Friday, December 25, 2009

Fresh Ricotta with Chopped Mint

Fig.1. Many Italian grocery stores carry ricotta like this during the holiday season--I bought this one at Charcuterie Noel in Montreal North. It's a lot of cheese but it will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Sometimes Christmas does feel like a lot of work. Planning, shopping and transporting stuff in and out of the car gets rather tiresome. Cooking has always been a respite of sorts for me—finding refuge from external strife while I plan my menus, flip through cookbooks, and finally cook the meals is something I always look forward to and enjoy doing. This year was no different, but I decided to take my own advice this year and keep it simple. Thinking this "easy" approach toward entertaining would please my wife, she instead looked at me with her usual, “God help me look” and walked away with no faith in her husband. Well, it turns out she was right: I did keep it simple, but I overcompensated, I ended up making enough food to feed the next cast of The Biggest Loser on a rebound. I froze a lot of stuff, all of the cheese and cold cuts are coming with me to my mother’s house, (20 hungry Italians is a great solution to excess leftovers.) And more leftovers will go to feed yet another dinner party being held here in a couple of days.

I want to acknowledge all of the Holiday wishes I’ve received by wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas in return, and again, thank you for reading, commenting and cooking.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Fresh Ricotta with Chopped Mint

Here’s a recipe that showcases fresh ingredients and properly redefines “fast food”. Ricotta like this is available this time of the year only. (Although it can be special ordered the rest of the year) My first thought was to add some red peppercorns but quickly changed my mind after tasting it. Chopped mint, salt, pepper and a good olive oil is all it needed.

Fig.2. I mix the salt pepper and mint, then sprinkle some more mint over top and drizzle with olive oil. I have also made it with anchovies over top with great results.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mustard--Italian Style
(Looking for restaurants opened on Christmas day? can help.)

Fig.1. This mostarda di frutta, which is made in Cremona, goes very well with any boiled meat from chicken to sausage.

In Italy, mostarda is completely different than North American mustard. Very often referred to as Mostarda di Cremona, this fruit chutney consists of candied fruit, such as apricots, cherries, pears and figs, preserved in syrup, with a distinct note of mustard seed essence. Mostarda di frutta, as it’s often called in Italy, is a perfect accompaniment to bolito misto. (Boiled meat) but also goes very well with cheese. The mustard essence is strong stuff (think wasabi on steroids) and takes some getting used to; hence it’s very important that something not over laden with strong flavours accompany the condiment.
The only place I’ve had mostada di frutta is in Italy, and so I was quite surprised to discover it at, La Maison du Parmesan while I was on the east end tour with Susan. Owner Maria Giampa told me they bring in a limited amount every year at the request of some of their customers. (Who probably hail from the Lombardy region where mostarda di frutta is as common as ketchup is here.) If you bring in the New Year, as many Italians do, with cotechino or zampone on your menu, mostarda di frutta will take your meal to a new level.

Fig.2. The fruit is sweet, but the syrup can pack quite a punch. The sweet and strong flavors are what make mostarda di frutta unique.

La Maison du Parmesan, 9350 Lacordaire, St, Leonard, 514-323-8764.

Note: I buy my cotechino at Charcuterie Noel who makes an excellent one this time of the year only. As for the zampone, I’ve heard that Inter-Marche, RDP makes some, I’ll have to check—if somebody knows send me an e-mail.
Charcuterie Noel, 5733 Leger Blvd, Montreal North, 514-323-0256

Thursday, December 17, 2009

  • Thanks to You And Tiramisu
Fig.1. This is a rustic looking tiramisu, this one is made directly on the serving plate; sometimes I'll make it in dessert cups, martini glasses or even in small Mason jars. (if you do it in a mason jar, add a few layers of your favorite jam.)

While I knew the Gazette article was coming out, I could never have anticipated the response it got. The e-mails are still coming in (I’ll respond to each, I just need a little time.) and the hits on The Hungry Italian are none stop. I really want to thank Susan Semenak again for taking the time to do the East End tour with me—it was a lot of fun.
I welcome all the new readers and look forward to obsessing and exploring all manners of cuisine with you. Keep the comments and questions coming, and, as I’ve mentioned many times before, if you have any old, family recipes that are under threat of extinction, send them to me. It’s our duty to keep traditions and proper foods alive.
As requested by some readers, I’m posting the tiramisu recipe which appeared in the Gazette with a few addendums.

This is a classic Tiramisu, free of cream and excess sugar. It’s important that the taste of the mascarpone cheese comes through.

