Spring isn't just about vegetables. With many farmers markets returning from winter hiatus, it's an opportunity for mushroom lovers too. For this recipe, I used cremini mushrooms, (and admittedly not ones from a farmer's market), but you could use any type or combination of mushrooms you enjoy.
One type of mushroom you likely won't find at the farmer's market is the truffle. Resistant to cultivation and hard to find (they grow underground), truffles are a culinary luxury akin to caviar, foie gras or traditional balsamic vinegar (no, you're definitely not going to find that at the grocery store). In Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires, in which she describes her experience as the New York Times' restaurant critic, truffles are shaved over her meals left and right.
Although truffles themselves are available in some specialty supermarkets, they are quite expensive (2 oz. of black truffles from Sabatino Tartufi is $64; 2 oz. of white truffles is $420; told you it was a luxury item). However, there are a couple of affordable options for infusing some of that earthy, meaty truffle flavor into dishes. In addition to selling whole truffles, Sabatino Tartufi (and other companies like D'Artagnan), offer truffle products like truffle butter and truffle oil, both of which are available at Whole Foods for about $10 and $15 respectively. Truffle butter contains flecks of actual truffle, while truffle oil is a creation of the flavor industry (albeit a convincing one).
I had intended to use only truffle butter in this recipe, but I had only 2 tablespoons and Whole Foods was sold out of it, so I used both that and a little truffle oil. The result is subtle, but it's definitely there.
|Fontina is softer than cheddar or gruyere, but will still shred in a food processor, particularly if well chilled first|
To prevent the truffle flavor from being overpowered by the cheese, I used mostly fontina, an earthy cheese that pairs well with truffle flavors and has a milder flavor than my usual blend of sharp cheddar and gruyere that I used for the traditional mac & cheese, from which this modified recipe comes.
Truffled Mushroom Mac & Cheese
1 lb. elbow macaroni (or other type of small pasta)
1 tsp. truffle oil
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup plain panko
2 tbsp. truffle butter
2 tbsp. flour
2 cups whole milk
8 oz. fontina cheese, shredded*
4 oz. gruyere or sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Dash of nutmeg
Pinch of seasoned salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
*Like most cheeses, there are a variety of fontinas. I used the traditional Italian Fontina Val d'Asota, which is harder than some of the other varieties and is said to pair well with truffles.
1. Boil pasta in salted water to al dente according to package directions. Drain pasta and set aside in large pot. Add truffle oil and stir to coat.
2. Melt 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter in a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add panko and stir to coat panko with butter. Remove from heat before panko browns.
3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and saute until browned. Remove from pan. Add truffle butter and, when melted, add the flour. Whisk to combine and cook until lightly browned.
5. Reduce heat just below medium and add shredded and grated cheeses, a handful at a time, whisking to incorporate as cheese melts. Pour sauce over cooked pasta, add mushrooms and stir to combine ingredients. Return sauced pasta to large frying pan and sprinkle buttered panko evenly over pasta. Preheat broiler on high setting and broil pasta in frying pan about 6 inches from broiler until the panko topping is lightly browned.