cuisine minceur fame, that the food descriptions begin to sound a bit more appealing. As the restaurant has three Michelin stars, it is no wonder. In fact, it sounds like the ideal getaway for a gastronome, or expense account foodie. My dream job.
Though for a dish inspired by the book as a whole, I thought of his description of the the perfect omelette on page 35:
"It was a vibrant bright yellow, the yellow that only comes from the yolks of eggs laid by free-range hens, and the consistency had been exquisitely judged by the chef, just on the firm side of runny.... the plump, moist, soft-skinned golden envelope that slides so cleanly from the pan."This might be my challenge, paired with something I've long been wanting to try - truffles. From what I've read it seems that truffles are well matched with egg and pasta dishes. So, maybe a souffle or an omelette?? The first step, and what proved to be more difficult than I had imagined, was finding the truffles. Out of season apparently, and immoderately expensive when in season. But, I thought maybe a small jar of trouffle honey, or perhaps a very small preserved truffle?? It could be considered my early Christmas present. I ended up ordering a tiny, wee jar of truffles (Summer variety) preserved in salt, 2 of them, about the size of marbles, truffle butter (Winter) and a small jar of truffle honey.
The initial truffle experiment was with veal chops, which were browned nicely on both sides, then finished a few minutes in the oven. In the pan, with the crusty bits, I added some Merlot, a little Balsamic vinegar and a small amount of beef stock; reduced that down til syrupy, then swirled in, off the heat, little knobs of truffle butter. Very flavorful, though can't say that we really tasted truffle. Still not sure exactly what that should be. The flavor must have been overpowered by my lovely pan reduction sauce. It sounded nice though. Merlot and Balsamic Reduction with Truffle Butter.
I read somewhere, in the course of my research, that the more delicately flavored Summer Truffles shouldn't be cooked, which eliminated a souffle from the running. So, the next attempt was an Omelette aux Truffes, which I served with Asparagus Spears in a walnut oil and Spanish Sherry vinaigrette, and a crusty loaf of French bread. This will be my Cook the Books entry for our current event, hosted this round by Jo at Food Junkie, Not Junk Food.
Here you see the melting chevre escaping our omelette, and the black bits would be the trouffles.
I pretty much followed the directions given by one of my favorite cooking authors, Alice Waters, so as not to do my usual scrambled eggs thing.
First, I prepared the ingredients, so there would be a casual flow, and not panicked disorder, as is quite common. I steamed the asparagus, mixed up a vinaigrette, and then while a cast iron skillet heated on medium low for 3 to 5 minutes, grated the two little truffles, crumbled my lovely, salted chevre and beat the eggs lightly, adding minced parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Then, the grated truffles were sprinkled down the middle, before folding the omelet in half over itself.
Finally, the lovely, oozing creation was carefully slipped onto a serving plate, where it happily befriended our asparagus in their vinaigrette. Alice recommends dragging a piece of butter over the top to make the omelet shine. I thought, oh well, might as well gild this lily, and swiped some of that truffle butter across.
I didn't have an unbroken top, not sure why, but all the flavors were there and fabulously paired with the asparagus. However, I do feel somewhat faced with a naked emperor here. Dare I say anything? Or, perhaps my taste buds just need screwing on tighter? Is truffle really all it's cracked up to be? Bob and I were in agreement, couldn't distinguish anything particularly, wonderfully different. There was the herbal kick of parsley, the succulent soft cheese, nice buttery eggs, and maybe a hint of mushroomy nuttiness. But, for that, we could have saved a bundle and used shitakes here, foodie fans. Or, perhaps it was because they weren't fresh from the earth, Black Winter Truffles?? Yes, as it turns out. With a tad more research:
Winter Black truffles are harvested in the wintertime in the forests of the Perigord and Lot regions of France. They are designated "brushed" which literally means they have been carefully cleaned and brushed, and are ready to use. Shave over pastas; aromatize chicken and meat dishes, winter soup or even scrambled eggs. They are preserved in their own brine or juice, which can be used for sauces or broths. Preserved truffles are a nice, budget-friendly way to add visual truffle appeal to dishes. However, if you are looking to add the pungent aroma and taste of truffles to your dish, we recommend that you explore our fresh truffle. Jarred or canned truffles, sold by us or any other vendor, are mere shadows of their fresh truffle selves and will not, by themselves, deliver the aroma or flavor of fresh truffles. They are great to use with truffle oil – the oil will add the flavor, the preserved truffles the truffle “look”, but preserved truffles should be used only to garnish a dish, or in conjunction to truffle butter and oil during those times when fresh truffles are out of season or when the budget doesn’t allow for the real thing. Preserved truffles out of the jar or can have almost no flavor or odor.
This from the Gourmet Food Store site. So now we know. Plus, what I used were Black Summer Truffles, preserved. Even less flavor, no aroma. I think I need a trip to France for research purposes.. Or Italy. In truffle season.
P.S. A Winner has been posted (click on the above link) and, guess what??? Yes, I did win - again. Bow, bow, humble wave, and thank you to our judge, Beth, of Beth Fish Reads, who had a difficult time, as there were so many delicious entries. Check them all out.