Serves 6 to 8


5 eggs, separated
4 tbsp of sugar
475 g of cold mascarpone cheese (one large container, also, if cheese gets too warm it can begin to separate—so keep it in the fridge until needed.)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp of vanilla extract
2 tbsp of rum (optional)
18 savoiardi cookies (I used cookies from Alati, which are larger, if using regular store bought; you’ll need 26 to 30.)
1 ½ cups strong espresso coffee, cold


In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar and beat well. In a separate bowl or electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Mix the cheese, salt, vanilla extract and rum with the egg yolk mixture, once combined, begin to gently fold in the egg whites. Pour half of the coffee (3/4 cup) into a 9” x 9” baking dish (pour the second half of the coffee only after the cookies have soaked up the first half). Working one cookie at a time, dip cookie into coffee for three seconds per side, any longer and the cookie will fall apart. In a serving plate, layer six cookies side by side, then spread 1/3 of the cheese mixture evenly over the cookies, repeat with remaining cookies and cheese mixture, making sure to cover the ends. (If you wish, you can apply the cheese all around the cake.) Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Sprinkle with cocoa powder, chocolate shavings, or crushed savoiardi cookies just before serving. The tiramisu can also be frozen for a couple of weeks. Place the cake in the freezer uncovered. Once the cheese mixture sets cover with plastic wrap. Thaw in the fridge overnight.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Hungry Italian has written his letter to Santa. Read it at

It's Simply Christmas

Fig.1. Bresaola, prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and fresh figs, sprinkled with oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. Plates like these will make entertaining easy. This time of the year, use clementines or melon instead of figs.

Fig.2. Eastern European specialty shops such as Slovenia and Ron Mish can turn your Christmas party into an event to remember--and talk about.

This time of the year I often get asked for Christmas dinner ideas. What to serve at Christmas parties weighs heavy on people’s minds, and yet, rather than being a pleasure, entertaining becomes a burden and just another chore during an already busy and stressful time of year. As with everything conducive to healthy living, my advice is always to keep it simple. I know you’ve probably heard this before, so maybe it’s about time you listen.
There are plenty of obsessive food producers who labor feverishly in their creations: use their complex, multifarious products to make your life simple; in the end, you’ll come out looking like the hero, when, in reality, all you’ve really done is some cutting and plate arranging.
It is possible to entertain for a crowd without turning on your stove. Cured meats are the way to go. Salumi of any variety and ethnicity will work. Imagine platters of assorted salami, prosciutto, coppa, lonza, capicollo, and pancetta. Or some cured meat from the Eastern Block, such as Kovbasa, liverwurst, saltison (head cheese) and karnatzel; apart from tasting good, a variety of artisan and local cured meats will give you and your guests something to talk about, who knows, you could end up converting some archaic baloney eaters. Now that the meat is done, imagine plates of vegetables, in oil or vinegar, such as jardinière, eggplants and mushrooms. Plates of fresh vegetables, such as sliced fennel, radicchio and radishes, drizzled with a good olive oil, and salt and pepper. Plates of cheese (there are too many to name—you figure it out.) Bowls of olives and nuts, spreads such as, rillette, pâté, hummus, baba ganoush and taramosalata. Let’s not forget fish: smoked salmon, pickled herring, or a nice variety of sushi. And bread, don’t forget plenty of bread. Feeling guilty for not doing anything yet—then make a green salad. For dessert: fruit. Again, serve something different, persimmons, pomegranates, cactus pears and blood oranges. If you must have a sweet, just make sure it doesn’t live in a cardboard box before you unleash it on your guests. From cakes, cannolis to cupcakes, there are plenty of places in Montreal who can help you finish the evening with plenty of culinary integrity.
Some of you are thinking: this isn’t enough food. Believe me it is. Just make sure you set out enough for seconds. Any guests who still feel “unsatisfied” after a spread like this are in all likelihood problem eaters who never know when they are satiated. In this case, you’ve done more than simply entertain; you have awakened them to proper food and helped them on their way toward a new and better outlook on food.
It’s the end of the evening; your guests are happy, educated, boozed up (except for the one’s driving of course.) it’s time for them to leave. “Thanks for coming, see you next year, and say hi to your mother for me.”

Fig.3. Pickled vegetables, or "giardiniera" as it's referred to by Italians, combined with some cold cuts and cheese, make for a perfect panini.

-Look for variety, something different—think outside the box.

-Make the food flow. When you’re planning your menu, plan with a theme or region in mind: Italian, French, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Asian—you get the idea.

-Don’t look for ideas in big, box stores, where frozen, prepared foods are hailed as the answer to all of life’s problems; instead go to smaller, ethnic markets, and specialty food shops, such as Adonis, Inter-marche, Milano, and Charcuterie Noel.

-Don’t be afraid to talk to the people who make the food. You won’t be bothering them, people who take pride in their products are happy to respond to questions.

Fig.4. Fruit for dessert? Why not. In some parts of Sicily, oranges are sliced and drizzled with olive oil.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Keep up with the latest Montreal restaurant news at
Rich Raisin Squares-Christmas Baking Continues

Fig.1. Soft, buttery crust, moist, sticky center, and a firm, caramelized sugar top. The raisins, which represent the healthy portion of this recipe, are in there somewhere. You might have to play with the oven time to get them right--keep an eye on them during the last five minutes of cooking time.

These raisin treats not only make great squares, they also make for a great dessert. They are on the sweet side (think sugar pie with raisins) so a tart coulis, jam, or unsweetened whipped cream gives it just the balance it needs to prevent your guests from opening your fridge and downing the entire milk carton. The raisins also provide your inner-granola with the notion that you’re getting something healthy amidst the heaping amounts of flour, sugar and corn syrup.

