Category: white wine

Pickled green tomatoes, Italian style.

The garden was crazy this year, thanks to our big ol’ raised garden bed. So when things started to get super cray cray, I decided that the best thing to do once I had a harvest of more than just two tomatoes at once, was make salsa & bruschetta.

Beautiful green tomatoes.

But of course, sometimes you just see those green tomatoes hanging out there… and you wanna pluck ’em off & use them, too. They’re so cute & small & round. And then there’s all that fresh basil & oregano that’s just waiting for you to keep picking it…

A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

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Ail je ne sais quoi; or “garlic I don’t know what.”

French pickled garlic with herbes de provence.

Garlic. The most potent flavor packed into the teeniest package nature could possibly create.

It’s amazing isn’t it? The things you can do with garlic. The possibilities are endless. Roast it, sauté it, bake it, slice it, crush it, mince it, puree it, whatever it. Clearly, the only thing I can’t do with garlic is write a decent blog post about it. No, really. I have no idea what to write about this. True story.

Usually I just blabber so much I have to stop myself before I write a novel, but for this post- nothin’. Its not that I have something against garlic- I don’t, I love garlic. But I just really have no idea what to say. So with that in mind… I’ll just make up a story. Pretend you’re at your summer house in Provence. Yeah, that Provence (in France). It’s a warm summer day & you’re hosting an outdoor dinner party this evening.

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Strawberry vinegar.

Happy June, everyone. It’s finally here! BERRY TIME! We’ve all been waiting patiently for some fresh fruits (other than citrus of course) to spice up our kitchens. And for jam/jelly-making of course.

Sometimes though, we end up with a surplus of something. Or some runts that aren’t quite good enough for eating fresh, and didn’t make the cut for making jam with or baking with. And that’s when we need to use those for something else. And why not an infused vinegar?

Last year I spoke about herb-infused vinegar and chili-infused oils, as well as a blackberry honey. The year before that I talked about chive blossom vinegar. Flavored or infused vinegars are just ridiculously easy to do, and they make a great hostess gift as well as just a great thing to have around in your kitchen.

How to make strawberry-infused vinegar at home for salad dressings & more!

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Here today, tarragon tomorrow.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Some recipes aren’t really even recipes. I mean, if something has two ingredients & requires little more than bruising some herb leaves, heating up some vinegar & then just combining the two… how can that even be a recipe? It’s more like an instructional, or a how-to, or a guideline. Not really a recipe, though. For blogging purposes we’ll call it a recipe, but between the two of us it really isn’t, now is it?

Either way- it’s worth reading this. You’ll get something out of it, I promise. Plus, I’ve been bombarding you with berries & baked goods, so let’s switch gears.

See, I have this lovely mortar & pestle. And I rarely use it; most of the time I crumble dried herbs in my fingers or tear fresh ones if needed. But every now & then something comes along that calls for this pretty little old fashioned bowl & club grinder. When that happens I must use it, even if it’s for just a few tarragon leaves.

Le Creuset mortar & pestle used for bruising tarragon leaves for use in an easy homemade tarragon vinegar.

It’s really quite simple. I had some fresh tarragon here, looking sad & lonely. Left over from those pickles. It had to be put to use before it was no longer good (oh fresh-cut herbs, you & your tiny little lifespan). After making two quarts of pickles I wasn’t sure what else I could do with the tarragon before it wilted completely. Hence the title of this post. Get it? GET IT?

Using a mortar & pestle always makes me feel very witchy, or Harry Potter-ish.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar.

And I always forget about infusing olive oil or vinegar with herbs. Why? No clue. It’s a fantastic idea. So I made some. I mean, Heinz sells bottles of this stuff. SELLS IT. For money. I can make it for nothing! Or close to it, seeing as how the tarragon costs nothing if you grow it, and I always have white wine vinegar on hand. I decided to do some research on it and I found the following little snippet. Turns out, tarragon is a bit more valuable than I had thought:

These days, tarragon is more commonly used as a kitchen herb, but it actually has a long history as a medicinal plant, and that tradition has a good scientific basis. For starters, tarragon can improve digestion by increasing the secretion of bile and acids into the stomach. It also helps to whet the appetite. Further, research has shown that tarragon extract may help in managing diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, and it may also kill ulcer-causing bacteria. Finally, the herb contains a chemical called caffeic acid, which works as an antiviral agent and also helps rid the body of damaging free radicals that can lead to cancer.


