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My friend Ornella Capra for many years owned a restaurant in Camogli in the Ligurian Riviera. She was also the guiding spirit of Antica Sciamadda, the "Old Flames" of Genoa, where she mastered the art of conjuring regional specialties from the ancient wood-burning ovens. Like me, she has made a home in the Bay Area, where she now teaches Italian cooking and language, as well as catering and writing on food. 
"I come from a country where food is central to life," she says. "My passion is to share my love of food and cooking, to inspire people and give them the tools to create memorable meals and meaningful experiences in the kitchen." 
 
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Ornella talks about the mystery of truffles...
Mysteries surround every aspect of the truffle-its origins, its perfume, its effects, and especially its hunt. The fact that I know a truffle hunter doesn't help: it only deepens the mystery. Giuseppe, an experienced 'trifolau,' is a family friend. He believed that my grandfather's vinyard, which once produced the best Barbera wine in the region, was the perfect place to try a new technique for cultivating the white truffle. 
     The land had not been worked since my grandfather's death, and a tangle of young chestnuts and blackberry bushes had displaced the grape vines. My father gave Giuseppe permission to clear the land and plant a variety of trees conducive to the growth of the precious fungus. In return, Giuseppe presented us every now and again with a white truffle, but it was never very clear whether the plantation was successful or how many truffles the old vinyard had produced. 
     Every summer I go to Mombaruzzo, and Giuseppe and I meet briefly when he comes to pay the symbolic rent for our land. Each time I ask him how the truffle season was, and each time he has a pessimistic reply: This year it didn't rain at the right time... I have a new dog that needs training... Some vandal has damaged the trees... An injury prevented me... 
     But last summer something different happened. For the first time, Giuseppe came to the house in a mood to talk. "Nothing is guaranteed when you cultivate truffles," he said. "Only one thing is sure--they taste and smell exactly like the wild ones." I asked him about his dog and how he trains him. "I first bury fragments of truffles and have him find them, then I give him bread that has absorbed the truffle smells. I don't use pigs, they eat the truffles." 
     "And when is a good time to go hunting?" I asked. 
     "At night. They say it's because there are no more smells of people and work, when everything becomes quiet, and the scents of the earth can rise... but the truth is that it is more difficult at night to spy the hunter and the dog." 
     I asked him about storing the truffles and he told a story: "One night I came home from truffle hunting very late. I was very tired and, without thinking, I stored a cardboard box containing three truffles in the refrigerator. The next morning all the food had absorbed the aroma, even the eggs in the shell. You can't imagine how awful truffle-flavored milk can be! But I didn't throw the eggs away. My wife used them for an impromptu zabaglione that night, which was absolutely delicious with some frollini cookies she made." 
     It didn't take me long to try out a recipe, and I have to agree: it's outstanding. And of course you can save your truffle for later use: 

 
Zabaglione all'aroma di tartufo bianco
  1 white truffle (about 4 oz) 
  6 egg yolks 
  5 half egg shells full of Marsala wine 
  5 half egg shells full of sugar 

     Place eggs in their shells in a glass jar with the white truffle and tightly seal it. Refrigerate for 24 hours to let the eggs absorb the truffle aroma. 
     Beat the eggs well with the sugar. Add Marsala wine and beat some more. Pour the mixture into a round bottom mixing bowl (stainless steel or copper) and place it over a pan of simmering water. Do not let the bottom of the mixing bowl touch the water. Continue beating for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Serve hot in individual dessert bowls with butter cookies. (makes 6 servings)