Monday, December 13, 2010

Celebrate Noël a la Québécoise

Fig.1. Chef Dany Patry of Charcuterie Noël shows off his cipaille Gaspesien.

One of the great things about having my own web-site derives from the ability to post and blog about whatever I want. I don' t have to "run it" by an editor. There's no waiting for approval. I needn't worry if it "fits with the brand", and, best of all, I could write about the people and foods that genuinely deserve to be recognized; because in the end, it's gotta' be all about the food.
I've been going to Charcuterie Noël for years. I've written about them before, I also appeared in the Gazette with them as part of the East End Tour article. Charcuterie Noël can best be described as a small, neighbourhood grocer--the kind that once frequented every neighbourhood corner. The kind our grandmothers used to send their kids running off to when they needed sugar. Besides the vast variety of imported Italian products, the incredible meat, great cheese and baked goods, and superb selection of salumi, which is all made in house, Noel began to offer a selection of prêt-à-manger. You could smell something was going on somewhere, and from that wonderful smell came forth some of the most delectable tortières and pâté à la viande I have ever tasted.
Like the kitchens in Orwell's, Down and Out in Paris and London, Noel's kitchen is small and in the basement. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in equipment, all of which is shiny, new and gleams of stainless steel.

Fig.2. Chicken pies before.

Fig.3. Chicken pies after. These are individual sizes but they're big enough for two.

Chef Dany Patry, along with Louise Vezina, are busy making Chicken pot pies, or, pâté de poulet in keeping with Quebec tradition. "When we were kids, we used to put whatever vegetables were left over" says Vezina "we also used lard to make our dough, if you did that now, people probably wouldn't want it." The dough made by Patry and Vezina is light, flaky and oh so buttery. The chicken pie, filled with chicken, vegetables, and creamy bechamel, is the ultimate comfort food. The first time I tasted it I nearly dropped my fork. The ingredients are honest, proper, and oh so yummy; if the pie wasn't so hot, I would have shoved my whole face into it. The traditional meat tortiere is filled with meat, potatoes, and spices. When asked what spices are used, Patry replies, "it's a chef's secret" he does tell me however, that the meat pies are made in the regional tradition of Bas Saint-Laurent. Other pies being made: salmon, tuna, turkey, wild boar, and the very Quebec cipaille Gaspesien, which Patry makes with lamb and potatoes. Patry also makes French onion soup, making the broth from scratch with pork bones and plenty of onions. He then pours the broth into bowls, adds the bread and cheese, and vacuum packs everything while it's still hot, and like all of Patry's meat pies, all you have to do is put it in the oven.

Fig.4. Tortiere. Noel offers both large pies and individual.

Fig.5. Tortiere de sanglier, topped with a homemade tomato chow chow.

Fig.6. French onion soup on the simmer. Patry lets it reduce which concentrates the flavor. What you don't see sitting at the bottom of the broth are several pork bones.

Fig.7. French onion soup and coquille St-Jacques. Vacuumed sealed and ready to pop in the oven.

Charcuterie Noel, 5733 Boul Leger, Montreal North. 514-323-0256

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Apple Gnocchi

Fig.1. Gnocchi for dessert, serve in one big plate, or individually in a martini glass for effect. As you can see above, this platter was influenced by Jackson Pollock.

This year’s apple crop hasn’t been the best, too much heat and not enough rain according to the apple experts. It hasn’t stopped me from eating my fill though, and some varieties, such as russets and golden delicious have been pretty good.
Thinking of new ways to fuse apples into my Italian repertoire is always a challenge. Made a batch of potato gnocchi a few weeks ago and had the idea of making apple gnocchi. I reveled for a while at the idea’s originality and clever way I combined a Quebec ingredient with an Italian staple, until I made it for some friends and one of them exclaimed that what I had done was tantamount to a Cinnibon. I was as first, repelled by the comparison, but he was quite right, I had in fact made mini Cinnibons, minus the yeast. Anyone who’s tasted a Cinnibon knows how good they are, (The lady behind the Cinnabon, Jerilyn Brusseau, is a baker worth reading about) these gnocchi, according to my guests, can be made again.