All that & tasty too? Awesome. Now I really can’t let any go to waste, so herb-infused vinegar it is. And it’s a very, very easy process:

  1. I bruised some tarragon sprigs that were washed & patted dry: leaves, stems & all, in my mortar & pestle. Just lightly, to release some of the essence & aromatic oils, not to totally decimate it.
  2. I scooped it out and put it into a glass bottle. A glass bottle that once housed illy Italian iced coffee, by the way, so SAVE ALL YOUR GLASS JARS & BOTTLES- you never know when they might come in handy.
  3. I heated up about a cup/cup & a half of white wine vinegar just until warm and poured it over the tarragon into the bottle. I closed the lid once it cooled to room temperature, and set it aside.

Homemade tarragon vinegar.

Easy peasy.

And then… I let it sit for two weeks before using (which actually I haven’t gotten around to yet) in a cool, dark & dry place. That’s it. It’s ready for use in béarnaise sauce, salad dressings, to toss steamed veggies or potatoes in or for use in potato salad, or to have with chicken or broiled fish (those particular recipes are favorites with the fam). All that from one little bottle.

Oh, I forgot to mention I labeled it, too.

How to make homemade tarragon vinegar for salad dressings, etc.Label from Sur la Table

Now, the amount of tarragon you use will vary from person to person. If you want a stronger vinegar, then add the amount that I added, which you can see is quite a bit. If you want a more delicate flavor, add less. You can use dried tarragon as well- roughly 1/4 teaspoon per cup of vinegar. White wine vinegar, that is, not regular. Regular vinegar could be used, but the flavor of wine vinegars are better suited for dressings. However last summer I did make chive blossom vinegar using plain ol’ regular white vinegar. I’m sure also that a very strong herb such as basil could be used to infuse red wine vinegar, but I can’t say for sure. Try it… what’s the worst that can happen? You waste a 1/2 cup or a cup of it on a not-so-great-tasting experiment?

I assume this can be done with any and all herbs, so if you dislike this choice of herb, try another. And of course you can infuse oils as well. Rosemary is a great choice for olive oil, so is oregano. Use your imagination.

How to make your own tarragon vinegar (or any herb-infused vinegar).

Bell pepper salad & warm(er) weather!

The weather here is finally getting warmer. FINALLY. Last year at this time, it was already warm. As a matter of fact, my herbs began growing in March of last year when we had a streak of 70° degree weather. I think it even hit 80° a few times. And by mid-April, my chives were huge. So huge, in fact, I was using chives on every dish… and I had chive blossoms everywhere: I was making egg salad with them & chive blossom vinegar with them, and I had jars of them on my counters like they were flowers until late June. This year? They’re tiny little green shoots still, no sign of blooms. So I’ve been waiting patiently for things to get a bit warmer, or at least for the snow & sleet to finally stop… and the fact that it’s been in the 50’s lately (except for a few days) and relatively nice out, save for some rain & very cold nights, makes me really happy. And tomorrow it’s going to be around 66°!

Hey, it’s the little things. Like the weather getting warmer, or the flavor of a bright red pepper that means summer is coming.

(This photo is from last summer)

And at least in 50°-60° weather you can start to garden, or go for long walks and get some fresh air. And- even though it might be too cold to eat outdoors- you can maybe cook outdoors! Which is where today’s recipe comes in. It’s a fresh & easy side dish (or burger topping, or salad topping, or hell- even a hot dog topping) that takes no time at all to make. It’s great on sandwiches or with sandwiches.

When choosing your peppers, choose ones that feel heavy for their size. Avoid ones with wrinkles, cracks or blemishes; pick ones with taut, firm skin.


Makes about 3 pints


  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
  • 4 teaspoons fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)


  1. Place peppers and tomatoes in a large glass jar with lid, or mix them together in a large mixing bowl. Shake or stir to combine; set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano, whisking well. If using a jar to mix, pour mixture over peppers, then close lid and shake well to coat. If using a bowl, scoop the pepper mix into the jar(s) and then pour the liquid over them, equally if using more than one jar. Add more vinegar & oil in equal parts if desired (to fill jars with more liquid, if needed). The liquid should be at least halfway up the jar.
  3. Serve slaw from jar if desired, immediately, or store covered in the refrigerator. Salad is best when made a day before serving, so all the flavors can meld together.

The dressing itself is awesome, and once the peppers are gone I recommend keeping it to use as a salad dressing. The peppers impart their flavor into it after sitting in it for a while, so it makes a great peppery Italian-like salad dressing.

I served it a little over 24 hours after making it alongside & on top of big ol’ fresh green salads that included romaine, iceberg, red cabbage, carrots and baby arugula.