Rich Raisin Squares


1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
¼ cup brown sugar, well packed
½ cup softened butter
1 cup raisins, rinsed
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
½ cup corn syrup
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees on bake.
In a bowl, mix ¾ cup of the flour, brown sugar and butter, mix until crumbly. Pack mixture into the bottom of a 9 inch, round cake pan, press mixture evenly into pan. (If mixture sticks to your fingers, use a little flour.) Bake for 15 minutes. While the crust bakes, whisk the eggs and sugar together, stir in the corn syrup, remaining ¼ cup flour, salt, vanilla, and raisins. Spread raisin mixture evenly over crust and return to 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Let cool for five minutes, pass a sharp knife around the edge in order to facilitate removal. Once completely cooled, freeze and cut into squares. Refreeze squares for future use, or, if serving as a dessert, keep in fridge, but let come to room temperature before serving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

For Montreal restaurant news, come and visit me at The Montreal

Buttery Shortbread

Fig.1. This traditional shortbread is dense, heavy, and very buttery.

Christmas baking just wouldn’t be complete without shortbread. This dense, buttery, square of fat generating goodness is the epitome of the butter cookie.
When it comes to shortbread I’m a purist: the old Scottish rule of flour, butter and sugar (and a pinch of salt to round out the flavor) are best. Don’t even think of using margarine (which in my opinion is evil and should be banned outright)
Traditional shortbread is baked round and then cut into wedges. The surface of the cookie is also poked with a fork to help with the drying and finished texture. This shortbread however, is formed into a cookie sheet and cut into squares.


This shortbread has less butter than most resulting in a firmer cookie


1lbs butter, cold from fridge
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup rice flour
1 cup sugar


Cut the cold butter into 1” squares and mix with the flour and sugar--knead until smooth. Press the dough into a 13”x9” pan (you don’t need to grease pan), prick the surface with a fork and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Cut while still hot. Freeze until ready to use.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sometimes a Sausage Can Make All The Difference

Fig.1. A perfect soup for the cold nights ahead. The Ukrainian Kovbasa (or kielbasa, as it's referred to by most people) is a porky, fatty, garlicky shaft of meaty goodness. I get mine at Ron Mish, whose variety and quality of Eastern European sausages is nothing short of incredible.

Chalk this one up to the Ukrainian influence in my house; and also to the unwillingness to accept the end of the growing season, which it most certainly is not. The harvest is not yet over: potatoes, leeks, beets, onions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, apples, squash and all manners of root vegetables are calling out your name. All you have to do is take a trip to the market and listen.

Fig.2. Beware of supermarket paprika which cost $1.99. I bought this one at Olives et Epices in the Jean Talon market.

In addition to the kovbasa, a proper paprika can add another dimension to any dish. A good, high quality paprika is a revelation; the paprika used here is of the spicy Hungarian variety, a Spanish, smoked pimenton paprika would also work.

Leek, Potato and Kielbasa Soup
While the sausage and paprika are wonderful additions, this soup can definitely stand alone in the taste department. I've also made this soup using bacon with great results, then again, how can anyone expect anything less from bacon.

4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
6 Large leek stalks, white and light green part only, halved and chopped
7 medium sized red potatoes, cut into ¾” dice
5 to 6 cups chicken stock (If using canned, buy low-sodium)
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Smoked paprika
Kielbasa, diced


Chop off the stems and green parts of the leeks leaving only the white and very light green parts. Cut leeks lengthwise in half and clean thoroughly under running water; dry and chop leeks into 1/2" pieces. Start the soffritto by adding the olive oil to a large, heavy bottom pot set over medium heat, when oil begins to loosen, add the onion, leeks and potatoes and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and bay leaves, and bring to a gentle simmer, semi-covered for about 45 minutes. (the stock should cover the vegetables by about 2", if it doesn't, simply add some more stock or water.) Salt and pepper to taste.
When serving, sprinkle some of the paprika over top along with the kielbasa and enjoy.

Note. Like most soups and stews, this one is also better the next day. It also freezes exceptionally well. I like to freeze mine in small batches, ready to reheat in the microwave at work for a quick and healthy lunch.

Felix (Ron) Mish
1903 Rue Jolicoeur, Montreal 5147662094

Olives et Epices (Jean-Talon Market)
7070 Henri-Julien, Montreal, 5142710001

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shortie Bars-Let The Christmas Baking Begin

Fig.1. Make sure you enjoy your efforts with a proper espresso before you give these squares away.

It’s that time of year again in The Hungry Italian household. There’s 30lbs of butter in the freezer (I’m not exaggerating), and 30lbs of flour resting next to 30 lbs of sugar in the garage. My wife, Lisa, along with her mother and sister, bake about 30 different types of goodies: Assorted shortbreads, decadent bars and tempting cookies get stuffed into metal tins which are then given out to friends, family and freeloaders alike.
This year I’ve convinced my wife to share some of the recipes, (which is a relief as some of you are aware that baking just isn’t my thing) as well as take pictures of her creations. I hope you give some of them a try; despite the initial investment, you do save money in the long term (just think about all the little presents you hand out: bus driver, teachers, hockey coach, mailman—you get the idea). They’re also great to have handy, just pull them out when company comes over or bring them to your next Christmas party instead of that usual bottle of wine.