Fig.2. Bake the apples until mushy, taking care not to crisp them. your oven heat might have to be adjusted.

Apple Gnocchi

Serves 8 to 10 for dessert

Many food writers and recipes claim gnocchi should be soft, pillowy, and melt in your mouth. Nothing could be further from the truth: like most pasta in Italy, gnocchi should have bite, (these dessert gnocchi are indeed firm due to the absence of any eggs, an ingredient seldom used in very old gnocchi recipes) one shouldn't feel like they're biting into a rock but the gnocchi should have some resistance. And not all gnocchi are created equal, for example, gnocchetti (small gnocchi) are usually used in soups and are much firmer than regular gnocchi. Gnocchi can be traced as far back as the middle ages, where Latin and Arabic words referring to a variety of "pasta dumplings" have been discovered. They are also a great example of "cucina povera". When food was scarce, mixing flour, potato and eggs together made a little go a long way, and when the gnocchi are dense and firm, they sit longer in your stomach. My grandfather, till this day, still swallows his gnocchi whole, thereby sitting in his stomach longer, a habit he formed during the war, when, from one day to the next, eating wasn't a daily occurrence.


For the gnocchi,
3 cups diced baking apples such as Cortlands, loosely packed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 apple, diced small
2 tsp lemon juice
2 cups 00 Italian flour, plus more for dusting

For the sauce,
1/2 cup butter
3 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp raisins
icing sugar


On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, toss the 3 cups of dice apples with olive oil, spread out evenly, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until diced apples are mushy. While your apples are baking, toss your other diced apple with lemon juice and place in the fridge. While your apples are still hot, place in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or a fork, until it resemble mashed potatoes. Spread the mashed apples onto a work-surface, sprinkle with the reserved, diced apples, and add the 2 cups of flour over top. Knead until it all comes neatly together, dusting with flour when needed, (discard any loose flour) about 10 minutes. Let your dough rest for 30 minutes.
Form the gnocchi as you would regular potato gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the gnocchi to the water. while your gnocchi cook, make the sauce by melting the butter and brown sugar in a pan over medium high heat, once your sugar has completely melted, add the raisins, remove from heat and add the gnocchi. Toss well, sprinkle with icing sugar just before serving. You can also serve them with caramel, chopped nuts, or cinnamon and frosting. (If you really want to mimic a cinnamon roll.)

Note. Gnocchi can be made a couple of hours ahead of time. Boil them until they rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and submerge in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Toss them with butter to prevent them from sticking. Heat them in the sauce just before serving making sure you heat them through.

Fig.3. Mashed apples first, then diced apples, and flour over top.

Fig.4. Resting dough. Dough feels stress, so stay calm around your dough.

Fig.5. Like regular gnocchi, roll the dough round and cut. I left these gnocchi smooth and fat, choosing not to run them against the back of a fork. the choice is yours.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pasta Woes

Fig.1. Old wooden tools once used to cut pasta. I picked these up in Italy. You can buy them here at Quincaillerie Dante.

I’ve been experimenting a lot lately with locally grown flour. I’m making pasta with just about any Quebec flour I can get my hands on: local whole wheat, spelt, kamut, barley, all purpose, and even Italy’s favorite, local durum wheat semolina, all grown and milled within a 100 kilometer radius of Montreal.
These experimentations have stressed me out. My head hurts constantly, I can’t sleep, and, if that wasn’t enough, my dandruff’s back. (Stress is a major contributor to dry scalp) Imagine Woody Allen coated in flour. It’s not the actual procedure that’s stressing me, (I’m getting adequate pasta from all of the above flour varieties) my internal conflict stems from whether it’s necessary to change something I know to be good in order to do something that is right. Using local flour helps local farmers as well as the environment, but for the moment at least, appears to be detrimental to my taste buds.
There are hundreds of variants at play here, the combination of flour, water and eggs being the least of them. The climate in Italy; from the sun’s heat to the gentle winds that cause the wheat stalks to sway back and forth; the altitude of the grains, are the fields caressed in a valley or standing erect at the top of a heat-soaked hill, to the time of year the wheat is harvested.
Italian durum wheat makes strong, flavorful pasta; tough enough for tossing with rapini and humble enough to take a backseat to the forceful, flavors of a carbonara. Italian 00 flour, is very, finely ground, combined with eggs it makes the most delicate of noodles, a pasta that embraces any and all rich tomato or meat sauce it comes in contact with. Pasta di farro (not to be confused with spelt pasta) is made from emmer wheat and is believed to be the second oldest pasta by Italian food historians, Italian’s were making farro pasta long before whole wheat flour came into the picture. Pasta made from farro has a wonderful cereal taste, it's a bold pasta that should never be drowned in sauce.
Italian flour producers have pasta on the brain. Italian flour, whether by destiny, design or both, has evolved to fashion magnificent pasta, but evolution is time, and while flour is in abundance in Canada, the attitude toward it is more business oriented than it is culinary. But that seems to be changing too: local, organic flour producers deserve a chance—if given a choice between two, equally, flavorful pastas, I would have to choose local, so why do I feel like I’m trying to sever an umbilical cord connecting me to the old country? What I need is pasta advise from a wise old man (or woman) perched at the top of a mountain, not so sure the archetype exists in Italy.

