Sep 20 3 2020



Truffle Shuffle (1,2) announced a class on carbonara, and this time I signed up on my own ticket because I really like carbonara. Also, I’ve got some anchors that range from Peter Merholz’s excellent Bay Area Carbonara to the carbonara they serve at La Carbonara in the Piazza de Fiore.

This was an amped-up carbonara with fresh taglietelle and a tartufata of mixed truffles and white mushrooms, with chiffonaded (!) snap peas added at the last minute for some textural and color variety. It was fun to make pasta with French Laundry alumni, and it turned out great. It was fun, too, to see the auteur behind discuss the making of pasta.

If you don’t cook a ton, that’s OK: these online classes are great for you. They send all the ingredients, including a suitable cocktail with which to relax. This one had a Paolo Mandini, which is a cocktail intended for carbonara. They also take care to keep you out of the weeds; in fact, I wish they were a little more liberal in their criticism. (I think, in part, Truffle Shuffle is a fantasy of culinary school as it ought to have been, where the kids are all above average.)

Back when the end of the world as we knew it began, I observed that in The Art Of Escapist Cooking, Mandy Lee had developed an alternative theory of flavor. Here, between Truffle Shuffle and Pasta Grannies, is another: it's just dinner (or lunch) but it's important even so to Do It Right, even if you’re old and infirm. An interesting observation of pasta grannies is that each granny knows maybe two or three pasta shapes; the idea that there are zillions of shapes for zillions of sauces is a product of travel and scholarship, not the Way Things Ever Were.

Aug 20 21 2020

Once An Eagle

by Anton Myrer

Military journalist Thomas E Ricks (Fiasco) mentioned on Twitter that this is a novel that everyone in the U.S. military knows and that most admire. It follows small-town Nebraskan Sam Damon from his enlistment just before the First World War up through Vietnam.

It’s not a bad book, though it’s very long, and it indulges in lots of set-piece essays that pretend to be after-dinner dialogue. Indeed, we have (at least) two characters — one of them Sam Damon’s wife! — that serve primarily as a means to inject essays into the narrative. Sam Damon, once he gets going, is a fine characters; you can see why this would make an attractive assignment at West Point.

The obvious comparison is with W.E.B. Griffin and his serial novels on the Army and The (Marine) Corps. Griffin wrote later: Once An Eagle was published in 1968. The great subject for both writers is the soldier’s fight against stupid, greedy, and vain superior officers. Myrer’s book is bitterly anti-war and deeply mixed about the military; Griffin carefully sidesteps war as a subject. Myrer despises war profiteers and suspects that all rich civilians are either profiteers or parasites; Griffin is fascinated by wealth (and by the Old South). Both writers have a strange relationship with their Jewish officers. Griffin particularly admires the scrounging and chicanery that lets junior officers and non-comms get what their troops need; Myrer’s not really interested.

Unlike Griffin, Myrer’s conclusion is bleak. We aren’t going to settle down on the Carolina Shore; the war will never end.

Truffle Shuffle: Salmon

Truffle Shuffle is a Bay Area startup led by a small team of young French Laundry alumni. Right after Trump announced a travel ban, they ordered thousands of dollars of truffles to sell to restaurants. Suddenly, all the restaurants closed. So, they started selling truffles to individuals, improvising cooking kits and live, online classes.

They sent us a kit for a Sunday evening class on Salmon en papillote with truffled beurre blanc. This is salmon, vegetables and wine, wrapped up in parchment paper and baked in a moderate oven. I was, I admit, a little bit skeptical, because this did not seem to be a very difficult dish.

It was amazing.

First thing: they sent a lovely piece of carefully-farmed King Salmon — a piece that you could use with confidence for sushi. That’s good in itself, and better still in that it gives you confidence serving the salmon after the gentlest of gentle poaching. The class had a cameo and Q&A with Mitch Gronner, the cofounder of Aloha Seafood, who had some very interesting thoughts on the advantages — culinary and ecological — of farmed salmon. Here on The Atlantic Coast, we chiefly hear the case against farmed salmon; this was more interesting than I’d expected.

Second thing: using truffle butter for the beurre blanc really works.

Third: Beurre blanc is interesting. Shallot (lots of shallot) and white wine — no fat: reduce until nearly dry. Then cream: again, reduce as far as you dare. Then, start adding the butter. I’ve always started beurre blanc with a bit of fat from the pan in which to cook the shallots, but this worked brilliantly. (Beurre blanc, by the way, is the sauce that convinced Julia Child that the French knew something special about cooking.)

Fourth: 15 minutes at 300°F. That’s barely poached, we thought it was astonishingly good. (Atlantic Salmon is our most common fish, so “astonishing” is pretty good for salmon.). Soft, soft fish, warmed through and tender, infused with aroma from tarragon and its bed of squash and wax beans. Lovely yielding fish makes a nice textural contrast to the warm, crisp summer squash and wax beans.

We had a little bit of the beurre blanc left over. I chilled it, and Monday evening I slathered it under the skin of an organic, air-chilled chicken along with a smattering of fresh thyme. That worked nicely!

So: even though it didn’t seem a particularly challenging dish, and even though the tone of the whole enterprise is incredibly relaxed, the finesse and restraint (and great ingredients) made a dazzling dinner, and some unused sauce made another,

August 30 they’re doing fresh pasta carbonara with black truffle tartufata.