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Eating white truffle with Giorgio Locatelli

October 26, 2011

Giorgio Locatelli with truffle“Every year my Grandfather would get us kids together and we’d pile into the back of his Fiat Cinquecento and drive out to some remote garage in the middle of nowhere.  He would hand over some cash for one of the new season truffles which had been picked that morning.  The smell of it in the car was incredible; we were pickled by the smell.  When we got home, I don’t know how she knew, but my Grandmother was always at the final minute of cooking the risotto and we’d get together as a family for an incredible truffle meal.”

This truffle ritual, his Grandmother’s cooking and standing on a crate, making risotto, from the age of six at the restaurant of his Aunt and Uncle were some of the triggers for Giorgio Locatelli’s lifelong passion for cooking.  Working his way through some notable kitchens in Europe, he has earned a reputation as the ‘world’s greatest Italian chef’ (restaurateur Tony Allen), a London-based Michelin-starred restaurant Locanda Locatelli as well as his partnership with Ronda Locatelli at Atlantis, Dubai.  Later, when I asked him what keeps him inspired in the kitchen he said “the ingredients”.  His wife asks him how he can get so excited about truffle season yet again but, as he says this, he rubs his hands and grins widely.  He still retains the enthusiasm of a six-year-old.

Three stages of pasta making

Giorgio making (and feeding me) pasta!

I’m at Ronda Locatelli for the launch of this season’s truffle menu.  It includes a cookery demo by Giorgio which we then get to eat.  He’s ebullient and energetic and uses expressive English vocabulary almost as though he’s speaking Italian.  He imparts rapid-fire, detailed instructions about every stage of the cookery process as well as historical background on the ingredients themselves and what has influenced their use.  For example he favours Carnaroli for risotto “a much more elegant grain” but explains that Mussolini’s drive for Italian self-sufficiency caused the planting of Arborio to be widespread.

He says that he is continually striving to use fewer ingredients to make the dishes simpler.  “Anyone can add things, but when you leave a restaurant can you remember what you ate? More is a bordello“.   This mastery of tastes and textures is demonstrated in the dishes we are served; fresh raviolo filled with a ring of finely mashed potato and an egg yolk; tagliolini slicked with a creamy, butter sauce; parmesan risotto; and zabaglione –  all topped with shaved white truffle; simple dishes which in other hands could be very ordinary transformed to ambrosia-like food.

This menu is only for those who adore the musky, umami flavour of fresh, white truffle.  “People either love or hate truffle.  Sometimes when they hear I am serving it in the restaurant they don’t come in.  I like that.  I want food to strike a very strong emotion and when it does I’ve achieved something.”

Parmesan risottoGiorgio visits Umbria at the start of every truffle season and it sounds like a macho-bonding session for lads (not washing, keeping dogs in the dark, getting up at dawn then sitting around a camp fire eating a slice of fresh truffle with bread and some fried eggs).  The French use pigs where the Italians use dogs “and that shows the difference between us and the French” he quips.  The Italian dogs are very highly trained and will signal the degrees of ripeness (one paw raised means unripe, two paws raised means ripe).  The Umbrian truffle season is slightly earlier than in Piedmont as it is further South.  The whole environment must be perfect for a truffle to thrive and they will not grow in an aeroplane flight path, near to a road or electricity pylon and are very susceptible to pesticides and chemicals.  They grow between 10-20 cm underground, nearer the surface if they are close to streams or deeper near trees where they nestle by the roots (lower humidity).  Giorgio calls the truffle ” the highest expression of nature”.  He cut into one of the knobbly beige fungi and showed us a stripe of red meaning it had grown next to a tree root of an oak tree indicating a higher quality truffle.  Foods high in protein go well with truffle but no other flavour can balance it.  Eggs are a match made in heaven.

Making and serving raviolo

During the session Giorgio tell us about the land he has acquired in Sicily for a project with his daughter.  It has taken six years to  plant and grow an olive grove to produce his own olive oil and he said it was a great lesson about simplicity, putting passion and love into cooking, and that the island had given him a really vibrant feeling about food.  It reminded him of his childhood where there was never TV in the room they were eating, not even radio and he strives to recreate the conviviality of family eating in his restaurants.  “A meal is not just about the food. I would rather eat mediocre food with people I love than an exceptional meal by myself.”  I agree in principle but would happily skulk off into a corner with a bowl of the risotto or a raviolo by myself.  This is good, soul-satisfying food at its very best.

I asked Giorgio about his influences, inspirations, advice for the home-cook and his attitudes to animal welfare.  You can hear his replies in the video below.Me! with Giorgio

Eight top tips from Giorgio Locatelli about making fresh pasta:

  1. Eggs in the pasta helps the flavour of the truffle
  2. Make your pasta with 3 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks and 500g ‘OOO’ flour. Mix until crumbly then bring together in plastic wrap.
  3. Leave your pasta dough in the fridge for 24 hours to rest
  4. For home use you can store the dough for up to 7 days in the fridge
  5. When you roll out the pasta, store the sheets and spare dough under a damp cloth or give it a little spray of water to stop it drying out
  6. It’s best to cook shapes (like tagliolini) a day after you have made them so they dry out a little.
  7. Pasta shapes can to vary a little, it’s good to look homemade. Food doesn’t have to be perfect it just has to be good.
  8. Don’t add oil to the cooking water.  If you want extra flexibility put a spoonful of oil into the dough

The truffle menu is available in October and into November at Ronda Locatelli, Atlantis The Palm, Dubai.  Tel: +971 4 426 2626  The truffles are from San Pietro a Pettine, Trevi in Umbria.