Shortie Bars
These squares are basically nothing more than shortbreads with a chocolate surface; this recipe was adapted from the back of an old Chipit bag.
Makes 4 to 5 dozen 1” squares

1 ½ cups salted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (You can add more if you want a thicker chocolate topping)

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy; gradually blend in flour until mixed thoroughly (mixture will be crumbly). Pat your dough evenly into a greased 9x13-inch pan. Bake at 350F for 20 to 25 minutes—or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the surface. Let the chocolate completely soften, then spread evenly. Let the chocolate set to a consistency where it’s easy to cut without cracking, cut into squares, then let set properly in the fridge. Freeze until needed.

Fig.2. The "ends", as we refer to them, are pieces cut along the sides of the pan which can't really be used because they are not straight and are too crumbly. Fortunately for my son and I, they taste just as good as the squares.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Flippin' Fat Pancakes

Fig.1. Big, light, moist and fluffy.

Our Canada magazine is having a pancake contest. If you have an old favorite or family pancake recipe send it in, there are $5000.00 worth of prizes to be won, courtesy of T-Fal. Go to for all the details. The deadline to enter is November 20th, we'll be narrowing it down to 10 recipes, which will be tested, photographed and posted online. The winner will be chosen by the Ourcanada community members-- all you need to do to become a member is visit the web-site and register.
Pancakes are one of the oldest foodstuffs in culinary history. They’ve existed in one form or another since man discovered that mixing water with various ground, whole grains, beans, or rice formed a paste that held its shape.
Today, in North America, we tend to associate pancakes as breakfast fare, but in many parts of the world they are still considered dinner: The French crepe and the Italian crespelle are rolled with such savory fillings ranging from cheese to seafood (although I’ve known the occasional Italian, myself included, who sometime like to smear their crepes with Nutella.) In The Netherlands, a pannenkoeken is a giant, egg-laden pancake that can be stuffed with basically anything the Dutch can think of. In Russia, they have the blini (a personal favorite), which are often served with a dollop of caviar. In Vietnam there’s the crispy and savory Banh xeo, which I usually order with BBQ pork and shrimp.
I could go on and on; every country in the world has their own pancake, instead, holding to the spirit of the contest (which of course I'm not allowed to enter) here’s my favorite breakfast pancake recipe, which I’ve adapted from the gang at America’s Test Kitchen.

Milk and Yogurt Pancakes

The original recipe from, America’s Test Kitchen, calls for buttermilk instead of milk—the buttermilk works equally well but gives it more tang. They also use sour cream, which I’ve replaced with unsweetened, plain yogurt. The yogurt make for a lighter pancake while at the same time imparts the tanginess lent to it by the missing buttermilk.


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups whole milk
¼ cup+2 tablespoons plain, unsweetened yogurt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Spray wire rack set inside baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; place in oven. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, whisk together milk, yogurt, eggs, and melted butter. Make well in center of dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients; gently stir until just combined (batter should remain lumpy with few streaks of flour). Do not over mix. (Over mixing begins the gluten process which will result in tougher pancakes) Allow batter to sit 10 minutes before cooking. Your batter should be quite thick.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out oil, leaving thin film of oil on bottom and sides of pan. (Whipping the excess oil from your pan ensures that your pancakes obtain an even, full, golden brown finish, it’s also based on the assumption that you’re not completely incompetent in the kitchen.) Using ¼ cup measure, portion batter into pan in 4 places. Cook until edges are set, first side is golden brown, and bubbles on surface are just beginning to break, 2 to 3 minutes. Using thin, wide spatula, flip pancakes and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Serve pancakes immediately, or transfer to wire rack in preheated oven. Repeat with remaining batter, using remaining oil as necessary. I also suggest you try the pancakes before you slather them with butter and maple syrup, you might be very surprised at how well they hold their own.

Fig.2. Fig and tangerine pancakes; place the fruit into the pancake after you drop it into the pan, then flip carefully. A thin flexible spatula is essential for pancakes such as these.

Fig.3. Chocolate chip pancakes, simply add some chips to your batter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tomato Sauce Redux

Fig.1. For proper canning techniques go to

I’m starting to think that my obsession with tomatoes is unhealthy. I’ve written so much about them, both for the magazine and for this site, that I was sure there was nothing else to say: I was wrong. What keeps driving me is the never-ending (and unattainable) quest for the perfect tomato sauce: I’ve dissected them, peeled them, removed seeds, removed jelly, and passed them all through a myriad of grinders, presses and sieves. Sometimes the sauce turned out, other times, not so much. So after all this time and trial where am I now—I’m back to the tomato, untouched and unaltered.

