A Taste of the West: Buttered Pasta with Oregon Truffles

I am from Oregon, but I am not from wild Oregon. When you get outside of Portland and its suburbs (or Eugene, Salem, Corvallis), the northwest is wild on all sides. Early in high school, I got a job working for the science museum’s summer camps and found myself headed into the green: up into Washington’s Hoh Rainforest, out to waveless Puget Sound, south to the coastal dunes and into the Redwood forests with a schoolbus full of campers. I went every summer till late in college, living in my little blue tent, hiking and tidepooling, cooking piles of pancakes and vats of chili, making sure everyone kept hydrated and wasn’t too homesick. There was usually a campfire to sing around, and every Thursday there were marshmallows to toast. Sometimes, with the sunsets, there were whales.

After too many years, I got a taste of wild Oregon again last week. My friend Hannah is from Spray (it’s past The Dalles, past Biggs, past Carlton, and Fossil, if you’re keeping track), and her parents threw her and her new husband a fantastic post-wedding party on their ranch. They built a campsite for 40 nestled into the hills, and a road to get there. They built solar showers and composting toilets and a party space with a bar and a stage for dancing. There was a solar generator to amplify the band and there was a barbecue outfit in from Bend, smoking ribs and mountains of pulled pork. There were giant bowls of onion rings. Weddings should always have giant bowls of onion rings.

There were relatives and Hannah’s elementary school teachers, and friends from Hannah and Jared’s childhood and college and graduate schools. Folks from town brought an entire table full of cookies and brownies. The sun set and the moon was full and huge. We danced to keep warm. “We seem to have scared off the coyotes,” they said.

In the morning, the wildflowers that close in the heat of day opened their bright blue faces all around our tents. We stood in Hannah’s parents’ kitchen eating leftover pulled pork with our fingers, not wanting to leave. They have a garden full of vegetables, and a stream to swim in. It’s so quiet, so far removed.

I had a few more days in Portland after: enough time to try out some new restaurants and go to the farmer’s market with my mother. The mushroom vendor had bags of Oregon truffles, five dollars apiece. She tucked an extra truffle in for me.

Heading east again always happens too soon, but a plate of this pasta is something to look forward to. Fresh pappardelle is best (make your own if you haven’t just returned from a cross-country trip), tossed with softened butter (infused with one grated truffle) and topped with a cloud of truffle shavings. It’s delicate, earthy and a little decadent. Serve it with a creamy Chardonnay or elegant California Sauvignon Blanc (and an episode of Mad Men) and settle in back home.

Buttered Pasta with Oregon Truffles

for truffle butter:
1 small Oregon truffle
3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

1 lb fresh pasta
2 Oregon truffles for grating
salt

Grate one truffle on a microplane and mix into softened butter. Let rest for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Prepare pasta until al dente, drain, reserving a few tablespoons of pasta water. Toss pasta with truffle butter and reserved cooking water, then grate remaining truffles over the top. Salt generously. Toss and serve immediately.

In pasta

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