My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

BLACK TRUFFLE Explosion, Romaine, Parmesan

Recipe, pages 238-239.

When working at The French Laundry, chef Grant Achatz came up with the idea for this recipe, soon to become his “signature” dish. They made a sauce of black truffle stock reduced with butter, “so good he would regularly sneak spoonfuls during service,” which he got to thinking about. He wanted to do something with it. And with idea of transforming a liquid to a solid and back again.

It took him and his staff “years of refinement,” but they did it, and regularly served it at his previous restaurant, Trio. People loved it so much, they just had to include it on the menu at Alinea, and in the Alinea cookbook.

No wonder, it’s a delightfully delicious surprise! Bite into the ravioli, and it bursts open in your mouth with a gush of pure liquid truffles and butter! One of my guests was totally caught off-guard. As a result, the banquette in my breakfast nook was “christened” with truffle juice. I think it’ll come out of the fabric…

And am I glad they did!

It’s a simple, but decadent dish that has delighted all my dinner guests who’ve tried it. Perhaps the only who wouldn’t like it are those few funghiphobes among us. But we won’t let them in the house, anyway, will we?

Black Truffle Spheres
The recipe calls for canned truffle juice. I bought a can of Savini Tartufi black truffle juice from Master Caviar, and used it for this recipe and HOT POTATO, Cold Potato, Truffle, Parmesan. There was not quite enough for both recipes, so I extended my stock with chicken broth. It still turned out quite potent — at least for me.

Speaking of potency though, at Alinea they make their own black truffle stock. Is that insane or what?

Seems as though the canned truffle juice wasn’t quite good enough, so chef Achatz decided to make it fresh. They perfected their recipe through trial and error over time, it is said, once ruining a batch of truffle stock made with ten pounds of fresh winter black truffles! The horror… the horror…

I use Rousselot silver gelatin sheets. There are “gold” and “silver” grades, the latter being a bit less expensive (and not as strong). I got a big box of them from L’Epicerie. Use silver for Alinea recipes, it’s what they use. For a full discussion on gelatin bloom rates and conversion from sheets to powders, check out this eGullet forum thread.

I soaked the gelatin sheets in ice water for about five minutes, until they were soft. Why use ice water? Because these thin, 2g sheets dissolve in anything warmer.

Squeeze them out and reserve. Make sure you get all the sheets, they’re hard to find amidst the ice.

Mise en place:

In a medium saucepan, I brought the truffle juice and salt to a boil. Removed from heat and whisked in the butter, a few small cubes at a time, until incorporated, and then the truffle oil.

Then added the gelatin sheets and whisked until dissolved.

I let the gelled truffle juice cool a bit, and filled a small squeeze bottle with some. I’d use this later to top off each “well” of the spherical mold.

For the truffle spheres, I used Huztler ice ball trays, from Gourmac. Plastic, two-piece, 24-sphere ice trays (each, US$4.19). I had purchased these for TRIPOD, Hibiscus, and get to use them again. Woohoo!

Hibiscus Tea

If you don’t feel like getting these, use your regular ice trays, or get some of these inexpensive novelty silicone ice trays.

The recipe says to fill the molds up a little more than half-way. You’re then supposed to squish two of these half-spheres together for each ravioli. I filled them all the way, topping each off with a squeeze bottle, and as a result the final ravioli were a bit smaller.

Put in refrigerator until they set up, about 2 hours. When the gelatin sets up, the butter separates to the top, so you have a layered sphere. I suppose my ravioli were not exactly the same, not quite as buttery. But they fit on the spoons perfectly and were not too big for a single bite.

Rousselot gelatin sheets (silver, 160 bloom), from L’Epicerie
Savini Tartufi black truffle juice, from Master Caviar
Diamond Crystal kosher salt
Challenge unsalted butter
Savini white truffle oil

Truffle Explosions
Our goal is to make a thin, stretchy dough. The stretchier the better, to contain the melting truffle gel when cooking. We want a “pasta balloon,” kinda like a water balloon. One that won’t pop and release the juice in the boiling water when cooking.

You know you’ve done it right when your pasta water is still relatively clear after boiling your ravioli. If it gets dark or cloudy (and smells really, really, truffly good), you’re gonna have some empty shells…

So make a pasta dough with finely ground flour and lots of egg yolk. Usually, I make pasta with 100% semolina flour from Assenti’s in Little Italy. I made my first batch of Black Truffle Explosion with a ratio of 50% all-purpose and 50% semolina flours. I got punctures, tears and cloudy water.

Second batch, I used cake flour and it worked adequately. If you can find it at your grocer’s, use the “00” doppio zero flour.

What is “00” flour?

“In Italy, flour is classified either as 1, 0, or 00, and refers to how finely ground the flour is and how much of the bran and germ have been removed. Doppio zero is the most highly refined and is talcum-powder soft.”


Mise en place:

In a stainless bowl, I mixed the egg yolks and whole eggs, milk and oil. Then strained — as we want a clean dough with NO lumps.

