Curious Appetite

Truffles

Into the wild- a truffle hunt

Dog is a man’s best friend- even more so for truffle hunters in Italy.

My wanderlust in life is directly called from food. Like a child listening for the ocean in a seashell, I pay attention to how I can get closer and closer. To understand the fabric that makes global consumption tick. How and where food originates. And recently, I was able to follow the whispers of my inner wanderlust by going into the wild for a truffle hunt in San Miniato, Tuscany.

Truffles are as precious as gold, sold for hundreds on the ounce in some cases. They are wildly debated as a tuber or as a mushroom. To me, they seem like a little of both. They grow underground like a tuber, but grow spores wildly like a mushroom. Their taste is hunted for by umami seekers worldwide. In Italy, they are a serious business. I saw some dogs in the woods sniffing around with muzzles, not because they could bite, but because other hunters plant booby traps of poison. In just a small village in Tuscany, the size of 39 square miles, there are over 1000 registered truffle hunters. Of that 39 miles, perhaps just a quarter of that (maybe less, maybe more I couldn’t be bothered to check.) has woods where the prized truffle can flourish.

It is said that in order for an abundant truffle season, it must rain between the 1st 2 weeks of August. If there are few truffles, the competition grows fierce. If you attempt to hunt in an area where you usually don’t hunt and are unknown by locals, you may return to your car with slashed tires. So they say. Dog poisoning and vandalism all for the sake of umami.

We spent a great day in nature, with our hunter’s best friend (a pup!) following the wise olfactory guidance of this little pup, Titta.

At the end of the day, we found SEVERAL white truffles!

We paused for an aperitivo of wild (gathered) porcini crostini and prosecco (I love Italy for moments like these) and went on to wash them.

White truffles found from a recent truffle hunt

After they were washed and the prosecco was finished, we headed to a local trattoria to bask in the jewels little truffle pup had found. Truffles on prized Lardo della Colonnata.

Lardo di Colonnata- lard cured on marble slate with herbs

Truffles on eggs over easy

Lonely, fresh buttered and pepper Tagliatelle

fresh egg pasta

Made into pure sensory bliss with our fresh, grated white truffles on top

If there was a such thing as food heroin, I think this would be it.

And dessert. Of course. No truffles were harmed in this course, sadly.

caramel and pine nut semifreddo

If you are interested in experiencing what I had the joy and inspiration to experience, contact me for booking and pricing. This truffle hunt excursion is offered by the lovely leaders of an organization I collaborate with whose aim is to connect the public with small producers that are dedicated to traditional, sustainable Tuscan Italian gastronomy and agriculture.

Yours in food wanderlust,

Curious Appetite

Piadina- the Italian flatbread

Piadina Tartufato- by yours truly

La Piadina is a wonderful thing. What it is IS an Italian flatbread made of flour, lard (or olive oil), salt and water and stuffed with 2-3 ingredients- usually a meat, cheese and a veg. In Emilia Romagna, where la piadina romagnola originates, you will find piadinerie that make the flatbread fresh (even with little charred blots on) and stuff it with local cheeses, prosciutto and fancy sauces (truffle cream upon request!!!).

Continue Reading

Nettletown

One morning, as I was restlessly slept-in, I was feeling spontaneous and felt compelled to venture out for brunch. I urbanspoon’d “brunch” and found this “Nettletown.” I thought, what a peculiar name. It seems that Nettles have become a culinary trend in the Pacific Northwest, i.e. nettle papparadelle, nettled sausage, nettle gratin. Nettles are medicinal as they are delicious. They are amazing towards combating allergies. And amazing in curing the experimental palate.

I was quite surprised to see this place tucked next to subway in the seemingly convenience strip of Eastlake. I walked in, and was covered by colors, mural-inspired decor, and a counter lined of eccentric sweets. Dark chocolate covered noodle haystacks to mexican chocolate (sliced) coconut bars.  They were delicately arranged and gastronomically full of beauty. And the best part? COST. $1.60 for that chocolatey coconut blissy bar that I enjoyed much with some full-bodied organic coffee that was served in a cute modestly sized Japanese-like styled light blue ceramic mug, and as I waited for my baked truffled sunchoke eggs to arrive.

Menu items seem baked and/or cooked to order (allow 20 minutes for this special): and I was impressed by all of the choices. Simplicity, yet complexity. Traditional, yet experimental. There was something truly special about the vibe inside. It really seemed like a little hole in the wall that no one knew about, and that would only be exposed by Anthony Bourdain. I found that to be completely false once I stumbled upon the latest Eater Heat Map http://m.eater.com/archives/2010/12/29/the-eater-seattle-heat-map-where-to-eat-right-now.php

I feel like homey little hole in the wall joints that you can fill up on precious gourmet comfort meals for less than ten bucks is a rarity in Seattle, unless you hit up the I.D., Beacon Hill, White Center, or maybe Korean joints along HWY 99. Usually, so-called “foodie” and well-ranked venues like Springhill (bless your hearts and please forgive me for the following profiling:)  are in high-profiled spaces with seemingly high-profiled snooty clientele. And that with coffee and tip and maybe a slice of brioche will let you escape for those ten $mackers.

