The subtler, more economical cousin of the better-known winter fungi
Summer truffles: the title alone suggests a relaxed elegance not to be found in their better known, more fragrant winter cousins.
“They are the mildest of all the truffles,” Mario Prati, chef and owner of Tartufaia, explains. “Mildest in the sense of fragrance. They don’t produce the intense pheromone-like scents of autumn and winter truffles. They don’t have that kind of smell that fills the room. The experience of eating summer truffles all takes place on the palate. They have a subtle nutty flavour, as well as the earthiness of truffles—sometimes ‘subtle’ can be a way of saying tasteless, but that is certainly not the case here.”
The stall sells Italian and English summer truffles, and between them we should have summer truffles until about the end of August, early September. Between the two sources the season is quite long. Mario explains that even though they come from very different places they are actually naturally-occurring populations of the same species—tuber aestivum vitt, to give them their somewhat less romantic Latin name, and indiscernible when it comes to flavour.
“The main difference with summer, rather than winter, truffles is that you cannot just shave them on to a finished dish because the heat will not be enough to release the flavours. You actually need to cook them a little bit,” Mario reveals. “For example, if you are doing a simple cheese sauce for pasta, then you add the grated truffle for 30 seconds to a minute and when the sauce is ready, the truffles will be perfect.”
If you haven’t tried them, summer truffles are definitely worth a look—not only for their culinary qualities, but they are significantly cheaper than other truffles—“perhaps 20 to 30 per cent of the price”. Mario says that even though you need to use two or three times more of them to get the same effect, they are still an affordable ingredient in their own right.
“There is a lovely starter I make using marinated fresh porcini and summer truffles, which is perfect for this time of the year. Essentially it is a fondu using comte cheese, but the sauce is served on the plate with the porcini,” Mario says. “You take 500g cubed comte and add 500g whole milk—it must be whole or the recipe does not work—and place this over a bain-marie.”
Once it has melted and the cheese and milk have combined, take it off the heat, add an egg yolk and emulsify by whisking really strongly in a food processor. “You end up with a very thick sauce. After this you return the sauce to the bain-marie and add about 50g of grated summer truffles and stir gently until the truffles are heated through, which should take a minute or two at most. When this is done, the sauce is finished.”
To make the marinade for the mushrooms, combine thyme, rosemary, garlic and a very small splash of vegetable oil, just enough to coat the porcini. “This does not need to be left overnight, a couple of hours will do. Slice the marinated porcini into about one centimetre thick slices and grill lightly—they are great done on a barbecue,” says Mario. “One last touch is to take some sage leaves, wash them and dredge them in a mix of corn flour and rice flour and deep fry them briefly.”
Serve by making a quenelle of the fondu sauce on the side of the plate, scatter over some shavings of summer truffles and top with a couple of the sage leaves. Then place the grilled porcini next to the sauce and drizzle with some good olive oil. The finished dish has a wonderful summer feel.
“The different smells from the herbs, cheese and mushrooms whet the appetite and then you get the flavour of the summer truffles coming through once you tuck into the dish,” says Mario. “What I really like about this starter is that while it is quite simple to make, it is packed with so many wonderful flavours—a perfect way to start a meal.”