That old black magic

Flashback: August 31, 2007, 9:30pm

If hedonsim had a pasta equivalent, it would be trofie al tartufo nero.

That morning we had nixed the idea of visiting the Sistine Chapel. Both the thoughts of spending half of our last day in queues and waking up at an unholy hour to catch a private tour were enough to rationalize this quasi-blasphemous omission, despite reports its sheer magnificence often makes people weep. This later proved to be a pivotal decision.

We opted instead to enjoy our night out and the infamous plate-licking special at Maccheroni was next up on our agenda. I am happy to say, it absolutely lived up to the rave reviews it's been receiving for years. It was incredibly rich, making it impossible to eat quickly so we were forced to linger for hours and savor every gorgeous bite.

After we half a plate and a quartino or two under our belts (literally), we bordered on the obscene. Moaning softly, faces twisted passionately - if anyone saw us they might fear us in need of an exorcism. This was the ultimate in food porn.

At one point, in a fit of divine ecstasy, Jen suddenly exclaimed,
"F*k the Sistine Chapel, this trofie is making me weep!"
I wholeheartedly agreed and held my breath, waiting to be struck by lighting.

Several hours later, after polishing off two appetizers, a second entree and another quartino (or two), we came to the end. And although we couldn't bring ourselves to lick the plate outright (though at one point it was a serious consideration), we managed to scrape it spotless.

Tragically, since this trip occurred before I started obsessively photographing everything so I have no photos evidence of this testament to this near-holy creation. Then one day, whilst drunk-Googling for inspiration, I stumbled across this:


I was super psyched to find this photo on this travel blog, not only to offer up a bona-fide visual, but because it's comforting to know that in a world of ever-changing menus, there are still some places you can count on to deliver solid standbys. The trofie al tartufo nero has been on deck at Maccheroni at least since we were there in 2007 and was still there as recently as 2010. It's probably been on their menu since the beginning of time. And if there truly is a God, it will still be there when I go back.

Trofie is a traditional pasta similar to fusilli but smaller. Sometimes called trofiette, the thin, tight twists are perfect carriers for delicious clingy sauces like this one. It's pretty easy to find, but in a pinch, linguine or tagliatelle are good substitutes as well.

Although I failed to elicit the original recipe from the chef (leaving me yet another good reason to improve my Italian), I did find this one and I'm happy to say, it's as close as you can get without being there.

Black Truffle Sauce
Adapted from Chef Michael Mina, Aqua Restaurant, San Francisco
Yields about 2 cups

1 leek (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped
1-3/4 cups shallot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups dry white wine
2 large fresh thyme springs
1 oz preserved black truffles, finely chopped (here's a reasonably-priced resource)
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon black or white truffle oil (or to taste)

Wash chopped leek in a bowl of cold water and drain but don't pat dry. Put the leeks, shallot and garlic in a 4-qt heavy saucepan, cover and steam over low heat using only the water still clinging to the leeks. Stir occasionally until softened, about 6 minutes. Add wine, thyme and truffles and bring to a boil, uncovered until most of the liquid evaporates, about 12 minutes.

Add stock and boil for approximately 25 minutes or until reduced to about 2 cups. Stir in cream and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes or until reduced to 2-3/4 cups. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into another saucepan, pressing on and discarding the solids. Whisk in truffle oil and season with salt and pepper.

Toss with fresh al dente trofie.

You might want to consider wearing a bib. I am so not kidding about the plate-licking. We may have refrained in the restaurant but at home, all bets are off.


  1. My husband and I are just back from Rome, where we visited Maccheroni not once, but twice... and yes, we ordered the trofie al tartufo nero both times. It was luscious and we've been craving it ever since we got home. I cannot wait to try making this recipe, I hope it takes me right back to that romantic night sipping vino and contemplating plate-licking;) Thank you for sharing!

    1. So we made this.. but we need your help bc we didn't do it quite right! The hubs bought pinot grigio, bc that's the white wine we drink, but it's pretty sweet (not dry) and kinda took over the flavor of the sauce. You suggested a dry white wine above, can you reccomend a specific bottle? Also, the shallots were also very sweet, do you think this would turn out alright with white onions instead? Lastly, the truffles seemed to lose flavor over prolonged cooking, any suggestions? Thanks!

  2. Hmmm...my first thought is that the double shot of the sweet wine and shallots might have conspired against you so I would suggest using something with good acidity that will cut through the richness of the truffle oil. I can't recall exactly what I used last time (we usually just grab whatever's on hand) but you might try a dry riesling or a gewurztraminer. And yes, it would turn out fine with white onions so feel free to substitute those, especially if you find yourself pouring the pinot again =)

    As for the truffles, I'd suggest amping up the flavor when you add the truffle oil at the end. I start with 1/4 teaspoon because truffle oil can be really overpowering so it's always best to start sparingly and add more as you taste.

    We're actually back in the US and ingredients here generally tend to be a little less intense, particularly when they've been imported, so methinks this calls for a kitchen test. This dish has actually been on my to-make list for quite some time (our friends just returned from Rome and now we're also craving it!) so we'll tinker around in the cucina and let you know what other adaptations we make...stay tuned!


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