Pasta all’uovo,

Serves 10 to 12 as a main course

The package of 00 flour reads “better suited for baking”. Many also say that 00 flour is too fine to yield a good pasta, but I know countless chefs, grandmothers, and foodies in Italy (as well as Montreal) who use it every time they make pasta. When you first start using 00 flour, don’t make the pasta too thin, with time and practice, you’ll be able to knead it to a point where you’ll start to notice a difference in the pasta’s strength and elasticity (this is the gluten at work, the more you knead the dough, the more gluten produced.) Once you get used to working with 00 flour, feel free to roll it as thin as you want. Pasta freezes well, just make sure you toss it in flour and corn meal before you do.


1 kilo 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
10 eggs


Make a mountain with your flour and make a well in the center. Start by adding 8 eggs in the center, with your finger or a fork, begin incorporating the flour and eggs together. Once everything is mixed together (your mixture will not hold in a cohesive mass at this point) add another egg and begin kneading. Your dough should start taking shape at this point, scrape up any loose pieces of dough, add the last egg and knead until it all comes together. Continue kneading for 10 solid minutes while dusting with flour. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let your dough rest for 30 minutes.

This recipe can be halved: ½ kilo flour to 5 eggs. Generally, the rule of pasta is 100g of flour for every egg. Also keep in mind, altitude, dryness and humidity can change the dry to wet ratio, this is why it’s better not to add all of your eggs at once.

Fig.1. I roll the pasta out using my pasta machine and then pass over it with the pappardelle rolling pin.

Fig.3. The pappardelle need to be pulled one by one, the wood is not as sharp as a knife. If you wish to speed things up, roll the pasta sheet (make sure you sprinkle with flour before you do) and cut the roll with a sharp knife.

Fig.4. Coat the pasta with some flour and cornmeal, sprinkle some on the cookie sheet, and place your pasta in neat bundles. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge if you"re cooking the same day, otherwise place the whole cookie sheet in the freezer. Once pasta is frozen, transfer to a large freezer bag.

Monday, November 22, 2010

They're not all bad

Fig.1. Cavolo nero pesto served over baccala and polenta.

My rant a few posts ago sparked some noise from a fervent flurry of patrons, who, I’ve been scolded, are more than satisfied with their favorite Italian restaurants. “What’s wrong with meat sauce; you’ve never had the Alfredo sauce at {insert restaurant name here}; the fried calamari at my favorite restaurant is the best.” Nevertheless, the passion in which the food and restaurants is being defended, by you, the patrons, in my mind does not reflect the same passion being mustered up by the majority of Montreal Italian restaurants. My article was aimed at the complacent, status quo menus that seem to repeat themselves in one Italian restaurant after another. There are, however, some Italian restaurants in Montreal doing some pretty outstanding things, and I believe it only fair that I balance the negative, culinary ying with a positive gastronomic yang.
Very talented chef Maurizio Mercuri of Ristorante Basi is making a manicotti stuffed with pumpkin and prosciutto, a great example of Italian seasonal cooking. Also in Little Italy, (as well as in Laval) Bottega Pizzeria, aside from making what is arguably the best “Napolitano” styled pizza in the city, represents Napoli fittingly well with menu items such as Mozarella in Carrozza, Salsiccia e rapini and polpo e patate. Rosalie’s menu is very impressive lately (now that Joe Mercuri has taken over the kitchen) and in keeping with cooking seasonal and local, with items such as corn ravioli with aged cheddar and spaghetti with Saint Elizabeth blue cheese, red chilies and black pepper. And last but not least, Le Muscadin in Old Montreal (aside from the seasonal offering of shaved white Alba truffles) put an inspiring new seasonal spin on an old classic: Pesto made with cavolo nero. Replacing basil leaves with cavolo nero makes perfect sense in the Autumn months: the leafy greens are in season and have hit the highest point of flavor. They were nice enough to share their recipe with me.

