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Follow that piggy to the best truffles

by: submitted photo, Though hard to find and expensive when you do, black truffles add a wonderful taste to many dishes.

Some foodie friends were conducting a blind tasting of different oils recently and were stumped by one in particular. The mystery oil had a rich golden color, pleasant earthy fragrance and tasted somewhat like garlic, but milder - really more like shallots. When all the speculations were in it was revealed to be truffle oil.

Ah, yes - truffles, those highly prized, rare mushrooms that Mother Nature grows underground. These are the tasty morsels that pigs and dogs are trained to dig out of the forest floor, their noses following the distinctive scent released by the spores of the ripe fungus.

Truffles are found in Europe, Asia, North Africa and … North America. And, Oregon is gaining notoriety for its growing truffle industry. In fact, Oregon is known as the premier center of research and expertise outside of Europe!

Oregon has the perfect climate for cultivating truffles and the wild truffles grown here have superb culinary qualities. That combination just shouts 'celebration,' which brings us to the third annual Oregon Truffle Festival to be held in Eugene Jan. 25 through 27. The festival will bring together harvesters, chefs, growers and gastronomic aficionados to celebrate Oregon truffles as they reach their peak of ripeness in their native soil.

Festival attendees will partake of multiple course truffle dinners prepared by some of the region's most renowned chefs, drink Oregon's finest wines, chase truffle dogs on the hunt, shop a Truffle Marketplace with its wealth of local artisan foods, truffle tasting and cooking demonstrations and meet people from all over the world who share a passion for truffles.

Leslie Scott, one of the Truffle Festival organizers, said one of the event highlights would be dog-training sessions. She says it's easy to train dogs to be truffle hunters, and the best breeds are those that love to follow their nose. In Italy, the lagatto is the traditional truffle-hunting dog and this breed is becoming more popular in the United States just for that purpose.

Leslie told me registration for most events is full, however space is still available for the Grand Truffle Dinner Saturday evening and the Truffle Marketplace on Sunday morning. There you can taste a variety of artisan products made with truffles and other mushrooms, wines, cheeses and more. Admission to the marketplace is $15 or $20 with a commemorative wine glass. Visit the Web site at www.oregontrufflefestival.com to learn about all the events planned and then mark your calendar to get in on next year's festivities.

Keynote speaker for Friday evening's sold-out Villa Evening is Jack Czarnecki, owner of Joel Palmer House in Dayton. If you haven't eaten at Joel Palmer House you are missing out on a slice of heaven here on earth. Jack and his son Chris, the restaurant's chef, incorporate mushrooms into every entrée and side on the menu - with the exception of desserts. You simply cannot order 'wrong.'

Joel Palmer House is closed until February; you can visit its Web site and salivate over the menu until you can book your dinner reservation.

In the meantime, prepare the recipe below, featuring both truffles and truffle oil.

Bon Appetit - Eat Something New!

Risotto with Leeks, Shiitake Mushrooms and Truffles

Makes 6 to 8 first course servings

This may look complicated, but it is actually easy and the resulting dish is delicious! White truffle oil can be found at grocery and specialty stores and will keep for six months in the refrigerator. BR

Leeks:

2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only) halved, thinly sliced crosswise to measure 2 cups

¾ cup whipping cream

Mushrooms:

1 pound shiitake or other mushrooms, stemmed, cut into ¼ to 1/3 inch thick slices

1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced lengthwise

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

1 tablespoon white truffle oil

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

Risotto:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided

1 large onion, divided

1 ½ cups Arborio rice or medium grain white rice

½ cup dry white wine

5 cups (or more) hot vegetable broth

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons shaved or chopped black truffle (because truffles are so expensive and hard to find, you may want to replace this item with regular mushrooms)

Chopped fresh parsley

Bring leeks and cream to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until leeks are tender and cream is thick, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill, rewarm before continuing.)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss mushrooms, onion, butter, truffle oil and thyme on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until mushrooms are tender and light brown around edges, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir one minute. Add wine and stir until almost all liquid is absorbed, about one minute. Add one cup hot broth. Simmer until broth is almost absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add more broth, one cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding more and stirring often, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes longer. Stir in leek mixture, mushroom mixture, remaining two tablespoons butter, cheese and truffle (or substitute). Transfer to large bowl, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 503-635-8811, ext. 101.