Fig.2. Cut the tomatoes into manageable pieces, removing only the stem and any bruises or blemishes.

According to a recent study in, The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, tomato seeds and the surrounding jelly are packed with glutamic acid, a naturally occurring flavour enhancer also known as umami. The skin of the tomato we now know contains Lycopene; a powerful antioxidant. That’s why this year I’ve decided to keep it simple. I’m canning my tomatoes whole as nature intended. When I need to make sauce I simply put the preserved tomatoes in a blender and puree until all of the seeds and skins liquefy. I then make a soffrito of onions and garlic, and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer for a couple of hours.
In case you’re wondering, I got the tomatoes at the Birri Brothers kiosk in the Jean Talon market, which still abounds with beautiful harvest vegetables. I especially want to thank Joe and Mr. Birri for all of your great advice throughout the year (and Joe, the bell peppers were incredible).

Fig.3. Bring the tomato pieces to a rolling boil and skim off any tomato-scum which rises to the surface.

Fig.4. Put some fresh basil in your sterilized jars and fill with the boiling sauce. If your jars and your sauce are hot enough your jars should seal. It's very important to verify that each jar has properly sealed. If after 5 to 6 hours a jar has not sealed place the jar in a water bath and bring to a boil.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Basi, Not Your Typical Italian Restaurant

My first thought upon seeing Basi was that yet again someone would try to make this well situated spot work. Located next to the Jean-Talon Market, this local sees a lot of traffic in the morning and afternoon, but much less at night, and, even less during the cold season.
The menu reveals traditional Italian fare, albeit with a modern and innovative touch, but food that any competent, home cook might conclude could be made at home-they would be wrong.
The menu at Basi is evident of a cook who has come full circle; absent is the multi-layered, copious ingredient laden, over thought creations, and in its place, a menu which reveals how truly difficult it is to make simple, fresh food work properly.
Two things stood out during my first dining experience at Basi. We were with some friends who had already eaten there, they had ordered the fried zucchini appetizers during their first visit and were eager for us to try them. Alas, this time around the menu revealed no fried zucchini. When my friend expressed his disappointment, the waiter, who instead of uttering “sorry, we don’t have any tonight” said “let me see what I can do.” He came back 2 minutes later and told us that someone was running over to the market to get some zucchini. Now, let me just say that in this lazy, indifferent “can’t be bothered” world where drooling, slack-jawed yokels stare at you with glazed eyes until you’re forced to give up it’s nice to see some hustle and a drive to please the customer. I don’t know about you, but the effort makes the food taste better—it must be the love.
The second thing to grab my attention was the fazzoletti. Aside from tasting great, my attention was captured by some small, green, unrecognizable herb that graced the top of the pasta. Turns out it was a seaweed called salicorne. Salicorne is found in sea marches, and like most seaweeds, is somewhat salty, but used correctly it serves to enhance the dishes other savors.
My first instinct about this location was that if I had the Jean-Talon market on my footstep I would use it with reckless abandon and that is exactly what Mercuri does. "If you can salt something naturally it's a bonus." was his response when I asked why salicorne. There are indeed many bonuses to be had dining at Basi: a deconstructed menu, a farmer's market at your doorstep and a passionate chef in the kitchen.

Fig.1. Fazzoletti, referred to as handkerchiefs in North America, can be stuffed with just about anything.

Fazzoletti di Ricotta and Butternut Squash with Butter, Sage and Salicorne
Makes 12 to 15 fazzoletti


15 fresh lasagna sheets (available by the kilo at all fresh pasta shops)


2 cups pureed butternut squash
950g ricotta (Mercuri makes his own, when using the store bought make sure it's not too watery. If it is, drain it in a fine sieve or a cheesecloth in the fridge overnight.)
1 egg
100g grated Grana padano cheese
50g pureed salicorne
salt and pepper

Unsalted butter
fresh sage
chopped raw salicorne
white wine
chicken stock
fresh parsley


Boil the sheets of pasta in salted water until tender, transfer to an ice bath, then place on a dry tablecloth to dry.
In a large mixing bowl, mash the butternut squash, ricotta, egg, cheese, pureed salicorne, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well.
Using a spoon, place 2 tbsp of cheese mixture into the center of the pasta square, fold the edges of the pasta over to form a square. At this point, the fazzoletti can be frozen for future use or reserved in the fridge.
Just before serving, heat a pan over medium heat with 4 tbsp of unsalted butter, 4 sage leaves and 1 tbsp of chopped salicorne. Place 4 fazzoletti in the pan (do not overcrowd the pan) and begin to spoon the butter over the pasta as soon as it melts. When butter begins to turn golden brown, add some wine and let it reduce, about 2 minutes. Add some chicken stock to loosen the sauce and continue spooning over the fazzoletti as it cooks, another 2 minutes. Sprinkle with some fresh, chopped parsley and serve.

Salicorne is available at Chez Louis--514-277-4670- in the Jean Talon Market until November.

Basi: 77 ave Shamrock (corner Casgrain) 514-750-0790.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Eat your Maine from a basket.

