Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chestnut Pasta with Shaved Truffles: Brown and Down!

When I look at this photograph I took of my lunch in Arezzo, I see a "study in brown" -- it all looks brown! The chestnut flour pasta is, of course, a beautiful chestnut color, and the shaved white truffles on top are almost the same shade. (I've learned that white truffles aren't really "white" as in snow, vanilla ice cream or mashed potatoes, but are definitely a lighter shade than the also-delicious black truffle. . . which isn't really "black"! Hmmm-- the color theory of truffles: perhaps a topic for another day?)

Chestnut fettucini with shaved white truffles in Arezzo
Since I love shaved truffles over a simple pasta, and since I had never tried chestnut flour pasta before, this menu offering drew me in. The place was a little trattoria on a side street away from the monthly Arezzo antique market. My companions and I were getting quite hungry and were in a desperate search for something other than pizza when I spied the outdoor tables. What a find it turned out to be!

It was a relief to sit down after a morning of browsing the antiques and other offerings all over this charming town. The day could not have been more beautiful, so it was perfect for eating al fresco. When this bowl-full-of-brown was set before me, I breathed in the aroma: it smelled of Italy! Earthy, fresh, simple goodness. The pasta was perfectly al dente, giving my teeth a slight resistance. It didn't taste like chestnuts, but it did have a fuller flavor than regular wheat pasta, with a wonderful nuttiness. I'm not sure exactly what the sauce was, but it was that "barely-a-sauce" slight of hand the Italians do so well, especially when adding truffles. It tasted slightly buttery, perhaps with a tiny bit of young olive oil that had been introduced briefly to a bit of garlic. I couldn't see a sauce, yet my tongue knew it was there! Topped by the paper-thin bits of precious white truffle, that magical fungus that has a flavor and aroma that defies description -- subtle, earthy, REAL. 

While I was twirling it onto my fork the artist side of my brain was musing that it sure needed to have a bit of color on the plate or in the dish to make it look more appetizing (maybe a sprig of flat-leaf parsley? A slice of lemon? The splash of bright red from a sliver of roasted pepper?) But once the fork made it into my mouth, the gourmand portion of my brain took over, and it took all the grace I possessed not to wolf the entire bowl down in minutes. "I'm in Italy" I reminded myself. "Stretch this meal out and enjoy it!" 

Which is exactly what I did. 

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