My first encounter with fresh truffles was not in some swanky restaurant in France or Italy, but in the poky kitchen of my tiny flat in Parnell. Back in my early 20s I was working flat-tack as a caterer, consultant and budding food writer. I had been commissioned to write a fortnightly column for the Listener magazine, and with this profile food producers often sent me their wares in the hope I might write about them.
One day a most mysterious box turned up, labelled all over 'urgent/perishable/keep chilled'. Inside lay a single black truffle, like a nibbed nugget of coal.
At the time, Dr Alan Hall had been working for a few years at the Invermay agricultural research centre in Otago to develop the clever inoculation process for growing truffles symbiotically with oak and hazelnut trees. I was lucky enough to be in the right job at the right time to be the recipient of the fruits of his endeavours, in the form of a perfect truffle – a magnificent tuber melanosporum, or black Perigord truffle.
I had heard that truffles and eggs were partners in heaven, and some library reading referenced storing fresh truffles in a sealed jar with eggs and then using the eggs in an omelette with shavings of the truffle over the top. I invited a few foodie friends over for Sunday brunch and cooked up my version of a truffled egg omelette. We all sat with our plates on our knees on the living room floor (the table had yet to arrive) suspended in silence in this moment – incredulous. How could something hard and black be so swooningly aromatic, so fragrantly beguilingly? I will never forget that moment. I can even remember what I was wearing – an apron, unheard of before or since.
Fast forward to today and Alan’s truffles are growing successfully all over the country – in Gisborne, Marlborough, Canterbury and even as far south as Lake Hawea. It was to Hawea that we headed to hunt for fresh truffles in the fourth episode of my new TV series. To see behind-the-scenes photos of the shoot and learn more about the art of truffling click here.
Returning to my cabin in Wanaka with some ‘black gold’ to add the finishing touch to a special dinner was such a magical moment. There's nothing that says ‘celebration’ quite like a roast, and at the pinnacle of the roast stakes is a succulent roast turkey, brined, stuffed and cooked to golden, tender perfection. I share my secrets for perfect roast turkey in this episode, but sadly there weren't enough minutes in the show to include demonstrations for the side dishes. It's the trimmings that transform a roast from a yummy meal to a real feast, so I've loaded the videos onto my YouTube channel instead. To see me make tangy Lemon Gravy, scrumptious Roast Potatoes and Parsnips, and Brussels Sprouts with Bacon check out the TV pages of my website or go straight to YouTube.
find out more
- Want to find out more about this episode? Check out my blog inspired by my experiences while filming the show.
- My new book containing all the recipes from this episode and the rest of the series is available now at all good book sellers nationwide or via my website shop. Buy it at Paper Plus to receive a free biscuit tin – while stocks last!
- Find out more about Season One of The Free Range Cook
- Find out more about Season Two of The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures
special thanks to
- Four Peaks Bianchetto Truffle
- Maia from Petiquette Dog Services