Pesto di Cavolo Nero (from Chef Leo Iacono of Le Muscadin)
Makes 3 cups

Fig.2. Pesto freezes well, pop a few cubes from an ice tray into a pan well coated with olive oil along with your pasta and you got a 10 minute meal Rachel Ray would be proud of.

If you can’t find cavolo nero, (and you didn’t freeze any like I told you to in this post) no worries, you can substitute the cavolo with rapini or Swiss chard. Pesto, while great on pasta, is equally as good served with grilled meat or fish. You can also freeze the pesto.

1 1/2 cups cavolo nero, blanched, (or other leafy green such as rapini or Swiss chard)
5 large garlic cloves,(or 7 to 8 smaller ones)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (the better the oil, the better the pesto)
¼ cup of walnuts, roasted. (pine nuts also work well)

Chop the leafy greens into manageable pieces and blanch in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove the greens from the boiling water and immerse in an ice bath. Using your hands, squeeze out as much water from the greens as you can. Put the greens, garlic and walnuts in a food processor and puree, add the olive oil in a steady stream and continue to puree until pesto is slightly runny. (you might need more olive oil)

Fig.3. Put all of your ingredients in a food processor, turn it on, and add the oil in a steady stream. You want to use the best olive oil you have.

Le Muscadin- 639 Nortre Dame Ouest. Old Montreal. 514-842-0588

Basi-77 ave Shamrock (corner Casgrain) Montreal (Little Italy) 514-750-0774

Rosalie-1232 De La Montagne. Montreal, 514-392-1970

Bottega-656 St Zotique east, Montreal (Little Italy)514-277-8104
Bottega Laval-2059 St Martin West, Laval (corner 15) 450-688-1100

Monday, November 8, 2010

Griliata Mista

Fig.1. Keeping warm next to hot meat can only be appreciated when it's cold outside. So don your kitchen tongs and get out there.

It might be getting cold out there but there are still plenty of perfectly, good barbecue days left before the grills get put away for the winter. (If you're one of those who grills all year round, good on you) The desire to grill in cold weather does lessen, but rather than running into the house while your food cooks, stand close to your grill (not too close) and keep warm. It's like a camp fire that sizzles and smells of blissful fat.

Grigliata Mista
Assorted Grilled Meat

Fig.2. Sometimes, vegetables are not required. Squirt with lemon and eat.

Misto translates into mixed, so use whatever meat you want. In this recipe, I used sausages, chicken thighs, lamb thighs, flank steak, pork chops, and quail. If you have any herbs left in your garden, use them in this recipe. I let the meat marinate overnight in olive oil, white wine, fresh herbs (I used whatever I had left in my garden, in this case, oregano, sage, parsley and thyme.) salt and pepper. If you grill a lot of meat at the same time, it's a good idea to clean your barbecue first. All of that dripping fat will cause flames, trust me, my forearms are now hairless. Have a spray bottle full of water next to you.




Grill and serve with lemon wedges.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Holy Poblano Batman

Fig.1. Nothing smells as fine as grilled peppers.