Fig.1. Swimming in a sea of beige. Clockwise from left: Clam chowder served in a bread bowl, fried scallops, fried clams and fried haddock and chips. All from Bob's Clam Hut.

I’m a sucker for food in a basket. It comes with the expectation of having to eat with your fingers and the absence of pretension. My recent trip to Maine was packed with such unpretentious and delicious basket food. Also in abundance was some marvellous New England style Americana which came in the form of roadside stands and signs.

Fig.2. Out of all the fried clams I consumed, Bob's Clam Hut in Kittery was the best. The place was full of men working on their gout as they waited for their wives who were busy in the numerous, surrounding outlet stores.

Fig.3. US Route 1 through Maine is adorned with great antique stores and signs such as the one above. Lobster in The Rough was recommended to us by some locals. It has no address and is only opened during peak season. As the name suggests, tourists and locals alike eat on outdoor picnic tables surrounded by trees and then get drunk around an opened air bar. Add some oyster shots and a CCR tribute band and a good time is had by all--except for the lobsters of course.

Every food writer knows it’s not so much the food as it is the experience. Ocean-side eating is a perfect example of this: Eating a Lobster in Montreal can be a great experience, but eating one on the beach, feet in the sand while listening to and smelling the surf pound the shore can be sublime. There are many such experiences to be had in Maine, especially as you drive along US Route 1 from Kittery to Kennebunk.

Fig.4. A short walk from the beach, Fox's Lobster House,on York Beach, is situated on Nubble Point next to the Nubble Lighthouse.

Fig.5. A lobster roll and a bowl of clam chowder from Fox's. I don't get the allure of the lobster roll, as for the clam chowder, the best ones are an hour's drive south in Boston.

Fig.6. Steamed clams from Barnacle Billy's in Perckin's Cove. It come with drawn butter and some water to wash off any sand still stuck to the clam. The restaurant was a bit of a tourist trap but the food was surprisingly good, especially the fried scallops.

Fig.7. The only way, it seems, to get color in your diet in Maine is to eat lobster. I couldn't find a vegetable anywhere. (OK, maybe I wasn't looking in the right place...or looking at all for that matter.) This beautiful specimen was consumed at, Lobster in The Rough. Served with some drawn butter, it was sweet, juicy, and delicious. A great example of proper, honest food.

Bob's Clam Hut, 315 US Route 1, Kittery 207-439-4233

Barnacle Billy's, Shore road, Perkin's Cove, 1-800-866-5575

Fox's Lobster House, Nubble Point, York Beach 207-363-2643

Lobster in The Rough, somewhere in York off of Route 1 in the deep woods.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting Those Taste Buds Back in Shape

While I agree with the wisdom of Homer Simpson that you don’t make friends with salad I would have to maintain that there are seasons where a salad can be a revelation. Farmer’ Markets are currently teeming with fresh produce that could convert any vegetable hater. Experimenting with salads is also a great way to de-sensitize your taste buds.
Years of processed, over flavored food have made most of us oblivious too what proper food should really taste like. Over the years, ours pallets have been bombarded with over-seasoned foods-foods processed with an abundance of sugar, fat and salt—so much so that we now come to expect that everything should taste like a bag of Doritos.
In his very detailed book, The End of Overeating, Dr David Kessler examines how our brains not only function with regard to what he refers to as “hyper-palatable foods” but also how our thought process has evolved in this brave new food world. According to Kessler, most of us have become “conditioned, hyper-eaters”; our brains, Kessler contends, have been re-wired to seek out food that keeps fueling our reward system.
Autumn is always a happy time for me. The harvest brings with it a humbling awareness; a conscious wakefulness to the fact that everything we need can be provided to us by the land and the farmers who work them. If we truly open our eyes to this knowledge the next time we pick up that bag of frozen vegetables maybe you’ll see it under a different light.

Fig.2. This time of the year my salads have as much Heirloom tomatoes
that I can fit in the bowl.

I'm officially on the tomato hunt, let me know of any interesting tomato varieties out there and where I can get them--my sauce depends on it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Annuals Good Enough Eat

Fig.1. If you find flowers this beautiful, leave them whole

Zucchini flowers blossom just as the little fruits begin to take shape. The female blossoms are the ones which hold the small emerging zucchini or “marrow”, the male flowers derive solely from the stem or stalk of the plant. The male flower is smaller than the female but tastes the same.
Foodies are used to seeing them fried, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy these very seasonal marvels. They can be sautéed and served as a side, or as a simple pasta sauce “in bianco”. They can be incorporated into an omelette or even in risotto; and go very well when mixed with onions, mushrooms and any and all herbs currently overtaking your garden. In Mexico they inventively use zucchini blossoms in soups, tacos and quesadillas.
My Grandfather always protested giving me any zucchini blossoms because he felt it stunted the zucchini’s growth; fortunately, my Mother and Grandmother always found a way to obtain some. The preferred method of cooking them was to chop them up, mix in batter and fry them in oil.
These days I buy my zucchini blossoms from the Birri Brothers in the Jean Talon Market. Get there early or call ahead and ask Joe or Frank to put some aside for you.