But like I said- it’s excellent with just about anything. Here are some other serving ideas:

  • Just like that open-face tomato & feta sandwich I made last year with my garden fixin’s, this is a great dish to make on a really hot day. And, also like that sandwich, it’d be fantastic eaten just as it is as a light summer picnic meal, maybe with a little feta crumbled on top.
  • This would be really good with the Southern pickled shrimp I posted last year, too, maybe on a bed of greens. (Those pickled shrimp aren’t what you think, by the way. They’re like ceviche de camarones- just shrimp in an herby seasoned olive oil/lemon juice mixture. No vinegar. Don’t be afraid!)
  • Speaking of greens, like I said above, it’s awesome on top of a regular ol’ lettuce salad, too. The peppers are perfect additions to any salad, and the vinagrette that’s already in the jar is an amazing salad dressing in and of itself.
  • Oh, wait- here’s another GENIUS idea: mix it with some cold pasta & fresh grated parmesan as a pasta salad- with or without a 1/4 cup of mayo.
  • As a hamburger topping. The tang of the vinegary peppers with a thick, juicy burger is perfect!
  • Alternatively, this would be delicious as the filling of a wrap. Maybe with some grilled chicken, or shrimp, or even with avocado, sliced portobello mushrooms or black beans if you’re a vegetarian.

Mmm. Oh man- now I’m getting hungry.

And it takes literally, like, five minutes to pull together. Store it in pint jars in the fridge for a quick fix- just pull one out an hour or so before you want to use it to let the oil come back to it’s normal consistency and you’re good to go. I actually made one quart jar (above) and a pint jar… I mean, if you really want to, make 6 half-pint jars. It doesn’t matter. Whatever.

For an even more colorful salad, you can use small different colored heirloom tomatoes such as Black Cherry, Blondkopfchen, Snow White, Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry or Sun Gold. And if you can find a purple Bell pepper, or a chocolate Bell pepper, then add them too! Last but not least: you can also add a head of cabbage, thinly sliced, to this. Then it would become a kind of “slaw” I suppose… but boy would that give it some heft. Not to mention make a massive portion! You can also add a chopped red onion to it, or celery. Experiment! Try adding cilantro instead of basil & oregano for a different flavor. Use rice vinegar instead of white wine vinegar & sesame oil instead of olive oil for an Asian spin. Shake things up.

Literally. I mean, shake the jar to mix it up.

A toast of champagne.

Champagne jelly, that is. It’s only appropriate to feature such a thing at this time of year, right? Of course. But before I go any further, let me just brag a bit- this jelly is a:

I made that image right there, just to brag. Can you tell I’m proud? And yes, you read that right, these jars are a Pimp That Preserve 2011 winner! Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Or in this case, champagne dinner? Whatever. So what does this mean? It means I pretty much rock the monkey. To quote the father from A Christmas Story, “It’s a major award!”

Anyway, enough bragging- let’s get to the jelly. Last year I did champagne cupcakes. They were awesome-sauce, but I hate repeats. Being that I was looking for a special New Years’ Eve snack or treat, I once again reached for that book that provided me with that deliciously amazing tea jelly; Canning For a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. In the book (which I love) she has a fantastic recipe for champagne jelly, and after the rousing success of the tea version, how could I not try it? Plus… it is New Years’ after all. What else would one have today but champagne.

The golden color was just so pretty. Actually, more like stunning. But let me make a confession- I used a dry white wine, not champagne.

*gasp* I know, I know. I kinda lied & misled you. But since all my jars went so quickly, I plan on making it again very soon with real champagne (perhaps Cold Duck, just to get that pretty magenta color) but it doesn’t really matter either way, the flavor would be so similar at any rate. When added to the sugar, the difference probably wouldn’t even be noticeable. The wine I used was a dry, medium-sweet fruity wine called ‘Sweet Romance’ from the Mount Hope Winery in PA. The ‘Vidal Blanc’ they sell would’ve been amazing to use as well; it’s far drier & has a slight herbal taste. I used this wine that had been sitting in between the Jameson & the Stoli for over 3 years, waiting for its time to shine for a few reasons; one, back in 2008 when I bought it on a trip to PA I was more of a white wine fan- however I’ve grown to love reds & so haven’t had the urge for white in ages, two, I knew it was good wine so it wouldn’t fuck up my jelly, and finally three… this poor bottle was sitting, waiting for a special moment, for literally 27 months. Every other bottle we bought that day is long gone. It was time for this one to shine.

And shine it does. But any champagne would do smashingly, too, of course. I wouldn’t use the Cristal or even the Veuve Clicquot in this, personally, I’d save that for drinking. A cheap yet decent quality champagne is fine. The dryness is what makes the jelly so interesting, so if it’s extra dry, then great.