The outdoor part of the Jean-Talon Market is quickly winding down. The bins are full of root vegetables, apples, and the last of the fruits and vegetables; much of it being sold at a discount. Although I've preserved and frozen many seasonal vegetables this year, I'll miss that unique freshness which can only come from eating an asparagus in May, or a tomato in August. But what I'll miss the most are the conversations and camaraderie with all of the farmers, producers and overall characters working at the market. One of the more memorable conversations occurred three weeks ago. It involved peppers and vanity.
It turns out that the wildly held notion that the heat of a capsicum stems solely from the seeds, is, while not completely wrong, at the same time not completely accurate. I learned this a couple of weeks ago as I attempted to give Birri-man, Joe, a lesson in pepper heat. Joe let me ramble for a while in a sermon of self-pomposity, he then proceeded to set me straight, and he did it with a habanero pepper. "The heat", Joe explained, "comes from the vein of the pepper, any seeds attached to the vein will also be spicy, but seeds far from the vein will not be spicy." What Joe was telling me went against the entire repetitive dribbling spewed from celebrity chefs from the various food networks. Joe cut a piece of the white vein out of the habanero pepper and told me simply to lick it, I was not allowed to chew or swallow. I'm glad my machismo didn't kick in because just a simple lick was enough, my entire mouth was on fire.
A quick look into Harold McGee's insightful book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, confirmed what Joe told me. The heat of the pepper (which is actually a fruit) does indeed originate in the pithy, white, tissue center; or, as properly termed by McGee, the placenta.
The lesson here is twofold: First, if you wish to remove most of the heat from a spicy pepper, remove the seeds, the placental core, as well as any white tissue which runs along the inside wall of the pepper, and second, don't listen to celebrity chefs.

Fig.2. I find the small, 125ml jars very cute. I'm not sure what that says about me but there you go.

Preserved Smoked Poblano Peppers in Adobo Sauce

Poblanos aren't a spicy as habaneros but their flavour is intense. Joe insisted that I try them. At first, I wasn't sure what to do with them, but when I saw a can of Chipoltle peppers in Adobo sauce in my fridge, my culinary light bulb went on. Chipoltles are dried jalapeño peppers but poblanos will work just as well; Adobo is Spanish for sauce. You will need a smoker for this recipe, if you don't have one then I suggest you get one soon: you can't be a man if you don't have a smoker.


40 to 45 poblano peppers
4 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onions, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, diced small
2 - 369ml cans of tomato paste (bigger cans)
2 cups water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp salt


Properly clean your mason jars and lids (because these pepper are more of a condiment, I used small, 12 125ml jars and 10 250ml jars. Volume could vary depending on the size of your peppers.) Place the peppers on the grill of a gas barbeque set to medium high heat and roast the peppers until the skins are blackened and the peppers soft. Once the peppers have cooled, remove the skins, seeds, and stem of the pepper. (don't worry if you don't get all of the seeds.) Get your smoker ready for a cool smoke (I used apple wood for this recipe, cherry will work just as well but avoid mesquite) Place the peppers over the grates evenly without overlapping them, close your smoker and allow the smoke to permeate the peppers for about two hours. Place the peppers in the fridge while you prepare the adobo sauce. (Peppers can remain refrigerated for up to two days.)
Heat the olive oil in a large pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for two more minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, while stirring, until tomato paste turns rust color, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the water and stir until smooth. Add the sugar, vinegar, and salt and bring to a gentle simmer. At this point, add the peppers to the adobo sauce and remove from the heat, you're ready to begin jarring.
Fill your jars with the peppers and sauce. Pack tightly, use the back of a wooden spoon to stir and pack in the peppers and sauce. Tap the jar lightly on a wooden surface and stir and poke again with your wooden spoon--YOU DO NOT WANT AIR POCKETS TO REMAIN IN YOUR JAR! Once your jar is free of air pockets, top the jar if needed, (making sure to leave a proper 1/2" headspace free) wipe the jar clean, and screw on lid. Once all of your jars are full, seal them using the boiling, water bath method. For proper canning techniques, go to

Fig.3. Look for this kind of consistency when you add the peppers. If it's not saucy enough, just add more tomato paste and water.

Fig.4. Ready for a cold smoke. Close the lid and let the smoke permeate the peppers.

Fig.5. I create a cold smoke by wrapping an electric element in tin foil with some wood that has been soaked in water. Once the heat begins to smolder the wood, I unplug the element, when the smoke diminishes, I plug it back in.

