March 07

I'm being interviewed by Kim Hill - New Zealand's finest radio host - on her Saturday morning show on National Radio this week. Unless the schedule changes at the last minute, I'm due on at about 11-20am, after the regular food spot. You can listen to a live stream from the RNZ site (go to one of the links above and click on the Audio box in the top left of the page header), and the interview should be hosted on the RNZ site for four weeks afterwards. I'll post a link when I have one.

Mark Bernstein called in on the farm on Monday night. We ate, drank, and talked. A lot of each. And if I am to believe the message he and Linda left in our cottage visitors book, they enjoyed themselves enough to come back. We're looking forward to it.

I'm in the process of moving On The Farm over to a new Tinderbox blog, produced using the new web log "assistant" Flint. It's got lots of nice gadgets, like the Google search box, and a nice way of organising the posts under "topics", and it looks more contemporary - being done with css. It's going to take me a while to move the whole of the old site over to the format, but it will be done. And the photo quality will improve. Watch this space.

Limestone Hills Publishing is pleased to announce the new limited edition hardback version of The Truffle Book, and for those who like to read on-screen, the brand new PDF edition. The hardback edition is strictly limited to 150 copies, reasonably priced at NZ$69.95, each hand-numbered and signed by the author. The PDF edition is priced at $NZ15 (roughly US$10, GB£5.70, E8.20) and I'll sell as many as people want, but PDF purchasers who want the full book experience (more bandwidth, fully portable, no batteries required) will be able to buy either paper-based edition with a NZ$10 discount.

I'm now toying with ideas for the audiobook version. I need a cheap studio in Christchurch to record the basic audio tracks, and then I can do all the editing in Garageband. Anyone fancy a truffle podcast?

After much huffing and puffing, the new Limestone Hills web site is live, and quite probably kicking. It's built with Freeway Pro, and uses some "actions" (a kind of plug-in that add functionality in the Freeway universe) to hook up to Mal's e-commerce (free, and highly recommended by Freeway people). It looks as I think it should when viewed with Safari (the Mac OS browser), but is now reasonable in most browsers on most platforms that I've tried (which is not all that many).

So what's new? Well, I think it looks a lot better - new header, new layout and organisation, and buttons to press and videos to view. And I can now accept credit card purchases of the book. Will anyone buy it? I need a few sales a month just to cover the bank charges...

I usually whinge about mainstream journalists getting truffles "wrong", but here's a chance to applaud someone for getting it right. S Irene Virbila in the LA Times has certainly done her research:

"Just for the record, though, when French three-star chef Paul Bocuse makes his scrambled eggs with truffle, he uses an astonishing 7 ounces of truffle for eight eggs, or just about one of the truffles we received for each egg! No butter for the maestro either, as he tells it in his 1992 cookbook, "Regional French Cooking" — just a mere dollop of crème fraîche. And once he whisks the eggs with the truffles, he leaves the bowl to sit for an hour to further infuse the eggs with the taste of truffles before he cooks them."

Her point is that it makes sense to use truffles generously, to get a real hit of the flavour, not to try and stretch them to the point that they are all but undetectable. It's a good point, well made.

Another good article on the truffle business appeared in the New York Times (registration required) recently. The author even manages to sneak in a quote from me (she was at the dinner in Barcelona I blogged before Christmas). The person most pleased, however, is Ian Hall. The NYT used one of his pictures. Fame and photographic fortune beckons. Or not.

First, take 500g of fresh porcini. In my case, the Boletus edulis presented itself as one large fruitbody growing a metre or two to the side of one of the busiest paths in Christchurch's Hagley Park. A few years ago, porcini of that size were not unusual, but picking pressure - particularly by one selfish git who commits fungal infanticide on a regular basis and then hawks the results round local restaurants - means that big mushrooms are now as rare as hen's teeth. It's the tragedy of the commons: if you don't pick them when you find them, someone else will, so the little porcini never get the chance to mature. We all lose, and the potential harvest is drastically reduced: my 500g porcini was only 50g a few days ago. B edulis production in Christchurch was estimated to be several tonnes per annum when they were first identified about ten years ago, but I would suggest that it's a fraction of that now, thanks to picking pressure. If it weren't for one or two spots I know...

Clean and slice your porcini. Don't wash the mushroom - it could absorb water and become mushy. Just wipe it free of dust and earth with a damp cloth. Trim the stalk, and remove sections that have been badly eaten by maggots. In the case of last night's porcini, the little buggers were chewing through the base of the stalk, but the cap was untouched. The pores were beginning to turn greenish yellow (from white), the sign that the fruitbody's spore production is maturing. That's another reason why picking small is a bad idea. The baby mushrooms get no chance to dump spores into the environment, to produce fresh mycelium to infect the roots of the trees around. This gives other fungi an advantage in the war for root space, especially those that don't get picked, or don't rely on fruitbodies to reproduce.

Go to your butcher and buy 500g of his best bacon. It should be dry cure, or at least not stuffed full of water in the curing, and have a reasonable amount of fat - neither lean nor streaky. Pop into the cheese shop and buy some parmesan (reggiano, of course). Avail yourself of some fresh flat leaf parsley and good garlic. We have flat leaf parsley growing wild round the farm, thanks to a previous owner who diligently scattered seeds everywhere, and my father's kitchen garden produces excellent garlic. If you have time, make some fresh pasta, and slice it into tagliatelle. I didn't have time, so used some very high quality dried linguine.

Fill your largest pot with water and put it on the fire (shades of de Pomiane there - a deliberate homage: thanks for the introduction all those years ago Paul), and put in more salt than you could possibly believe necessary - not enough for a 10% brine, but enough that the water tastes distinctly salty. When it's boiling, take it off the heat, and start preparing the sugo (sauce). Chop the bacon into bite sized pieces and fry it in some extra virgin olive oil in your largest pan until it sizzles and is beginning to brown. The time this takes will depend on the amount of water in the bacon. Put the water back on the heat and bring it back to the boil. Add enough pasta to feed two, three or four people: I used 300g for three. My pasta was supposed to take 10-12 minutes to cook - it took longer, it always does. Add the porcini to the bacon and carry on frying, stirring regularly. Add some salt (lovingly hand evaporated from the sea of your choice) and pepper (freshly ground). Peel/smash three cloves of garlic and chop them up, then add them to the bacon and mushrooms. Wash and chop a large handful of parsley, and grate enough parmesan for your purposes.

After ten minutes, start testing the pasta for doneness. Keep stirring the frying pan. Just before you drain the pasta, add the parsley to the frying pan and stir it in well. Add the strained pasta to the frying pan and thoroughly toss it in the sugo. Serve on to large plates, offer the parmesan and some red wine. My choice was Te Mata Woodthorpe Cabernet Merlot (a snip at about NZ$19 at the moment), but my good lady wife - whose favourite this dish is - preferred the Chardonnay. There's no pleasing some people.