The point IS…these baked eggies were creamy, truffly (of the black variety) and had semi-firm savory sunchokes baked in with a creamy cheese crust. The green spinach salad was a great way to polish off the palate and still leave the truffle lingering and mingling with the olivey vinaigrette.

As I lurked through the website, I discovered the owner’s inspirations come from her Swiss and Chinese roots. TOTALLY made sense, after I was confounded by the melange of modern European Ikea-eske ideas of Elk-Balls and Swiss Knoepfli (swiss spaetzle) yet Asian style-comfort foods like 5-spiced Berkshire pork ribs buried in wild mushroom noodle soup.

I am so bewildered by this place, not only for the way you can get sweet unpretentious treats for under $2, its small yet bursting  selection of brunch items, the fact that its hard to spot along Eastlake ave and sits right next to a franchise that is belittling the gastronomic integrity of America, and the fact that they actually utilize a CSA farm/produce box  scheme to provide its whole food ingredients.

So, my question is, how good is a lemongrass elk meatball?

Serious Pie. Pizza, man.

!

The best pizza I ever had in my life was in Naples, Italy. There is something spectacular about the dough there. Airy, smoky, Fluffy yet lightly dense, a hint sourdough, and the perfect amount of salt with a melt in your mouth finish. They say in Naples that their water is what makes the dough. One time, I actually tried visiting all the Italian specialty shops in Seattle looking for Neapolitan bottled water for a pizza recipe. It is that convincing.

Italy is known for its pizza, especially Naples. And if I know any country, it’s Italy. Not to say i’m an expert but to myself i’m an expert in my own rite.  And this is the exact reason that, ever since I literally cried over how artisan and delicious my Neapolitan pizza experience was, I have shunned America for its pizza mockery.   This however, has changed since a recent visit to Serious Pie in Downtown Seattle. I prepared myself mentally (and physically) for this venture, asking my fellow foodie-ittes what their take on S.P. was, and the second I dropped the name so did the drooling. Multiple people shook me and said “you have to try the wild mushroom and truffled cheese!!” So what did I order? The cherry bomb peppers and fennel sausage. Why would I order the one thing I could bet on being good? How could ANY pizza place screw up a truffled cheese pizza? Remember friend, my goal is a cynical one, and it’s to really see if the restaurant is worth our money.  Luckily, I was in a party of 3 so the truffled cheese was ordered, as well as the buffalo mozz meyer lemon and saracena olive chili pepper pie.

The atmosphere was very chill, almost too sceney for me. Sceney as in exclusive and exclusive as in schmoozy Seattlites or tourists with money. Me? Not so much. I’m way too quirky to fit in with this crowd. Anyways…

The pizza. Taken with an android. Next time, I get the iPhone. Or a real camera.

The dough. amazing. perfectly densed, a tease of sourdough, and rubbed with olive oil. Melt in your mouth dough that would make any celiac want to live on the edge. The cheese? Meh, nothing to write tremendously about. It was fresh mozz that paired quite well with the punchy savory marinara. No mozz will compare to the mozz I had freshly made in a Pugliese dairy farm in Italy. Im sorry. Its the cliche’ truth. But the sausage was quite the spectacle. Not heavy and greasy. A little greasy but just right. Full of spice herb and yes sweet fennel. Great meaty hearty texture that went down quite buttery.  All the texture and spice of the meat paired with the herbacious marinara and the cooling mozz was a perfect protagonist for the dough. This pizza was worth it. Via Tribunali (THE so-called Italian pizza place) is a pretty pathetic overpriced attempt at delivering a serious pie.  Their pizza is authentically Italian, by which I mean the kind of pizza in Italy that is anti-climatic and last resort.

Dessert however was a total waste of 8 dollars.  Cannoli. The shells were STALE, the ricotta was a little watery and worst of all the cannoli were stale. And they tried to cover it up with a mound of powdered sugar and rancid hazelnuts. Tisk tisk, Tom. Stick to pies or make your cannoli shells a little fresher (and bigger, a diameter of my thumb is not a traditional cannoli) and any New Yorker or Sicilian will shame you for life if you served that pathetic lump to them. Regardless of how much of a sweetheart pizzaman you are.

For serious.

Please share any Serious Pie experience you have had!