Into the woods
The truffles used in this recipe come from Braidwood, outside of Canberra. But there is also a reasonable supply from Western Australia. The industry is now gaining momentum and the yields are increasingly accessible. You should pay about $2.50 a gram, and you need about 30 grams for the recipe. It will feed up to eight people, and is a worthy extravagance once a winter. All up, the truffle will cost you about $75, so don’t overcook this tart.
Australian truffles are more subtle than their European counterparts, but the intensity of this flavour really depends on what you pair the truffle with while cooking. The rules I’ve been taught are to find a vehicle that supports and extends the truffle flavour: rice, eggs, cream or potatoes all work. In this recipe, for instance, the cream and the parmesan really carry the gentle woody flavour – the parmesan supports the truffle but doesn’t make it all about the truffle, and the roast shallots bring a touch of sweetness. This savoury tart has a quiche-like ancestry, but it has done away with the egginess of some quiches. To get even further away, I suggest serving with some radishes with a mustard vinaigrette or a raw vegetable salad of celeriac or celery.
There are ways to draw out flavour from the truffle, too. When I make this tart I store the truffle with the whole eggs in an airtight container in the fridge for one or two days, which helps infuse flavour through the shells of the eggs. If you have truffles hanging around, it is also worth storing them in rice in the fridge and later using the rice to make risotto.
The truffle season starts in early winter and usually runs for a couple of months, through until about the end of August. In Australia we successfully use dogs to find the truffles, but the real skill is in knowing when to dig them up. To put it more simply, the skill is in the farmer getting on the ground and sniffing at the soil to see if the truffles are ripe. The question of ripeness can come down to a matter of days.
What is nice about truffles being grown here is they are incredibly fresh, often arriving at market a day after they have been harvested.
It is a happy thing to have access to fresh truffles each season, as it means chefs have fewer and fewer excuses to use truffle oil. Which can only be a good thing.
Truffle and parmesan tart
– 180g cold, unsalted butter
– 240g plain flour
– pinch salt
– 3¼ tbsp water
Cut the butter into a small dice. Put the butter, flour and salt into a food processor and process until it looks like crumbs. With the machine still running, gradually add the water until the dough just comes together.
Tip the dough onto your workbench and use your hands to push the pastry together, making sure any floury bits are thoroughly but lightly combined into the dough. It’s important to handle the pastry lightly or it will become hard and chewy, not delicate and crumbly
Shape the pastry into a disc, wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Roll the pastry out and line a loose-bottomed tart tin (rectangular 10cm x 30cm or round 23cm).
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Chill the tart shell in the fridge for 15 minutes before blind baking it in the oven until golden.
Parmesan and truffle custard
– 6 shallots, peeled
– 1 tbsp butter
– olive oil
– 1 egg yolk
– 2 eggs
– 150ml thickened cream
– 100g crème fraîche
– 150g Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
– 20g fresh black truffle, very finely grated
Preheat the oven to 120°C.
Place the shallots in a small heavy baking dish with one tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt and bake in the oven for about 1½ hours, until they are soft all the way through but still holding together.
Whisk the yolk, eggs, cream and crème fraîche until thoroughly combined then stir through the parmesan and truffle.
Preheat the oven to 140°C.
Put the tart shell on a baking tray and place the cooked shallots in the tart. Pour the custard into the shell. Bake until the tart is just set and still pale on the top – about 30 minutes.
Allow the tart to rest for 10 minutes before taking it out of its form and serving.
2014 Domaine Belle-Vue “Miam Miam” cabernet Franc, Loire Valley, France ($34)
– Liam O’Brien, sommelier, Cutler & Co
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 8, 2015 as "Into the woods". Subscribe here.