Black magic: Skye Gyngell reveals the best way to serve truffle

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Skye Gyngell went on a truffle-hunt in south-west France. There, she unearthed a hoard of underground treasure. The only question was: how best to serve it?

Earlier this month I spent a glorious week in south-west France, teaching at a lovely cookery school called La Combe, in Périgord Noir. It is a richly green part of the world – tall poplars line the verges of the roads along with wild elder, borage, robinia, brilliant gorse bushes and dense forests of oaks, chestnut and beech – and it is an area steeped in a rich food culture. This is the land of foie gras, confit walnuts, black truffles, strawberries and corn. Its forests are full of wild boar, and fabulous cheeses such as Fourme d'Ambert and cabecous are abundant in every local market.

One of the many highlights was being taken by the owners of La Combe, Wendeley and Robert Harvey, on my first truffle hunt. I was curious and excited as we set off among the oak and hazelnut trees with their little dog in tow, who was sniffing out our treasure.

Many wax lyrical about the heady, intensely perfumed flavour and smell of this very potent fungus, around which there exists a certain air of mystery. The expense of the black truffle – cheaper than the Italian white ones, but still costing up to £1,800 a kilo – makes its allure that much greater, and it seems a rare treat to ever eat one (although its appearance in high-end French cooking once seemed mandatory). Miraculously – as truffle hunts usually take place in the winter, when they grow more plentifully – we came home with three small examples.

The truffles smelled and tasted of the forest – damp leaves, moss and mushrooms all rolled into one. They add richness and a sense of ripeness to dishes, and work well in simple recipes, served with butter and cream as well as eggs and poultry. Try inserting the thinnest slices under the skin of some chicken before roasting it. Quite delicious. Or copy the Italians, and simply shave it liberally over home-made egg pasta. Truffle oils are a good substitute – available in most good delicatessens. Inspired by my hunt, and created largely with what was to hand in the larder, here's what I came up with.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Salad of mache, walnuts and black truffles

This is the simplest possible salad, using walnuts found in the market and sweet delicate mache – otherwise known as lamb's lettuce – from the garden. It would make an elegant first course.

Serves 4

20 fresh walnuts
100g/31/2oz mache (lamb's lettuce)

For the vinaigrette

1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp red-wine vinegar
100ml/31/2fl oz walnut oil (or, if you're using truffle oil rather than truffles, use it here instead of walnut oil)

To serve

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few shavings of black truffle

Using a nut cracker, remove the walnuts from their shells. Wash the lettuce well and pat dry. To make the vinaigrette, place the mustard in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and pepper, then add the vinegar and stir well to combine. Slowly whisk in the oil so it forms a thick emulsified sauce.

Place the lettuce in a bowl and add the walnuts, season with a little salt and pepper and spoon over the dressing. Arrange the salad attractively on a flat plate and shave over a little truffle.

Cabecous de Rocamadour with honey and truffle

Cabecous is a goat's cheese with a slightly damp rind and a creamy interior. It is truly delicious and goes particularly well with walnuts and prunes.

Serves 4

4 cabecous
2tbsp honey (or, if you can't get hold of truffles, try truffle honey – see Forager below)
1 small black truffle

Arrange the cheese attractively on a plate, drizzle over the honey and shave over the truffle. Serve at once.

Scrambled eggs and shaved black truffles

Velvety smooth and indulgent, this is luxurious comfort food. I like to make scrambled eggs the way the French do, very slowly over the lowest heat with little flecks of cold, unsalted butter grated through to give it a smooth texture.

Serves 4

80g/3oz unsalted butter
12 organic free-range eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic
1 small black truffle

Cut the butter into small slivers. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat in half the butter pieces. Add a pinch of salt and a little black pepper.

Melt a little more of the butter into a small heavy based saucepan – just enough to coat the pan. Pour in the eggs and turn the heat to its lowest. Gently rub a wooden spoon with the garlic and start stirring the eggs constantly. At the same time, add the rest of the butter in small increments. To cook the eggs to a silken texture will take about eight minutes. Divide the eggs among four plates and shave a little truffle over each. Serve at once.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on where to find black summer truffles

Black summer truffles are more subtle in flavour than the more highly sought winter truffles, but they last longer due to their thicker skin. Always check the label for their Latin name (Tuber aestivum vitt) as a mark of authenticity.

Oil & More, based in Wales, sells summer truffles from Tuscan firm Boscovivo. Tel: 01691 772 407, www.oilandmore.co.uk

London Fine Foods sells fresh seasonal truffles as well as truffle honey. Tel: 0845 643 9121, www.efoodies.com

Tartufanghe, based in the Piedmont region of Italy, sells whole preserved Italian summer truffles, also known as "scorzone", www.tartuflanghe.com

Princesse d'Isenbourg et Cie Join with friends and place a good-sized order from this supplier of fresh black Périgord truffles to the trade. Tel: 020 8960 3600, www.caviar.co.uk

Mycorrhizal Systems sells trees inoculated with summer truffle and particularly well suited to our climate. www.plantationsystems.com

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