Let’s get one thing straight. Truffles are bloody expensive and are not to be treated frivolously. That said, in my opinion, they are a delicious as they are valuable. In terms of luxury food items you can keep your caviar and foie gras. For me truffles will always win the day.
This summer I was fortunate to visit San Miniato in Tuscany a town which positively revels in the majesty of this subterranean mushroom and which hosts an annual truffle fair each November. Our little family had gone to the town in search of a rocca (castle) with the Vegetarian and the Italian. As it transpired the rocca was merely a tower erected by a German called Frederick which provided fleeting entertainment for the boys once it had been climbed and conquered. After our exertions we decided to find a suitable place for lunch and stumbled upon Osteria L’Upupa.
Nestled in a terrace of shops and business on one of the towns main roads L’Upupa has an unassuming even slightly drab facade. The eagle eyed Vegetarian had spied a chalkboard outside which promised ‘porcini fresci’ and so we were drawn into the cosy restaurant. It also seemed more family friendly that the swankier Ristorante Pepenero up the road (although truth be told every restaurant we visited with the children on this Italian sojourn greeted us graciously).
There was a heady aroma of truffles as we entered the osteria. The porcini were soon forgotten, even by the Vegetarian, as we eagerly tucked into dishes laced with truffles. The Vegetarian and the Italian had the tagliatoni with truffles while the rest of us had wild boar parpadelle. The pasta was perfectly al dente (as you would expect in Italy) and the wild boar meltingly tender in a rich red wine based ragu. All of us tried the spinach flan which was more like a spinach soufflé served with a béchamel sauce and more shaved truffles. This is the dish which has inspired this week’s blog post.
I have been desperate to recreate this dish since we returned home but was mindful of the expense of using fresh truffles. Then I came across La Truffata sauce in my local supermarket (The Truffle Hunter is also a good place to source truffles online in the UK). It works pretty well in my interpretation of the spinach flan and is far more cost effective (I paid around £4.50 for the jar). I’ve used curly kale for a change as it seems to be a regular feature of my veg box at the moment. I suspect the same quantity of spinach, chard or cavolo nero would work just as well. I’ve also used chestnut flour in the soufflé because I love it’s sweet, nutty flavour (which tempers the slight bitterness you get with some leafy brassicas). However, this can be substituted for plain flour. The chestnuts are all me and weren’t included in the original flan. With Christmas a month or so away I’m thinking this would make a delicious veggie alternative to the traditional turkey.
Twice baked kale soufflés with truffles and chestnuts
Makes 4 large individual soufflés or 6 smaller soufflés
- 400g curly kale, unprepared weight, washed
- 75g unsalted butter
- 300ml whole milk
- 4 black peppercorns
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled and squashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 60g chestnut flour or plain flour
- 30g parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 3 – 4 tsp La Truffata paste or any other brand of truffle paste*
- Few drops of lemon juice
- 300ml double cream
- 50g gruyere, finely grated
- 100g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
- White pepper and fine sea salt to season
* Truffles can be overpowering if used too liberally. It is better to add a little of your chosen paste then add more if you think the recipe needs it.
- Remove the central stalk from each kale leaf then steam for seven minutes. When cool enough to handle squeeze out the excess water. Blitz in a food processor until finely chopped. You should be left with around 200g of chopped, cooked kale (anything between 160g-240g is fine for this recipe).
- Melt 25g of the butter and use this to grease 4 x 200ml or 6 x 150ml ramekins. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Place the milk, peppercorns, garlic and bay into a saucepan. Bring up to boiling point then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes. Strain into a jug and discard the peppercorns, garlic and bay.
- Melt 50g butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the chestnut flour. Remove from the heat then gradually add the infused milk stirring well after each addition. Return to a low heat stirring constantly until you have a thick, glossy, toffee coloured paste.
- Put the paste into a large bowl. Beat in the kale, parmesan, egg yolks and 2 tsp of the La Truffata paste. Season well with salt and white pepper.
- Beat the egg whites with a few drops of lemon juice until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold these into the kale mix. Spoon into the prepared ramekins and place these into a large, deep roasting tin. Pour hot water into the tin until it comes roughly halfway up the sides of each ramekin. Bake for 25 minutes until well risen and golden. Allow to cool (they will sink) then refrigerate until required.
- When you are ready to serve them, preheat the oven to 180°C. Run a blunt knife around the edge of each soufflé then tip the ramekin contents into individual brûlée dishes (if you have them) or a lightly greased baking sheet. Sprinkle each soufflé with a little gruyere cheese and scatter the chopped chestnuts around the base of each soufflé. Mix the cream with the remaining La Truffata paste and some salt and white pepper. Pour some of the cream over each souffle then bake for 15 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the soufflés are heated through. Serve immediately.