Fig.6. The walls of the closed, winter market are up and in place next to the Birri kiosk, which is selling off its inventory.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Three Years of Great West Island Pizza

Fig.1. Hanging out on warmer days sipping espresso.

Fig.2. Pepper and cherry tomato pizza.

Ahh the spicy olive and onion pizza from DelMonaco; just thinking about it evokes a lion size, stomach snarl. This week, DelMonaco Prêt-à-Manger celebrated its third year in operation. Three years of great pizza (DelMonaco’s pizzas are of the square variety much like you would find in pastry shops all over Italy.) three years of arancini, three years of meatballs, three years of pasta sauces, I could go on and on.
DelMonaco is also a great example of good frozen food. In Italian households, if our grandmothers made too much lasagna they froze it for another day, and that’s exactly what DelMonaco does, only, they make too much of a lot of things and freeze it all, all you have to do is throw it in the oven.
Congratulation guys on three years, the accolades are well deserved and your hard work is appreciated, and, for those out there who have yet to give DelMonaco a try, did I mention the spicy olive and onion pizza? It might be a good idea to order ahead.

If you want to know more about DelMonaco and the people in the kitchen click here.

Fig.3. The classic tomato pizza right out of the oven, without a doubt the best way to eat it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Smells Bad But Tastes Great

Fig.1. Giant cauliflower grown in St-Clet.

Walking past the William Mattheeuws kiosk in the Jean-Talon Market (they own a cauliflower and broccoli farm in Saint-Clet) a couple of weeks ago, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a giant cauliflower. At $5.00 a head these beasts can feed the presiding members of the Bastarache commission for a week. I like cauliflower soup, so when the specimens are this big, and still in season, why not make a monster pot.

Roasted Cauliflower and Curry Soup

Fig.2. It`s important that your vegetables caramelize in order to develop more flavour.

This soup is bare bones-no cream, no milk, no butter. The carrots and leeks will help sweeten the soup. You can add to the flavour by adding things like roasted garlic or a good curry paste. It freezes well and makes for a great lunch, and, if you’re looking to bring down your calorie intake, this soup will help flush your system, literally.


1 1/2 giant cauliflower, (or 2 regular ones) florets removed, stems chopped--do not throw away those stems!
4 leeks, white bottom half only, chopped
2 cups carrots, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
6 small new potatoes, halved
1 tbsp Patak's curry paste (optional)
1/4 cup lemon juice
chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper


Preheat your oven to 350 F. Prepare your curry paste by mixing it with the olive oil and the lemon juice. (if you're using it; if curry's not your thing feel free to use any flavor you like, or nothing at all. If you do stay "au naturel" you still need to add the olive oil and lemon juice to prevent the vegetables from drying out too much.) Spread out your vegetables on some cookie sheets and pour the olive oil mixture over them and toss, place your trays in the oven and roast for 40 to 45 minutes, or until vegetables turns golden brown (it's a good idea to toss the vegetables after 20 minutes so they cook evenly).
Remove your vegetables from the oven and let them cool. Once cool, you can begin to purée. Fill your blender 3/4 of the way up with vegetables (I like to mix the vegetables up as I add them to the blender.) then add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock and purée. (the amount of stock can vary depending on the size of your blender; also if you like a thick, porridge-like soup, add less stock, if you like it loose, add more stock, it's not rocket science.) Empty the puréed vegetables into a big pot or bowl, add salt and pepper to your liking, and stir it all well. You're now ready to heat it up and serve, or store into containers and freeze.

Fig.3. I like a thick consistency, it makes me feel like I`m actually eating something.

Fig.4. Stored and ready to be placed in the freezer. Great for lunch, or, serve it with fish or seafood. Next time you have company over, serve in a bowl with a few pan seared scallops or shrimp, or use the soup to mat your plate.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Italian Food by Any Other Name Would Taste as Good

Fig.1. Cavolo nero is very popular in Tuscany. I bought these local, leafy greens at the Jean-Talon Market.

