It smelled good at the Ristorante Venelia today. It was a holiday, All Saints day, and everyone was out and about with their children and most were having the tagliolini al tartufo. You see it in the picture. We smelled, we ordered without even hearing the waitress recite the menu.
Two plates of it came steaming to the table. I held back and took the picture you see above. Beautiful, eh? Then we stuck our heads in the steam, breathed deeply, and dug in.
At which time the diner at the next table over leaned toward us. He had a serious look on his face. He spoke to us in English, “They’re not real truffles, you know.”
Our forks, which had been twisting away at the ravishing tagliolini like little whirling dervishes, screeched to a halt. So, someone took the time to paint all those intricate lines on a radish or something? Were we going to die?
“These we call scorzone. Not the real truffle you get in Piemonte, the white one. This smells very, very good, but I don’t like it in the mouth.”
So we relaxed. I slid a sliver of truffle on to my fork. Yes, the taste—a little like you’d imagine cardboard to taste if it were infused with some truffle steam and you were in the habit of eating wood pulp.
“The owner found these this morning, he told me.”
The taste wasn’t sexy like a winter white truffle. Not even close. But it was a truffle, or at least people call it one, a summer truffle. Tuber Aestivum Vitt is the scientific name. It’s not the same as a summer black truffle, which is Tuber Melanosporum Vitt—but you probably know it as the Perigord truffle. It’s quite common in Tuscany, and it’s sometimes called “The Tuscany Truffle” because it grows well here.
And there was still that alluring smell…
So that was our primo. They didn’t charge an arm and a leg for it—and it was clearly specified on the menu exactly the type of truffle that was used, so nobody was trying to rip anyone off. For 12 euro the plate was quite an enjoyable one.
So look at the picture again. If you were searching out the winter white truffle, the best kind of truffle, you wouldn’t see the black on the outside. If it were the second-best black perigord truffle, it would be less yellow in the inside. This is the kind of truffle you get when you purchase those bottles of cheap, preserved truffles.
But let’s get back to the rest of the meal. Over on the right is what I ordered.
Piccione. Pigeon, called squab for the squeamish, stuffed with all manner of funghi or forest mushrooms. Oversalted, but a fantastic dish in spite of it. I ate fried squash flowers with it.
But then there was Martha’s favorite, the lamb with artichokes. Typical cucina povera “presentation” a heap composed of almost half a rack of lamb under all those artichokes and sauce.
We are full. There is unlikely to be a late meal on this all saints day.