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.)
100g grated Grana padano cheese
50g pureed salicorne
salt and pepper
chopped raw salicorne
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.