It seems to me that there’s a problem with Italian (restaurant) food in Montreal. If restaurant offerings are indicative of anything it’s that Italian food consists primarily of calamari, pasta with some sort of meaty rosée sauce, and a grilled veal chop. Having dinner last week with a very accomplished food writer, the question came up as to why Italian restaurant food suffers in Montreal. Why do dishes such as tortellini Cardinale and fettuccini Gigi appear to be the standard in this food-centric city? While Montreal appears to push the culinary envelope when French bistros are concerned, Italian food flows in a complacent stream of over-laden ravioli Bolognese and insalata Caprese. (for some reason, the insalata Caprese appears on menus all year long.) The answer to this problem is as simple as it is complex: follow the philosophy and not the standard. It's not the dish itself that makes food Italian, but, rather, how it's made. The Italian (and French) philosophy which promotes proper ingredients above all other things; imagine if you will a piece of pancetta, butchered and cured from a local farmer, crisped to perfection, topped with a sunny-side up egg blessed with a rich, orange yolk, which can only come from a chicken who's allowed to roam free to consume insects and worms, topped with fresh, morning-pulled mozzarella di bufala, basil from your garden, and served over a thick piece of wood oven baked bread made from whole, home grown flour which has been milled at the local mill, and finally dosed in domestic olive oil. This very bruschetta I described was a breakfast I ate on a recent trip to Italy—I think about it often. Can the same bruschetta be made here in Montreal? Maybe, if you raised your own pigs, chickens, made your own cheese and baked your own bread. But as city dwellers we neither have time nor the square footage involved in caring for livestock. And just to level the playing field, people who live in the big cities of Italy are pressed for time as well, the difference is that as consumers, Italians demand that their food, and their ingredients, be made a certain way. And while the above-mentioned bruschetta might be somewhat difficult to duplicate in Montreal at the moment, we could, for instance, embrace the season, as well as our environment, and make a bruschetta using our homegrown ingredients: A French baguette smeared with a local goat cheese, (which Quebec is famous for) replace the pancetta with a seared Brome duck breast, and top it with some local arugula and caramelized apples, with great results.

It might seem too much to ask some to shop at a farmer’s market, only eat what’s in season and freeze and preserve when in season, but, if you're lucky enough to go to Italy (or France) and find yourself wondering why the food is so dam good remember that, in Italy, the focus is on proper ingredients and not the finished plate: if we forgo the labels, then a new philosophy and mindset can take place, one in which Quebec grown rapini and cavolo nero can replace the Andy-Boy variety on sale at Maxi this week. Ultimately, the choice is ours to make.

Fig.2. I served the cavolo nero with some seared dover sole topped with a white wine and butter pan sauce (I also added some sliced, preserved, Morrocan lemons to my sauce.) The greens will work with any type of meat or pasta. In Tuscany they make big pots of ribolita soup with cavolo nero as one of the main ingredients.

Grilled Fish with Garlic Cavolo Nero
Serves 4 to 5

I bought the cavolo nero at the Birri kiosk located in the Jean-Talon Market. Unlike rapini, Swiss chard or spinach, cavolo nero does not wilt, it retains its shape very well. It has a taste and texture similar to cabbage and is quite sweet. Sometime called black-leaf kale in English, cavolo nero is very filling and very low in calories. I’m happy to report that more and more farmers are growing leafy greens here in Quebec. I like to freeze leafy greens, especially when they’re in season as they are now. Simply blanch the greens in boiling water, drain, and store into freezer bags, removing as much air from the bag as you can. When the weather gets cold, you’ll be able to make a thick, Tuscan ribolita soup with all of the cavolo nero and Swiss chard sitting in your freezer.

To cook the cavolo nero

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
2 bunches of cavolo nero, (you can leave the cavolo whole or you can chop it, your choice) washed, ends removed.
red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Fig.3. Warning: cavolo nero does not wilt and has the uncanny ability to retain its original form no matter how long you cook it, so use a big pan or cook the greens in instalments. More warnings: the greens will clean out your inner tubes so keeping a close proximity to a bathroom is essential.

Blanch the cavolo nero in a big pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. In a pan, heat the oil over medium heat and lightly brown the garlic. Remove the garlic from the pan and set aside. Drain the cavolo nero well and add to the pan, (you might have to add more olive oil to your pan) cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the pepper flakes, salt and pepper, add the cooked garlic you set aside, and serve with your fish—or chicken, or steak, or sausage, or beans, or pasta; you get the idea.