Fried Zucchini Flowers Stuffed With Ricotta

Serves 4 to 5 as appetizers.

1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of olive oil
5 tablespoons of white wine
1 egg, whisked
¾ cup warm water
1 1/2 cups of ricotta (you might need more or less depending on the size of the flowers.)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
3 anchovies, chopped (optional)
12 zucchini flowers, cleaned and dry
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying

Combine the flour, olive oil, wine and egg in a bowl. Add the water a little at a time and mix. Stop adding the water when you get a smooth and runny batter, let the batter rest for 1 hour.
Combine the ricotta, parmesan, anchovies and salt and pepper in a bowl and mix. Using a spoon, fill the flower with the cheese pressing the petals gently together when full so they stick to the cheese and stay closed. Dip the flowers in the batter and fry in oil (make sure your oil is 360 degrees) until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt and eat them warm.

Fig.2. Make sure the flowers are properly stuffed, and,
when dipped in the batter let any excess batter drain
back into the bowl.

Note: These can also be made without the ricotta, either chopped up or left whole, just add some parmesan to the batter.

Fig.3. These are best warm, sprinkle with salt and enjoy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Fig.1. These vegetables were done with a little balsamic vinegar, olive oil,
chopped garlic and ginger, and salt and pepper. Let any marinade
drain from the vegetable pieces before putting them on the grill to
prevent any flare-ups.

In keeping with grilling, let’s talk about vegetables. A visit to the Jean Talon Market yesterday was just the inspiration I needed. Picked up some white radishes, garlic flowers and some yellow zucchini and eggplant which I planned to grill.
The biggest mistake people seem to make when they grill vegetables such as zucchini is that they are sliced too thin; your vegetables should be no smaller than a ¼”, a thicker cut will allow for proper substance, texture and taste.
I also like to lightly score my sliced vegetables which allow whatever flavours you wish to add to properly permeate your veg. And when it comes to grilling sliced vegetables, the rule is hot and fast. It’s nice to be able to recognize what’s on your plate. A few weeks ago I was served grilled red peppers and eggplant that had been rendered mushy and unrecognizable, and, being the model guest that I am, looked into the eyes of my host, lied and said they were good. Well, no more! From now on, when an injustice is done to any food or dish, I’ll imagine that I’m talking to my wife and be brutally honest.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Grilled Pizza

Fig.1. Grilled focaccia: chopped rosemary and garlic mixed with olive oil and sea salt.
Fig.2. Grilled Margherita: sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella finished with a light drizzle of olive oil.

If I had to choose one item or dish that I get asked about the most at any social gathering it would unquestionably have to be grilled pizza. I have been grilling pizza on my barbeque ever since I saw a television segment on Pizzeria AlForno, located in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1982, George Germon, confessed borderline pyromaniac, decided it might be fun to make pizza over hot coals. After much trial and error, he got the procedure down pact. Pizza guru, Ed Levine gives Germon and his grilled pizza high praise in his book, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, stating, “Germon’s sparsely topped pizza is unique and absolutely wonderful. It’s crispy, chewy and just oily enough, a perfect confluence of tastes and textures.”
There is no universal set of instructions when it comes to grilling pizza; it changes depending on one’s grill. Always begin with a low heat setting on gas grills, and if using charcoal it’s important to wait until the coals become white, and even then, never set your dough directly over the coals unless you want a team of fireman storming into your backyard--which I believe is one of my wife’s fantasies.
The key to great grilled pizza is practice, but, once you get it right there’s nothing like it.


Turn on your BBQ and preheat on high for about 10 minutes.
Flatten out your dough (I buy my dough at my local pastry shop; also, if your dough is cold letting it come to room temperature will make flattening a lot easier.) Don’t make it too big, keeping it small will make it easier on you and small pizzas make great appetizers. Brush the dough on both sides with olive oil, with a pizza peel, (if you don’t have a peel use an upside down cookie sheet to move the pizzas around, and you can even serve the pizza on the bottom of the cookie sheet just like they do at Figs in Boston) place your dough on your hot, clean grill and immediately lower your heat to the lowest setting. Make sure there are no flare ups or hot spots under the dough; if there are, move your dough, or, cook over indirect heat—or better yet, invest in a new grill.

Fig.3. Don't try to move your dough as soon as you place it on the grill, let the grill do its work; and make sure your dough is oiled or it will stick.

Fig.4. After about 5 minutes the dough will firm up and be movable, I like to get it slightly golden before flipping it.

When the bottom of the dough turns golden and the grill marks are visible, turn over (at this point your dough will have firmed up and be easy to move around) and begin to dress your pizza. (It’s important to have all of your ingredients ready and keep it simple; I like to use 3 or 4 fresh ingredients, cured meats such as salami or prosciutto are O.K. but any raw meat, such as bacon or sausage needs to be cooked before you put it on your pizza.) Once the pizza is dressed close the lid and let the pizza cook for about 5 to 7 minutes. When done right, the pizza will be crispy on the outside and chewy and soft on the inside.

