Umami – the basic tastes of meat is, curiously enough, is not just present in flesh. Veg too can, apparently be meaty and very Umami. In my search for dishes very high on the Umami meter, I found mushrooms. Specifically truffles.
Truffles are curious beasts. They grow under the soil and tend to look like mummified unmentionables. They are however extremely valuable. Just to give you an idea 500 grams of the stuff can set you back by more than $750, which is around Rs.50000.
Why are they so expensive? Well, they are very difficult to produce. They grow in the wild near the roots of old oak trees, under the soil. Because of this they are very difficult to cultivate. Some people did manage to do so in France in the 1900, but that required planting of orchards of oak trees, waiting of them to grow big, and then waiting for truffles to be comfortable enough under the oak roots to actually grow. As we know, oaks don’t grow fast. The whole process took many years, and soon after, world war II came and went, and so did the truffle farms.
If this makes the truffle seem like a terribly pampered, ever so brattish member of the fungus family, you don’t know the whole story. They are difficult to locate. In fact the only creature that can detect them are pigs. Specifically female pigs called truffle hogs.
Well, its very simple actually. That musky, pungent , meaty aroma so unique to a truffle – essentially smells the same as a very virile male boar in heat. At least, now we have a solid correlation between the mushroom and meat. We have the Hog-Shroom.
Truffle ravioli with black butter sauce was the dish I tried at Serafina in Quest Mall. It is a must-go if you like Italian food. The ambiance is great and they have a perpetually burning pizza oven visible from outside.
Truffles are not used like regular mushrooms, as stuffing or sauté . It is used instead as fine shavings, which are sprinkled. That might initially seem like a cop- but it’s not. That single shaving on each ravioli packet is so strong, you can practically smell the dish before it is brought to your table.
Word of caution – while extremely suitable in all its pungency for the meat eating pallet, the initial blast to the olfactory nerves will come as a surprise. In fact, the odour will be unlike anything you exerienced before, and will take a few mouthfuls to reconcile to. But when you do get over that initial surprise, you will be addicted.
Suffice to say, our plate of ravioli was polished off sooner than you could say “truffle hog”. The whole package – the ravioli pasta packets, the mature cheese filling, the black butter sauce that formed the slightly burnt, salty background for the dish and of course the truffle, which bought all the ingredients together brilliantly.