The other night in New York City I had the enormous pleasure of breaking bread with the mythical Mario Batali, one of the world’s top Italian Chefs and most colorful TV Food Personalities. We had a glorious dinner at the fabled Babbo, a true culinary experience that should be had by all! I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t he a ‘meat guy?’ Well, yes, but Mario knows how to take care of his veggie dreamgirls. There were no stereotypical ‘grilled vegetable plates’ on the menu here. Mario shows off his vegetarian creativity with dishes like Roasted Beet Tartare with Chianti Vinegar and Marina di Chioggia Squash with Pomegranates and Shiso to make your senses dance!
But it was the truffles that blew me away on this night. No, not those dreamy chocolate morsels… the other truffle – the fungus. Being smack dab in the middle of Italy’s white truffle season, of course Mario would be featuring a White Truffle Tasting Menu and to my elation, ordering for our table. I have to say, it was one of the highlights of all my culinary adventures! Mario perfectly pairs the delicate flavors of the truffle with vegetables and meat alike, further benefiting the essence of the meal with exquisitely paired wines.
Now, you may be saying, "truffle smuffle… who can afford ugly mushrooms that cost as much as manolos?" Yes, the prices can reach astronomical heights, but you do have options. There are a lot of rumors and mysteries surrounding these odd-looking fungi so let's get some facts clear. Truffles are in the mushroom family. Truffles are found throughout Italy and special "hunting" pigs and dogs are used to find them underground. And they can also lead to serious Soprano-esque business… There is an entire black market devoted to peddling the fancy fungi. Meanwhile, the record price paid for a truffle was in 2010 by Macau casino owner Stanley Ho. He paid $330,000 for a truffle weighing nearly one kilogram. (p.s. that's just over 2lbs.!)
But have no fear, mortgaging your house is not the only way to enjoy truffles. Nowadays you can find truffles and truffle essence in a lot of wonderful, locally sourced products. They can be a little pricey, but remember a little goes a very long way. Try looking for truffle butter, truffle cheese, truffle salt, and truffle oil. If you are interested in buying truffles here is a site with options.
So is all the hype worth it? Oh yeah. Truffles, aside from offering their unique taste — very earthy and umami if you like — they deliver a luxurious experience. See for yourself with my recipe for Truffle Mac 'n Cheese and let me know what you think! And as for Mario, it was a treat to be trufflin’ – unclogged – with the Master of Truffles himself.
Be sure to catch Mario weekdays on ABC's The Chew.