Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nonna's Meatballs

I want to thank everyone who called or e-mailed me with regards to my Mother’s Day story in the Montreal Gazette. The accolades are very much appreciated. My grandmother was quite taken back by seeing her picture in the paper and still wonders how much I paid for it. I know there are people who didn’t see the article so in this post I’m reprinting the article exactly as it appeared (except for the material which was cut) with the sincere hope than many of you will give these wonderful meatballs a try.

Nonna's Meatballs

When I was seven years old, my grandmother had given me the best job I would ever have: I was to tell her if the meatballs were ready. I remember watching the big pot of simmering tomato sauce, with the meatballs bobbing up and down, wondering when I would get to taste another one. It’s no wonder I never wanted to eat sitting at the table, I was way too full from having eaten in the kitchen. To this day, our meagre attempts still don’t rival my grandmother’s tender, flavourful meatballs. I am still blessed to have my grandmother with me. My son, who is eight, has taken over my job; he now works hand in hand with his grandmother as the “official meatball tester.”

This recipe will make 25 to 30 meatballs, so have your whole family over!

½ kilo of minced beef (medium or lean)
½ kilo of minced pork
½ kilo of minced veal
3 cups of seasoned fresh breadcrumbs (we make our own by putting day old bread, parsley, oregano and salt and pepper in a food processor and pulsing to a rough chop. If the bread is too dry you won’t get the same results.)
½ cup of water
3 eggs
½ cup of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper
A pot of homemade tomato sauce, prepared in advance and heated.

Put all of the meat in a very large bowl. (A salad bowl works well here). In a smaller bowl, combine the water and the breadcrumbs. With your fingers, work the bread crumbs until they become mushy, the bread should look like oatmeal (If you find the bread to be dry, add a bit more water.)
Add the breadcrumb mush to the meat and incorporate. Add the eggs, cheese, salt and pepper and mix it all thoroughly with your hands. The hands are also an important ingredient, they add the love necessary to make these meatballs taste the way they should.
Form into meatballs somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball.

Add the raw meatballs to the simmering tomato sauce, after 45 minutes find a meatball tester and eat with a big bowl of pasta. (Note: do not stir the sauce as soon as the meatballs are added- they are still too soft and will loose their shape if stirred. Let the sauce return to a simmer and wait fifteen minutes before stirring carefully.)
Meatballs also freeze very well. If you don’t want to cook all of them, freeze them by placing the meatballs on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer-once the meatballs are frozen transfer to a freezer bag. They keep about one month in a ziplock, and six months (and more) vacuum-packed.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Do You Know Your Farmer?

Author and farming advocate Margaret Webb was at Bon Appetit Cookbooks on Tuesday, May 6th to speak about her new book, Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Guide to Canadian Farms. In her book, Webb takes the reader on a cross-country visit to eleven Canadian farms and introduces us to eleven very distinctive, extraordinary and passionate farmers, or as Webb calls them “chefs of the soil.”
Webb brought up many interesting questions, such as why we import apples from the U.S and Chile when we have in abundance here in Ontario and in the B.C. Okanagan; and more importantly, why don’t we hold our farmers in higher regards?
I’m well aware that the cynic and pragmatist in all of us knows the answers to these questions, (question #1: because people want cheap apples, and question #2: Farmers? What farmers?) but Webb’s approach is one of intimacy rather than an attempt at bringing down the giant industrial agricultural monster which supplies the many supermarkets at every corner of the suburban world. She simply gets to know her farmers, and that’s something, according to Webb, all of us should do. Everyone from Rachel Ray to Jamie Oliver are telling us that as savvy foodies, we should all get to know our butchers, fishmongers and cheese purveyors; so why not our farmers?
The fresh vegetable season is almost upon us so don’t be afraid to ask where the zucchini, lettuce, or garlic comes from. Farmer’s markets are obviously the ideal place to get to know a farmer, but in the name of research and to show you that such questions can and should be asked anywhere, I went to the Loblaws closest to my house where a very young man (or was he a boy?) stared at me for a while with his mouth agape when I asked him where the apples were from. Instead of speaking he started looking around no doubt for somebody to rescue him from this overly-curious man. To be fair some of the produce at Loblaws had the place of origin indicated, but not all.
I decided to leave and headed for an I.G.A. not far away. All of the produce was labeled with the country of origin (most of the vegetables are from the U.S.A., except for the bell peppers which were from Holland and the garlic which is now imported in mass quantities from China.) I asked a smartly dressed man if he could recommend any local vegetables, instead of running away, he rightly told me that it’s still too early in the season but they soon would have a whole section dedicated to local produce, some from small farms and some from the industrial farms. He then suggested a locally grown greenhouse tomato from a small producer in Mirabel called, Les Serres Stephane Bertrand, and poceeded to give me several information cards (see fig.2) that he thought might help with my vegetable curiosity. Needless to say I left impressed.

