St Valentine was the martyred bishop of Terni. Terni is in Umbria, not far from Norcia, which is famous for its black truffles. Here the truffles are said to be at their best approaching carnival time, just before Lent, which makes them a fitting dish to serve for St Valentine’s Day. I thought of this as I sat in a very ordinary restaurant not too far from Terni, eating a plate of Spaghetti alla Norcina. It was the only thing on the menu that tempted me, and such was the restaurant that I had no great expectations of the dish. It looked like spaghetti with a dark mushroom sauce, but when I ate a mouthful, there, amongst the mushroom, was the unmistakable chippiness of finely chopped truffle. Even a small amount of truffle will flavour and perfume a staple such as pasta to make it all taste of truffle. In the hope that someone might buy you a truffle for Valentine’s Day, here is what to do with it.
Fry the mushrooms and shallot in half the olive oil until soft. Stir in the truffle, and cook over a low heat for 8–10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti, according to the directions on the packet or according to the method on p. 182, drain it, and toss in the remaining olive oil. Stir the sauce and pasta together, season lightly, and serve in heated bowls.
© 1995 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.