[excerpt]

Napoleon ate truffles before meeting Josephine in their amorous battles in the imperial bedchamber, in which it is no exaggeration to say, he always wound up defeated. Scientists—however do they come up with these experiments, I wonder?—have discovered that the scent of the truffle activates a gland in the pig that produces the same pheromones present in humans when they are smitten by love. It is a sweaty, garlic-tinged odor that reminds me of the New York subway. Some years ago, I invited to dinner—with intentions of seduction, naturally—an evasive beau whose reputation as a good cook forced me to outdo myself with the menu. I decided that a truffle omelet sprinkled with a dusting of red caviar at serving time (the gray was beyond my possibilities) constituted an obvious erotic overture, something akin to giving him red roses and the Kama-sutra. I searched high and low for truffles, and when finally I located some, my modest salary in a land not my own would not stretch far enough to buy them. The clerk in the delicatessen, an Italian as much an immigrant as I, counseled me to forget the truffles.

“Why don't you use mushrooms instead?” he asked as I disconsolately gazed at those little bits black as rabbit droppings, which to my eyes shone like diamonds.

“It isn't the same. Truffles are aphrodisiacs.”

“They're what?”

“Sensual,” I said, to avoid going into detail.

I must have blushed, because the man came out from behind the showcase and approached me with a strange smile. He imagined, I suppose, that I was a nymphomaniac hoping to rub my erogenous zones with his truffles.

“Romantic,” I murmured, blushing redder and redder.

“Ah! For a man? Your sweetheart? Your husband?”

“Well, yes…”

At that instant his smile lost its sarcastic twist and turned complicitous: He stepped behind the counter and produced a small bottle, like a perfume vial.

Olio d'oliva aromatizado al tartufo bianco,” he announced in a tone of someone pulling an ace out of his sleeve. “Olive oil with the scent of white truffles,” he clarified.

And immediately he slipped a few black olives into a plastic bag, with the direction to wash them carefully to remove the flavor, chop them into small pieces, and marinate them a couple of hours in the truffle-scented oil.

“As romantic as truffles, and much cheaper!” he assured me.

I did as he said. The omelet was perfect, and when my exquisite beau detected the unmistakable fragrance and asked with surprise whether those inky fragments were indeed truffles and, if so, where the hell I'd found them, I made a vague gesture that he interpreted as flirtatious. He devoured the omelet, constantly casting sideways glances dark with perplexity, an expression that at the time I found irresistible but in fact, seen with the detachment of age, was closer to being comic. I'm really glad I gave him olives. His reputation as a beau was as exaggerated as that of truffles.

And since we are talking about “truffled” olive oil, the moment has come for me to share my “emergency recipe.” Since the age of nineteen, I have been married every day of my life except for three months of playing around between a divorce and a second marriage. That means that I have had approximately 16,425 occasions to drive some man mad. The creation of this soup was a matter not of chance, but of necessity. It is a practically infallible aphrodisiac that I always fix after some terrible fight, a flag of truce that allows me to make peace without humiliating myself too greatly. My opponent has only to smell it to understand the message.

RECONCILIATION SOUP

Ingredients for two lovers Preparation
½ cup chopped portobello mushrooms
   (if dried, ¼ cup)
½ cup chopped porcini mushrooms
   (if dried, ¼ cup)
1 cup fresh brown mushrooms
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
¼ cup port
1 tablespoon truffled olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons sour cream
If you can't find fresh mushrooms and must use the dried ones, soak them in ½ cup of good red wine until they spring up happily; in the meantime, while they're soaking, I calmly drink the remainder of the wine. Then I mince the garlic clove for the pure pleasure of smelling my fingers, because I could just as easily use it whole, and then saute it with all the mushrooms in the olive oil, stirring vigorously for a few minutes—I've never counted, but let's say five. I add the stock, the port, and the truffled olive oil—not quite all of it. I leave a couple of drops to dab behind my ears; let's not forget, it's aphrodisiac. I season with salt and pepper, and cook over low heat with the lid on until the mushrooms are soft and the house smells like Heaven. The last step is to process it in the blender; this is the least poetic part of the preparation but unavoidable. The soup should end up with a slightly thick texture, like mud, and with a perfume that makes you salivate and awakens other secretions of body and soul. I put on my best dress, paint my fingernails red, and serve the soup, in warmed bowls, garnished with a dollop of sour cream.
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