Sunday, July 11, 2010

Italy Trip Day 4 - Truffle Hunt & Assisi

This was a day we had been looking forward to for a long time. It was truffle hunt day! We had pre-arranged to meet our truffle hunting guides at 10am in Citerna, a small town about 45 minutes north or Tuoro. Two people showed up, the owner of the truffle company, and an English speaking guide. We followed them in our car to a nearby wooded area, where we met two truffle hunters and their dogs. As soon as the dogs were let off their leashes, they were off. The one found a truffle right away, with our party of 6 right behind her.

The truffle hunter endowed me with the bisaccia, the traditional truffle bag, so each time we found a truffle, it was my job to brush off the dirt and put it in the bag. Each time a truffle was found, the hunter pulled the dog back with one hand (they get VERY excited!), and after scraping some dirt and leaves away, gives us his long hoe-like tool, which we use to pry the truffle gently out of the ground. We did this to the tune of about 7 or 8 truffles, ranging in size from a large grape to a plum or golf ball, all black. It was a very cool experience, and I'm glad we had the English speaking guide, as no on else spoke English in that group (in fact, at one point, they asked in Italian if we were French!).

After we said goodbye to the hunters and dogs, we went back to Citerna for a very informational walking tour of the city, focusing on some newly-excavated Roman and Etruscan wells (the name Citerna means "cistern"). We all stopped for a leisurely cappuccino half way through our city tour, hanging out with our guide and her boss. The view from the cafe we stopped at is on the left.

After the tour, we went to the owner's truffle workshop, which was about 15 minutes away by car. We met the owner's wife, who was our cooking instructor for the day. We got samples of cheese with truffle honey and prosecco while we visited a little truffle museum adjacent to their workshop (who knew there were so many different kinds of truffles!), then we got down to the business of cooking. The owner's wife is a great cook, and we learned several new techniques that day. We made crostini with different truffles as topping (black, white, dried, fresh, etc.), along with a parmesan truffle flan on top of baby greens (shown below).

We also made frascarelli pasta by drizzling egg yolk over flour and sifting the flour through a sieve. The resultant lumps, dropped in boiling water, cooked in about a minute! We tossed this pasta with a sauce of truffles, butter and asparagus. This was served along side baked truffle polenta with a truffle cream sauce. For the main course we made chicken roulade, which was stuffed with cheese, truffles and prociutto. This was served with truffle mashed potatoes and a balsamic drizzle. We also made a very simple sweet cake (the only thing we made that didn't have truffles) which was also very tasty. We ate the whole meal with the owner, the owner's wife and the guide, and had a very pleasant meal. I had heard that if other people want to do this activity on the same day as you, they combine groups, but it was just my husband and me that day, so that was really a special experience. Steve and I agree that this was probably our favorite thing we did on the whole trip.

After we bought tons of the company's truffle products, we said our goodbyes and drove to Assisi. We went straight to the Basilica di San Francesco, and spent some serious time looking at the art and architecture. It was beautiful there. We left Assisi in the late afternoon and went to Cortona again for dinner. This time we went to Osteria il Teatro.

The restaurant itself is very rustic and casual, but the service was fantastic and the food was even better than that. I started with the pici (traditional Tuscan handmade pasta noodles made with flour and water) with beef sauce, and moved on to lamb shank with a mushroom sauce, Steve had the stuffed gnocchi with cream sauce and chicken in a brown sauce, and we shared a chocolate Charlotte for dessert (picture to the left). With this feast, we drank a bottle of syrah from a local winery, La Braccesca.

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