Caroline Cooks

A modest documentation of my culinary exploits.

Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Truffle Potatoes

My cousins were recently comparing our respective spending habits. The three of us are incredibly frugal-- a trait undoubtedly picked up from our beloved grandparents-- but we each have things we consider worthy of dropping money on. For my younger cousin, it's objects, such as fine china, decent clothes, and high thread count sheets. For my older cousin, it's experiences; she's more likely to pay for a cover at a club, coffee at a cafe, or tickets to a concert. My splurges-- and this should come as a surprise to no one-- are of the culinary kind.

A recent example is the white truffle oil I recently purchased. As a professed oil junkie, I'm drawn to the rich, golden, viscous liquid the way others are drawn to good wine. And I had never tried truffles in any form. So the tiny $10 bottle seemed like a good place to start exploring the exalted fungi.

Once the bottle had been opened, my senses were assaulted with an overpowering and interesting aroma. Heavy and cloying, the scent was garlic-like with an earthy base. As I stood in the kitchen, struggling to analyze the overwhelming scent coming from the delicate little bottle, I felt like I was trying a new fragrance at a perfume counter. Tasting it didn't help-- the flavor was just too strong to comprehend. Indeed, the flavor of the oil was as elusive as the fungi it came from.

Clearly, this oil needed to be cooked with. I had heard it was nice with scrambled eggs, so I whipped up a batch with the tiniest drop of truffle oil I could produce. The flavor was still so potent that I became nauseated and developed a headache from it.

My next experiment was to add the oil to mashed potatoes. I rarely cook with spuds-- I'm a hummus-and-tabbouleh, not a meat-and-potato, kind of girl-- but I can make a mean mashed potato when the occasion calls for it. I'd heard that a drop of white truffle oil will elevate ordinary mashed potatoes to divine status, and I could see the creamy, starchy potato acting as a counterbalance to the intensely flavored oil.

Unlike the truffle eggs, this dish was a success. The mashed potatoes were tasty, as far as mashed potatoes go. The truffle oil gave them a garlicky, and slightly mushroomy, flavor, and I didn't feel overwhelmed and sick this time. I will be adding the truffle oil to more dishes from time to time, as I try to get a firmer grasp on this special, yet tricky, ingredient.

1 1/2 lbs potatoes, quartered length-wise*
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp milk or cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
a drop or two of white truffle oil

* I prefer to leave the peels on for the extra nutrition (besides, who wants to sit around peeling potatoes?). But you can peel them if you want. Use red or gold potatoes for the best results.

Add the salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and continue boiling for 15-20 minutes, or until done.

Drain the water from the pot and begin mashing the potatoes, adding as much butter and milk as needed for a smooth, creamy consistency. Stir in the truffle oil and add salt and pepper to taste.


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