Fig.2. Vegetable information cards from I.G.A.

Those of you who have experienced the marvel of a perfect vegetable grown from pure, uncontaminated, fresh manure ejected from that happy, grass-grazing bovine will know that such vegetables do not require much preparation and handling. The tomatoes I bought at I.G.A., while not the best I’ve ever had, certainly stood on their own. Remember, quick recipes should be fast by the nature of their ingredients and not because of harried attitudes. The better the ingredients, the less you need to do with them.

Tomato and Orange Salad
Serves 2 to 3

2 large tomatoes
1 orange
20 basil leaves
Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Good Quality Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Slice tomatoes and orange and arrange in a plate with the basil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle generously with good quality first cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil. (The regular olive oil in the big rectangular tin won't work here. Go buy the good stuff!)
Have some bread around to absorb the expensive olive oil you just bought.

Note: Add some sliced fresh mozzarella cheese (such as fior di latte, mozzarella di buffalo, or fresh boconccini) and it becomes an Insalata Caprese. I sometimes like to add some lemon zest and a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar for some contrast and tanginess.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Marche Gourmand Laval

Food lovers in Laval can now rejoice. The tides of culinary inferiority between islands are slowly changing. Along with our farmer's market, Marche 440--which is located on the 440 service road next to Club Price, foodies now have another haven to obsess over.

The Marche Gourmand is located at, 2888 avenue du Cosmodome, and is part of the obscenely over-developed Centropolis complexe. I decided to pay the new market a visit upon hearing that a Premiere Moison had finally opened. During my last visit, the market offered more boarded up locals with "overture bientot" signs than vendors displaying their fares.

I always like to approach a market the same way. There is something very gratifying in playing the role of casual observer. Walking about with an attitude of unobstrusiveness as I take it all in. I let the market seduce me.

The first shop upon entering is Premiere Moisson, and it is the largest I've ever been in. Is it me or do they seem to be selling all manners of victuals? The selection in here is daunting, from their impressive breads, cakes, pies, and pates to a wide selection of prepared sandwiches and salads, which patrons seemed to be enjoying in the seated section. Also available, a wide array of prepared sauces and French classics such as Confit de Canard and Beef Bourguignon. (I'm not a fan of prepared food but The Hungry Italian will try everything once without bias. If anyone has tried any of these ready-to-go meals I would love to know what they're like.) I couldn't leave without buying something, and one look at the sugar pies made my legs feel weak. So three small pies and a ficelle later my market adventure continued.

Fig. 3 Inside Premiere Moisson

Fig.4 Maple Syrup, apricot, and pecan pies from Promiere Moison. All good, especially the maple syrup, the crust is reminiscent of a brown sugar shortbread and added a nice contrast to the soft filling. Also beautiful is the packaging, although some might say excessive.

Walking past a large Boucherie, with several butchers enticing passer-by's to covet their meat, I suppressed the carnivore in me and welcomed the herbivore. Next stop, Fruiterie 440, prices are good but the quality can sometimes leave something to be desired. The selection, however, is impressive; I bought some kale and was on my way. There's something sublime about eating kale. It's as though with every bite your life is slightly prolonged, and like the invincible inhabitants of Crete you too can live to the ripe age of 101.

Out of the fruiterie and into La Maison du Fromage; An impressive cheese shop with a staggering choice of cheese. The staff was very helpful and know their way around un-pasteurized French cheese and Italian cow's milk cheese equally. I was taken by surprise when I asked for smoked provolone and was immediately answered with "how much would you like?" Unlike the more readily available smoked gouda and gruyere, smoked provolone, (made from whole cow's milk), has a mild sharpness (which comes from the sourness of whole unadulterated cow's milk), and it is also sweeter than its Dutch and Swiss counterparts. This is not an easy cheese to find; needless to say, I happily bought some of this smoky goodness, as well as some grana padano, and continued on.

Fig.5 Cacciocavallo, Gorganzola, and the elusive smoked provolone

My next stop was La Fournee des Sucreries de L'Erable. The Maple Syrup pie I tasted here was the best I've ever had. The filling just seemed to dissolve on the tongue, and didn't have that "my teeth are hurting" level of sweetness or grainy texture which often comes with pies containing too much sugar. I purchased a couple of pet de soeur and the biggest macaroon I've ever seen and kept walking.