By the way, I write this with the assumption that you know basic canning principles & practices. If not, please read this in its entirety before attempting it. It’s not difficult but you do need some “equipment” & knowledge before you begin.



  • 1 (750 mℓ) bottle champagne, sparkling white or rosé or any dry-ish white wine
  • 3 ¼ cups sugar
  • 3 cups green apple pectin stock (see recipe here) or 1 package Certo liquid pectin
  • ¼ cup strained fresh lemon juice


  1. Prepare for water bath canning: Sterilize the jars and keep them hot (in water) in the canning pot, put a small plate in the freezer, and put the flat lids in a heatproof bowl.
  2. Boil the champagne/wine over high heat until reduced to about two cups, about 20 minutes.
  3. Stir the pectin/pectin stock, lemon juice and sugar into the champagne. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers about 220° F on a candy thermometer or a small dab of it passes the freezer test (place some on the frozen plate and put back in the freezer for one minute, then remove; if the mixture wrinkles when you nudge it, it’s ready), about 25-30 minutes.
  4. Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a clean, folded dish towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.
  5. Ladle the hot jelly into the jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace at the top. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid & band on each jar, adjusting the band so it’s fingertip tight.
  6. Return the jars to the canning pot in a canning rack, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes to process. Remove the jars to the folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours, except to check the seal after one hour by pressing down on the center of each lid; if it can be pushed down it hasn’t sealed, and must be refrigerated immediately. After 12 hours, label sealed jars & store.

After Pimp That Preserves, I find myself dressing my jars up in appropriate garb more often now. I think it’s very cute, plus you never know when someone will need to receive a jar.. & it’s nice to get something that looks as special as it tastes. I entered this lovely photoset in that contest back in early December. And uh, like I may have mentioned, I WON.

I bought a gold wire-edged ribbon with sparkles that I thought embodied not only champagne but New Year’s. I just cut a length of it for each jar, gathered & stitched it together with a few tiny stitches, then I pinned or sewed on a specific little charm or trinket. The snowflake is a brooch, the recipient can remove it & wear it. The other sparkly one is a charm that can be removed & worn on a necklace (& it’s not as pink as it looks in the bottom picture, it’s bright & clear, like in the first). The little champagne bottle is a cupcake topper. I sent my mother’s friend Mara the snowflake jar with instructions that once the jar is opened, she can wear the brooch. I think that sorta thing is nice. Ultra-personal. Of course I had to label them in style too.

It did in fact make 5 half-pint jars, but I kept two plain for my own use & decorated the rest for giving (& photographing). I don’t need to dress up my own jars. Sitting in my pantry they don’t get many flashbulbs going off. I’d rather make ’em fancy when they’re going to a good home. I did end up sending one of the plain jars to Heather, so now I have just one extra jar left. And I think my friend Miss Melanie will end up with that one, since she seemed so enthused about it on Facebook. So my last, lonely little bottle of white wine from Pennsylvania ended up in New York, not to mention Florida & Texas reincarnated (& loved) as a delicious jelly. Talk about a “new start.”

I’ll be honest: 2011 sucked in a lot of ways, & I’m happy to bid her a not-so-fond farewell. But Cupcake Rehab has grown a lot this year, as have I, & that’s never a bad thing. I lost important people to me, but gained some. I expanded my knowledge in many areas, formed some new skills. It was a bittersweet year in too many ways to count. So many people have passed away, so many babies born. But new opportunities & new reasons for happiness are bound to come with the new year & therefore new reasons to be optimistic. That’s the best part- the mistakes & sorrows of last year are just that, & while they never really disappear, there’s hope for this new clean slate we’ve been given. I’m going to try & be more forgiving this year, however I’ll certainly not be a doormat. Life is short, why hold grudges or waste time or negative emotions or negative people? It’s a lot for me to strive for, I know that. Especially since I hate everyone (almost). But like I said… clean slate. One thing I will not be doing is cleaning up my potty mouth. I like my truck driver vocabulary. But I am going to make a conscious effort to weed out the unnecessary items & people in my life in 2012 and focus on only the necessary. Good riddance, ’11, here’s hoping 2012 is a far better- and healthier- year for all!

Happy New Year to all my readers, the old & loyal and the new & hopefully just as loyal alike. I really value every reader & commenter & “fan”; & I’ll continue to work very hard to make sure that you’re all still interested & not bored in the new year. Now let’s ring in this new year & enjoy some hooch like these two lovebirds… I’ll see you next year.

“Waiter, there’s fungi in my risotto!”

