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.