P.S. I bought Giorgio’s new book Made in Sicily this week (in Kinokuniya Dubai), which looks at the ingredients, history and some of the local cooks and growers of the island as well as very simple, authentic Sicilian recipes.  Good reference and a great read.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Atlantis Dubai at the demonstration.

30 Comments
  1. October 26, 2011 12:41 pm

    WOW! What a wonderful experience!
    I’m in wonder though, how do they train the dogs like that. It’s easier with the pigs, they search for truffles in order to eat them. I’m craving fresh pasta now.

    • October 31, 2011 9:03 am

      This is why they use dogs apparently, as they don’t eat them, just find them. Having dogs myself I know how incredible their sense of smell is.

  2. October 26, 2011 1:33 pm

    What an awesome experience!
    I have never tasted a truffle! Not FAIR!
    Have a super day. :-) Mandy

    • October 31, 2011 9:01 am

      I hadn’t until a few years ago. We are lucky in some ways here in Dubai (although I miss the countryside ….which I’m sure you have in bucketloads).

  3. October 26, 2011 2:27 pm

    Oh Sally, what a treat! I am so behind with everything. I doubt I will ever make it if I keep being out of the loop when the likes of GL is in town. A wonderful post as usual and I love how you have brought his passion for food alive in this post.

    • October 31, 2011 9:00 am

      This comment means a lot – thanks so much (PS you are never out of the loop my dear).

  4. Jo Baker permalink
    October 26, 2011 6:27 pm

    At Taste of Dubai a couple of years ago I took my 14 year old son along to watch Georgio demonstrate how to make fresh pasta and he grated fresh truffle on top with asparagus stuffing inside, it was wonderful, we all got to taste this delightful dish. Huge fan ever since, he said he has never used dried pasta, so I went home and taught all three of my boys to make fresh pasta, my 21 year old son even took a pasta maker back to uni that year, and explained to the customs guys in Dubai what it was when they xrayed his luggage!! So easy to make and so quick to cook, and great fun for all the family. Must try white truffle though, sounds fantastic. Thanks Sally great post.

    • October 31, 2011 9:00 am

      Wow – he really is an inspiration. Love this tale how he influenced your whole family.

  5. October 27, 2011 12:39 am

    Oh, he’s sooo gorgeous, isn’t he? The truffle sounds pretty good too. :) I’ve only ever tried black truffle, never white, so will need to add that to my list of things to hunt down.

    • October 31, 2011 8:59 am

      Yes – I must admit he is :) White is divine too.

  6. October 27, 2011 3:56 am

    What a great experience…thanks for sharing.

  7. October 27, 2011 4:32 am

    Wow, fabulous! A wonderful experience.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • October 31, 2011 8:58 am

      Yes it was Rosa and Joan. Very lucky.

  8. October 27, 2011 1:25 pm

    We went to Umbria last year and came home with truffles – wish I had brought more with me! Your day sounds so wonderful – and he is an amazing chef. Thanks for the tips – I am going to try and follow some of them where I can :)

    • October 31, 2011 8:58 am

      You lucky thing Tandy – on my bucket list.

  9. October 27, 2011 3:45 pm

    Truffles! A unique eating experience by all means, with risotto or fresh pasta, don’t think it gets any better :)
    Sounds like so much fun at the Demo.. Giorgio Locatelli is a brilliant Chef, love his take on food. A great post Sally, as always :)

    • October 31, 2011 8:57 am

      I agree Dima – becoming quite a truffle fiend….and a Giorgio fan.

  10. October 27, 2011 7:43 pm

    sounds like a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing the tips, Sally. Am going to pass them on to my husband who has just started making pasta at home!

    • October 31, 2011 8:57 am

      I learn so much from Giorgio – he transformed my risotto making last year. Let me know how your husband gets on.

  11. October 28, 2011 2:09 am

    wow thanks for the tips! resting the dough for 24 h in the fridge- that I’ve got to try!

    • October 31, 2011 9:02 am

      Yes – I hadn’t heard this before, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Let me know how you get on.

  12. October 29, 2011 5:32 am

    I especially appreciate the pasta tips from this chef; he looks like a crazy composer, totally possessed with his passion and that is a great thing. Very Italian, too. His comments on Sicily make me want to visit the island even more so. May have to get his book too!

    • October 31, 2011 8:52 am

      He is a bit crazy…you should see what I cut out of the video! I find him really inspirational and honest. Would love to visit Sicily too.

  13. Ali permalink
    November 14, 2011 1:41 pm

    Sally – love the interview with Giorgio. So candid. What a lovely guy!

    • November 25, 2011 1:17 pm

      He truly is Alison – I admire his honesty, integrity and enthusiasm. (Quite handsome too :))

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