Fig.5. As soon as you flip the dough dress the pizza, have your ingredients ready to go. A proper mise-en-place is essential to getting it right.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Delmonaco: Keeping the Tradition Alive

Fig.1. Delmonaco co-owner Luigi Sabelli behind a refridgerated counter filled with all manners of heart warming Italian staples.

My write-ups usually consist of recipes which feature traditional or forgotten meals of Italian origin. Seldom, if ever, do I write about Montreal food establishments. (I prefer to leave that to much more capable food sites such as An Endless Banquet or the foodies at chowhounds.) But after reading an article on pizza in the Journal de Montreal on Monday, April 27, I had to weigh in.
The Journal’s appointed nutritionist wrote a piece on which of the three pizzas, from either Boston Pizza, Pizza Hut, or Dominos, was the healthiest. All three pizzas were obviously high in calories, but, even the nutritionist was surprised at how high the sodium levels were. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone—least of all a certified nutritionist—that overly processed food is laced with salt.
There is such a thing, however, as a proper pizza and this is the option the nutritionist failed to mention in her article: The notion of simple pizza dough made of flour, water and yeast topped with real tomatoes, real cheese and proper sausages.
There are many excellent Italian pastry shops in Montreal’s East and North End which make such pizzas, but, I recently found a pizza gold mine in the West Island.
Delmonaco Pret a Manger, in Pierrefonds, is a fairly new Italian eatery specializing in Italian take out and catering. Everything is made in house; from lasagne to meatballs to an assortment of fresh pasta; it’s like having two Italian Grandmothers move into the neighbourhood. Owners Luigi and Maurizio have altered the concept of ready-made food to suit their tastes and reflect their very Italian upbringing. Traditional dishes of veal parmigiana and arancini are available either fresh or frozen, in party sizes or individual portions.
The square pizzas at Delmonacos’ are nothing short of incredible. There’s freshness to the pizza that truly makes it stand out from the rest. The crust, when eaten on the spot, is golden, with a crunchy bottom and a chewy center. My favourite is hands down the onion, olive, and chilli pepper creation I bought for a party I was having; it was sweet, tangy and spicy all at the same time. If you have places to go and people to see, call them in advance, they’ll have your pizza wrapped up and ready to take home. Or, for a change of pace, order your pizza or “sangwich”, sit at a table and have a great cup of espresso or cappuccino while you wait (Luigi considers himself quite the coffee afficianado and rightly so based on the espresso I had) and pretend you’re in Italy. Your life does not always have to be frenetic.
So the next time you think Pizza Hut is your only option, just know that there are others, with a love for what pizza ought to be, who are truly worthy of your patronage.

Fig.2. You know it's going to be good when it's bare hands on.
A spotlessly clean pan and olive oil go into attaining a proper crust.

Fig.3. Freshly squeezed plum tomatos, salt and more olive oil applied with the utensils God gave you.

Fig.4. Cooling on a wire rack insures no condensation forms on the bottom of the crust, resulting in a crisp, golden crust.

-Delmonaco, 4499A Westpark, Pierrefonds, Québec, H9A 2X8 corner of boulevards Pierrefonds and Westpark. Tel.: 514-685-4141, Fax: 514-685-1633

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Italy Needs Help

Fig.1. A coroner places a the body of a young girl next to her Mother.

It’s been almost a month since a devastating earthquake hit L`Aquila in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. Most of us have seen the footage on television, and, like me, I’m sure you all felt bad watching the images of carnage and destruction that flashed during the six o’clock news. The problem, however, which arises from watching any tragedy from a safe haven is the sense of detachment it creates in our consciousness: It’s tragic and yes I feel terrible, but, what difference can I make?
Well, it’s time for all of you displaced Italians, as well as all of us first generation "me, I'm Italians” who love to cling to our heritage, to help out. It’s time to pay up for all of the bragging rights the old country has given us with regards to food, wine, alcohol, cloths, cars, motorcycles, football, literature, Dante, Petrarch, Marcus Aurelius, art, architecture, Galileo, Leonardo Davinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Sophia Loren, Marchello Mastroianni, Toto, Vittorio De Sica, Fellini, Roberto Benigni, opera, Pavarotti, Caruso, Verdi, Puccini, sewer systems, roads, uni-stone, brio, cash-no-tax, the mafia, the radio, the barometer, thermometers, batteries, eyeglasses, pianos, the yoyo, the Zamboni, liposuction, telescopes, handwriting, nitro-glycerine, carbon paper, nutella, and Monica Bellucci.
(If you would like to add something to my list or post a comment, just click on the comment link at the bottom of this post and follow the simple instructions. If I’ve missed anything I’d love to know.)

Give whatever you can to the Red Cross, (I gave $20.00) every little bit helps. And obviously you don’t have to be Italian to help out.
Go to and click on ``Canadian Red Cross Accepts Donations for Italian Earthquake Relief`` or call them directly at 1-800-418-1111.

Fig.2. A Mother and daughter who made it out alive.