Truffles have been a staple in family homes in Tuscany and Piedmont for generations. Now an increasing number of area restaurants are featuring truffles as niche cuisine. In July 2009, the old abbey of Castel Monastero (castelmonastero.com) just outside Siena was converted into a tony resort hotel, complete with a Gordon Ramsay restaurant whose menu is built around truffles. Locals have objected to some of the nontraditional dishes, including one that mixes onions with fresh truffles. But all over Tuscany, chefs are experimenting with new ways to use truffles. All it requires is following a few simple rules:
Truffles should be used immediately after they are harvested. The flavor begins to dissipate the moment they are removed from the earth.
Fresh truffles should not be cleaned until right before use. Still caked in clay dirt and wrapped in kitchen towels, truffles will keep for up to 10 days stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator vegetable drawer or a wine cellar.
White truffles should never be cooked, only shaved or sprinkled on foods that complement them.
No part of the truffle should ever be discarded. Locals swear by using any remaining slivers to flavor rice, flour, or olive oil.
The region's most common home dishes include fresh truffles grated over a simple soft cheese like stracchino served on toasted bread, or mixed with good olive oil in a salad of fresh artichokes, greens, and grana padano cheese. Grated truffles over scrambled eggs or mixed into mashed potatoes turn these ordinary dishes into gourmet meals. Locals put whole, fresh eggs in a glass jar with chunks of fresh truffle to flavor eggs for scrambling.