Monday, January 5, 2009

Flirting al Fungi Fresci and other culinary adventures

In cold, icy midwinter a person craves comfort food. This past week, surely an example of bleakest midwinter, we enjoyed my dad's Risotta al Fungi Fresci recipe (mushroom risotto), and the famous Truffled Mac & Cheese. In fact, truffled mac & cheese was enjoyed twice, since Jaime absconded with the first batch (along with my Creuset dutch oven which I want back, hint, hint.)

In our neighborhood liquor store, the Wine & Cheese Cask, we discovered packages of white and black truffle oil and black truffles to be shaved for decadent taste treat for a reasonable price. Savenors also carries truffle oil, but in a large, prohibitively expensive bottle. It seems a little crazy to spend many dollars for some fungi, but it is an acquired, addictive taste. A tiny soupcon of truffle oil can elevate humble dishes such as Mac & Cheese and mashed potatoes to the highest echelons of gourmet tastefulness.

Here's the recipe for Truffled Mac & Cheese which is quite adaptable to whatever cheese one happens to have lying around. As far as I am concerned, the more flavorful the better! My most recent version used a lovely french Roquefort.

1/2 box of elbow macaroni or other sauce friendly pasta like oriechetti
2 cups of grated or finely chopped cheese - whatever you happen to have. Mozzarella is really too bland so you want to pick a somewhat flavorful cheese like cheddar.
1/4 cup flour
salt/ freshly ground black pepper to taste (if using salted butter omit salt)
small amount of truffle oil OR 1 tsp dried mustard
1/4 stick of butter
2 cups milk (skim works fine, lactaid works fine) [you can also replace some of the milk with LAGER beer]
Bread crumbs or cornflake crumbs
spray-on cooking oil (spray olive oil is good for this) [ OR you can also simply saute some breadcrumbs in a skillet with butter/olive oil/truffle oil or a mixture thereof]

pre-cooked lobster finely chopped
pre-cooked crab finely chopped
sauteed mushrooms finely chopped
shaved truffle

Preheat oven to 350.
Cook 1/2 box of elbow macaroni to 'al dente' (i.e. the shortest amount of cooking time recommended on the box - since it will cook in the oven you don't want the pasta mushy.) Drain and save in pot or colander (to add a little flavor you can put a tiny amount of truffle oil in the cooking water.)
In a separate oven proof pan (le creusets are great for this) melt the butter on low/medium heat. Add a drizzle of truffle oil (about 1/2 tsp). Stir in the flour and cook until bubbly and flour no longer tastes "raw." If you are using mustard and not truffle oil, put the mustard in with the flour.
Stir in liquid (milk/beer) and cheese, until cheese is thoroughly melted and the sauce begins to thicken. Add any optional items like mushrooms, crab, lobster etc. Stir in the cooked pasta and mix thoroughly with cheese mixture. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the entire top of the mixture - if not pre-sauteed spray olive oil spray lightly on top until breadcrumbs are moistened. Drizzle some truffle oil over the top for extra flavor.
Put pan in oven for 30 minutes or until breadcrumbs are thoroughly browned.

For my flirtation with fresci fungi, I had a package of ordinary white mushrooms, but enhanced them with some chanterelles obtained at Savenor's. This was prompted by watching "Lidia's Italy" on PBS, in which Lidia and a cute grandchild prepare some mushrooms for a dish. The chanterelles reminded me of string cheese a bit. It added a bit of entertainment value to the preparation and some lovely flavor to the end result.

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