Bonbons & Cie is a small candy shop specializing in all manners of hard to find bonbons. Browsing in this shop brought back memories of the after school depanneur haunts of old.

Fig.6. The still- popular ring pop and the renamed, Popeye's "candysticks". I showed my son how to roll the box in his shoulder sleeve so he would look like a "Greaser".

Walking past a pizza place and an Eastern European charcuterie,(where I tasted a very nice smoked Kielbasa) the aroma in the air led me to Creperie Oasis Gourmand. I surrendered to the smell and shared a Nutella crepe with my son.

Fig.7 Fresh crepes "Parisienne"

Walking past a Kitchen supply shop, which housed an impressive variety of "old school" pasta making tools, a Saucissier, and a shop specializing in oils and vinegar, I came face to face with a store I was already familiar with, just not in Laval. Along with the Marche Jean-Talon, Laval now has a proper fresh pasta shop with Pastificio Sacchetto. I've bought pasta from Pastificio before and have always been satisfied, and the prices are comparable with other fine pasta shops in St. Leonard, R.D.P., and St Michel.

I left the store giddy and satisfied with a kilogram of gnoccetti, half a kilo of spaghettini and some decadent Panna from parmelat which no self-respecting kitchen should be without.

Fig 9 Mushroom ravioli

Coming to the end of my market journey, I spot a chocolate shop called, I Love The shop had a nice variety of handmade chocolate and the owner, Annie Roggero, was very gracious with her information. She informed me that all of her dark chocolate is Belgian and 75% pure. Her milk chocolate is an above average 45% pure, and that she also has a line of sugar free chocolate which she developed for her diabetic mother. I tasted some of her milk chocolate, which wasn't as creamy as I was accustomed to, but had a much deeper cocoa flavour to it. I drifted out of the store with chocolate melting in my mouth.

Fig 10, Tea's from around the world meet chocolates made in Montreal

It was time for a coffee break to ponder supper. I opted for some take home sushi given the amount of chocolate I had consumed on this market discovery.

People sometimes ask me why I go to the trouble of writing something like this when I don't get anything out of it. It's difficult to make people understand that the satisfaction comes not only in the writing, but in the sharing; a selfless quality I believe all food lovers possess. My sincere hope is that some of you reading this article will side-step the time-convenience of a supermarket frozen pizza and instead find your own market such as this one and have your own adventure. Buy all of the ingredients fresh, whether it be for a pizza, a pasta alla vongole, or even a simple grilled cheese, take them to your kitchen and create proper food.
It has always been my contention that there's nothing convenient about ready made prepared foods. In the end it is your health which matters most, and there's nothing convenient about destroying your body.

It's up to us Laval residents to help out the little guys; Galen Weston Jr. has enough money. Take your family and explore the Marche Gourmand.

Le Marche Gourmand:

Premiere Moisson, 450-682-1800

Bonbon & Cie, 514-953-5207

Boucherie La Superieure 450-686-8889 -
Other location: 7500 boul. Les Galeries-d'Anjou 514-355-2640 in Les Halles Anjou

Pizza Gourmande, 450-688-3544

La Maison du Fromage, 450-973-2743

Charcuterie Balkani, 450-680-1626
-Other location: 7070 Henri Julien, 514-807-1626, Marche Jean-Talon

La Boutique de L'Olivier, 450-681-6003

Olive & Olive, 450-687-8222
-Other locations: 1389 Laurier est Montreal 514-526-8989
428b ave Victoria Saint-Lambert 450-923-2424
Marche Jean-Talon 514-271-0001

Cuisine-Promax, 450-682-0947

Le Petit Coin d'Europe, 450-686-0492

La Fournee des Sucreries de l'Erable 450-686-7718
-Other locations: Marche Jean-Talon 514-279-7830
6423 rue d'iberville, Rosemont, 514-727-8085
4492 rue Granier, 514-524-4464 Plateau Mont-Royal

Pastificio Sacchetto, 450-686-9222
-Other Location: 7070 Henri-Julien, 514-274-4443, Marche Jean-Talon

I Love, 450-963-7402
-Other locations: Choco Style 1093 Legendre est, Montreal

Un Amour des Thes, 514-605-7448
-Other locations: 1224 Bernard Ouest, Outremont
5612 Monkland, Montreal

Le Marais, 450-688-9993

Sushiman, 450-687-1212

Creperie Oasis Gourmand

Fruterie 440

Poissonnerie Odessa (to open in two weeks)