I set up a work area for the dough making. Prepared a sheet tray with a layer of cornmeal, for the ravioli. And beat some egg for the ravioli “glue.” Put out some extra cornmeal for the work surface.

I mounded the flour on my work area, making a well in the top for the egg yolks. I used a fork to pull small amounts of the egg and flour together. But every time I do this, it’s like a volcanic eruption or something. Egg went all over, and I quickly scrambled it together before the lava flow reached civilization. Then I kneaded the dough for about 15 minutes, using the “heals” of my palms. I set it aside, covered, to rest for 45 minutes.

And got out the pasta roller attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer. These are very handy, and come in sets. You can make sheets, strips and thin pasta. I used one fourth of the dough at a time. Flattened the dough a bit with my hands, then ran it through the pasta rollers at 1, its thickest setting. Changed the setting to #2 and ran it through, then #3. This seemed pretty thin so I stopped there. The #4 setting was too thin, and the pasta kept ripping apart from its own weight when held up.

Set the sheet of pasta down on a floured, flat surface. I took the truffle spheres out of the fridge and opened up the trays. They were beautiful.

I placed some truffle gel balls about 1.5 inches apart on the pasta. You need enough area to separate them, but you don’t want to have too much of a “lip” where the pasta sheets will join.

Then used egg yolk around each to glue the top pasta sheet down, pressing firmly around each sphere. You want to get all the air bubbles out of each ravioli.

Used a round cookie cutter to cut out each ravioli, then removed the excess pasta. Crimped the edges of each very carefully, and set onto the prepared cornmeal tray. You have to make sure you have a tight seal on these edges, or all the truffle liquid will seep out into your boiling water when cooking.

Cover and refrigerate until needed. You’ll have some extra dough and truffle gel left over.

“00” or “AP” flour
Egg yolks and whole eggs
Alta-Dena whole milk
olive oil
Ahern’s cornmeal
reserved black truffle spheres

Truffle Slices
I ordered a fresh winter Périgord black truffle from Master Caviar. The package arrived next day air in a styrofoam cooler, surrounded by icepacks in a vacuum-pack bag with arborio rice.

My daughter picked out the rice embedded in the nooks and crannies of the truffle, perfect work for little hands.

The truffle was 59g (2.08oz) in weight, for US$101.87 (yikes, $0.58 per gram). I thought it would be enough for both this recipe, and HOT POTATO, Cold Potato, Truffle, Parmesan.

I carefully cut it up in thin slices on a mandoline.

And reserved what we needed to a sheet tray lined with paper towels. I coated the slices we’d use with some white truffle oil. Made the slices look nicer too.

Fresh winter Périgord black truffle, from Master Caviar

Wilted Romaine
I cut the stems and rough edges off some nice, green interior leaves from a head of Romaine lettuce. Then I cut one-inch strips from these and reserved for just before serving.

Mise en place (oops, I forgot to shoot the butter with it):

In a small sauté pan I brought the butter water and salt to a simmer and added the Romaine strips, a few at a time. You want to make sure NOT to have the heat up too high, or the butter will fry the lettuce to a crisp. We want to gently wilt the lettuce, like when making a hot spinach salad (I suppose you could also steam your greens in water only, if you were of that ilk).

Baby Romaine or Romaine lettuce
Challenge unsalted butter
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Parmesan Slices
I sliced some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on a truffle slicer, and reserved the shavings in the prep area.

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, from Venissimo Cheese

To Assemble and Serve
I filled a small pot with water and brought it to a boil. I added some of the ravioli to the boiling water until the pasta was done and the interiors were liquified. You may have to eat one to test ; )

While the ravioli were cooking, I brought the butter, water, some truffle slices and Romaine to a simmer in a small sauté pan. When the ravioli were ready, I transfered each to the small pan, flat side up. Placed a generous slice of truffle on each, followed by a rolled-up piece of the greens. I placed each in a spoon (resting in a small Fiestaware fruit bowl), then topped with a cheese shaving. And served to my eager guests immediately.

Challenge unsalted butter

Alternate Servings:
If this is a larger part of your meal (more than just a tasting), try serving 3 or 4 with brown butter, truffle slices, spinach and parmesan.

Or take some of the leftover truffle juice gel and add to your sauté pan with butter and small chunks of truffle. Grate parmesan over them with a touch of fresh ground pepper!

Alinea antiplate spoon presenter, by Crucial Detail, available from J.B. Prince
Fiestaware fruit bowls, from Macy’s
Vintage “Laurel” stainless soup spoon, by William Fraser, from Replacements

Salter digital scale
Measuring bowls
Kitchen knife, pairing knife, cutting board
Stainless mixing bowl
Small squeeze bottle
Small funnel
Huztler ice ball trays, from Gourmac
Osterizer blender
Deep fryer, or large pan with thermometer
Small and medium saucepans
Wire whisks
Rubber spatulas and wooden spoons
Plastic wrap
Plastic containers

Yields: 24 ravioli, with additional truffle gel and pasta left over

Next, CHEESE, In Cracker.

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