Before I get started talking about fungus, I wanna say how much I appreciate all my readers and fans. There’s no smooth transition between talking about fungi and my fans, or vice versa, so I won’t even try. I just wanted to tell you all that I really do appreciate you, every single one of you, and I love all the awesome comments and e-mails I get from you. You guys are the best, and because you all give me such rad feedback and keep me going, it makes me doing this site so much more fun. So thank you, seriously. I am not exaggerating when I say you’re all that and a frosted cupcake, for sure.  Speaking of cupcakes, if I could send each and every one of you a cupcake with frosting piled 4 inches high and a big hug, I would. Don’t worry- I’m not losing my edge. I guess since Valentine’s Day is coming I got a little sappy there… but it’s all the truth. Allright, enough, now let’s talk about food.

I’ve said many times before, I LOVE RISOTTO. It’s one of my favorite dishes to make at home. I have about five recipes for it on this website alone. In restaurants, I find myself being very picky and somewhat snobbish about it. I’ve only encountered one risotto that was satisfactory to my taste and expectations on L.I.- at Wall’s Wharf in Bayville, the mushroom risotto. Other than that, it’s always been either too dry, too rubbery, too much like regular rice, or too mushy. So I usually just stick to making it myself and choosing other dishes when dining out.

Okay so, me and mushrooms have a troubled history. I don’t love them. I tolerate them in certain dishes, but I’m not really what you would call a mushroom lover. However, while doing my grocery shopping the other day I thought, “Why don’t I buy these beauteous baby bella mushrooms and do something with them?” I don’t know if I had accidentally ingested acid earlier in the day, or if indeed I’m beginning to *gasp* actually like mushrooms. I’ll go with ‘a’  just to save my reputation.

A mushroom is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source. The standard for the name “mushroom” is the cultivated white button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, hence the word mushroom is most often applied to those fungi (Basidiomycota, Agaricomycetes) that have a stem (stipe), a cap (pileus), and gills (lamellae, sing. lamella) on the underside of the cap, just as do store-bought white mushrooms.

The word “mushroom” can also be used for a wide variety of gilled fungi, with or without stems, and the term is used even more generally, to describe both the fleshy fruiting bodies of some Ascomycota and the woody or leathery fruiting bodies of some Basidiomycota, depending upon the context of the word.

Forms deviating from the standard morphology usually have more specific names, such as “puffball“, “stinkhorn“, and “morel“, and gilled mushrooms themselves are often called “agarics” in reference to their similarity to Agaricus or their placement in the order Agaricales. By extension, the term “mushroom” can also designate the entire fungus when in culture or the thallus (called a mycelium) of species forming the fruiting bodies called mushrooms, or the species itself.

I’ve always found it odd that mushrooms are even a part of our human diet- considering they’re a fungus. It’s like eating bleu cheese, sorta, because you’re essentially eating mold (bleu cheese is one of my favorite cheeses, by the way). But nevertheless, there they are, in all their glory, with their little caps and stems looking like something out of Alice In Wonderland. And we buy ’em and stuff them and saute them and put them on pizza and in risotto and some people even use them as the “burger” in a faux-hamburger! Oh, mushrooms, you so crazy. Isn’t it funny that a society that has so many germophobic tendencies, and obsessions with cleanliness and getting rid of dirt and mold and fungus, actually enjoy eating those very things?

So here’s a dee-rish-us recipe from Tyler Florence. I will tell you here that I only used baby bella mushrooms, an 8 oz package, and it was plenty as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a big mushroom fan, do as you like. I also didn’t use truffle oil, just regular olive oil. I didn’t garnish with parsley either. Rebel, rebel.



  • 8 cups chicken broth, low sodium
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, diced, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
  • 1 pound fresh portobello and crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil
  • 1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Fresh Italian parsley, for garnish


  1. Heat the chicken broth in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ½ onion and 1 clove garlic, cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, herbs and butter. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes until lightly browned, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in truffle oil then add the dried porcini mushrooms which were reconstituted in1 cup of warm chicken broth. Season again with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Saute 1 minute then remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Coat a saucepan with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Saute the remaining ½ onion and garlic clove. Add the rice and stir quickly until it is well-coated and opaque, 1 minute. This step cooks the starchy coating and prevents the grains from sticking. Stir in wine and cook until it is nearly all evaporated.
  4. Now, with a ladle, add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Add the remaining broth, 1 cup at a time. Continue to cook and stir, allowing the rice to absorb each addition of broth before adding more. The risotto should be slightly firm and creamy, not mushy. Transfer the mushrooms to the rice mixture. Stir in Parmesan cheese, cook briefly until melted. Top with a drizzle of truffle oil and chopped parsley before serving.