Spotted in Machane Yehuda: Truffles!

Long ago I said that it’s not that Israel doesn’t have all things culinary, it’s just that you have to know what, where, and when to look for it. And look quickly but carefully, because if your head is buried in your phone, you’re going to miss something. Like I almost did.

Well, in the right place at the right time department, today’s meandering through Machane Yehuda stopped me dead in my tracks when I spotted, of all things, truffles!

If you have been with me long enough, you might have noticed my rotating taglines in the header. You may have seen that truffles are indeed referenced in the Gemara, in Masechet (Tractate) Berachot (Blessings), page 40 side 2. The discussion, interestingly enough, centers around the fact that you do not say “ha’adamah” rather “shehakol.” Note for later.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post revealed that Israeli scientists have found a way to cultivate truffles through a symbiotic relationship with a shrub.

To be precise, these are desert (that’s one ‘s’ as in ‘sand’) truffles (family Terfezia), not their more famous cousins forest truffles (family Tuberacae, Tuber melanosporum). They are smooth on the outside, with a dark outside. Inside they’re a pale mushroom color, with a webbed network. They’re dense and solid, they feel moist, and smell faintly like wet dough. Eaten raw, they taste not surprisingly like mushrooms. Gently sauteed in butter they have a light but unmistakable umami flavor.

The Care and Feeding of Truffles

Alton Brown definitively debunked the whole “don’t wash mushrooms” myth, so when you’re ready to use them, wash them and scrub them with a brush under running water. A truffle shaver is the least useful item in your kitchen drawer, but if you have one, now’s your big chance. If you don’t, a common vegetable peeler, v-slicer, mandolin, or mad knife skills will suffice.

Shaved truffles over scrambled eggs is a classic combination, but truffles are used with wild abandon throughout Escoffier’s cookbook in almost every chapter.

Extending the Flavor and Life of Truffles

Truffles are typically kept in rice, both as a desiccant and to flavor the rice itself. Steam the rice for a lightly truffle-scented treat.

Some of these truffles are going to wind up as truffle oil: heat 1/2 liter olive oil, add shaved or chopped truffles, cool and let sit for a few days.