I feel sheepish admitting this, but I’ve only recently noticed the sudden ubiquity of truffle oil. Wherever I go, there it is — on popcorn, in eggs, drizzled over a perfectly good hamburger (I just made that up, but it could be). For a long time, I didn’t notice. But after Brendan got violently sick from a recent dinner and could only mutter, “I’ll never eat truffle oil again. God damn that fucking truffle oil,” it occurred to me that yes, he’s right, that stuff is disgusting. A few days later, there it was again, hidden in our lobster sushi. The aftertaste, now that I’d been made aware of it, lingered unpleasantly for hours.
A casual investigation reveals that truffle oil is not made of truffles at all, it’s a synthetic amalgam of something called 2,4-dithiapentane, which doesn’t sound very appetizing or wholesome to me, plus organic aromas, sometimes from actual truffles, in an olive oil or grapeseed oil base. Why would you want that on your baked fish, or anything, for that matter? “Truffle oil” looks fancy on menus, but it’s sheer food snobbery, which always makes me weary.
Truffles themselves, as everyone knows, are those outrageously expensive, hard-to-find mushrooms found buried near trees, sometimes by trained pigs and, more recently, dogs. Brillat-Savarin called them “the diamond of the kitchen.” The whole point is that they’re rare. You don’t eat them in everything the same way you don’t wear diamonds every day — they’re for special dishes and occasions, a luxury. Shaved, with olive oil, chives and a little parmesan, black truffles elevate humble linguine to a gourmet feast.
Otherwise, in the absence of genuine kitchen diamonds, I’ll take an honest pea sauce on my (gluten-free, alas) pasta. It’s cheap, easy, fast, and simple, and it’s the pasta equivalent of chicken soup. It’s a traditional, typically Roman sauce, the base for osso bucco and many other dishes. Brendan makes it on raw nights, or after a long car trip, or when I’m under the weather. A big, rich, savory-sweet, nourishing bowl of it never fails to warm my bones.
Pasta with pea sauce
Make a soffrito: mince 2 peeled carrots, 2 celery ribs, and 1 large white or yellow onion. Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan and add the vegetables. Saute them on low heat until they’re tender, about 15 minutes. Turn the heat up, add half a bag of frozen peas, no more than 1/4 cup vegetable broth. Cook 5 minutes until peas are tender. Add 1 1/2 cups Pomi chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper, and crushed red pepper. (It should be smelling deeply good by now.) Let it simmer vigorously on medium-low heat for 15 more minutes, until it’s thick. Toss with 1 lb. freshly cooked hot pasta (fettucine is best) and serve with parmesan cheese and more crushed red pepper. Serves 3, cures everything.