Note: If you can’t find cavolo nero use rapini or Swiss chard, just try and make it local.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Preserving Corn, à la Québécoise

Fig.1. Corn this year is the best I've ever had, sweet and juicy.

Québec corn is good this year; in fact, it’s the best I’ve ever had. When things are this good my mind tries to figure out ways to make it last, in this case it’s pretty easy, all it requires is a bit of effort.
Freezing corn is simple enough: cut the kernels off of the cob, place the kernels on a cookie sheet, freeze, then store in a freezer bag. Preserving corn—or canning corn—takes more time but is a lot more fun. I love creamed corn, in fact, one of my ultimate comfort foods is simply rendering down some minced meat and adding cream of corn to it: Shepard’s pie sans patates. You can make cream of corn by combining corn, water and a lot of sugar, but an excess of sugar would only mask the wonderful taste of the corn, so instead, I looked for corny inspiration from the prince of pork himself, Martin Picard. The Au Pied de Cochon cookbook is not only clogged with recipes showcasing swine, blood, guts and fat, but also the odd vegetable, usually one steeped in Québécois tradition, in this case, corn relish.
The vast varieties of chow chow de légumes, and, les ketchups aux fruits in Québec are great testaments from forlorn days past when preserving your fruits and vegetables wasn’t a hobby or a trend, as is the case today, but a necessity: you stored enough for the winter or you died. (If you’re interested in reading a first hand account of what it was like living during the harsh Canadian winters during the mid 1800’s, and what was involved in preparing for the winter months, you should read Susanna Moodie’s Canadian classic, Roughing it in the Bush.)

Corn Relish, adapted from the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook.

The only thing I changed in this recipe is the amount of corn and sugar: I used more corn and a lot less sugar, again I don’t think the sugar is needed based on the sweetness of this year’s corn crop. I also used green onions instead of regular onions and added white wine and celery leaves; come to think of it, maybe it’s a completely different recipe. This recipe can be cut by half.

½ cup olive oil
8 red bell peppers
3 bunches green onions
4 fresh jalapenos, chopped seeds removed (optional)
36 ears of corn
2 cups white wine
4 tbsp flour
5 cups white vinegar
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup celery leaves, packed
2 tbsp salt

Fig.2. 36 ears of corn gave me more than I thought it would, but no complaining here.


With a very good chef’s knife, remove the corn from the cobs. Heat a very big pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the green onions, jalapeno and red pepper and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, add the corn and cook for 5 minutes, stirring well. Add the wine and let it reduce, about 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the corn and stir, add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Fill your mason jars (Leaving about 2 cm space at the top) and seal them properly. For proper canning techniques go to )

Fig.3. Sealed and ready to make me warm during those cold January nights.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Al Dante: A documentary about family, pizza, and Montreal

Fig.1. Stefano Faita is genuine and passionate about pizza; his shirt says it all.

I received an email from the CBC asking me if I would review and blog about a documentary entitled Al Dante: Respect the Pizza. Al Dante is part of a six part summer series showcasing food, film and music in Montreal. While the show is about pizza, it’s also about local food celebrity, Stefano Faita. The show follows Faita on his quest for pizza, the premise (which feels slightly contrived at times) begins as Faita is seen speaking on the phone, presumably to his editor, about how his next article (Faita writes a weekly column for the Journal de Montreal) will be about pizza. What ensues is a quest, not solely for pizza itself, but rather, for reasons on why a simple pizza can be so sublime.
Faita’s passion for food and Montreal help make this documentary a treat to watch.
The documentary takes a look into Faita’s family history as well as the Faita family business: Montreal institution, Quincaillerie Dante. Faita`s background parallels the history of thousands of immigrants who made their way into this city, especially in the area of Little Italy. The documentary also does a great job showcasing the importance of the Jean Talon Market as a hub, a nexus fed by the masses of immigrants who over the years have made this market into the marvel it is today.
Faita visits the Jean Talon Market in search of fresh ingredients (the part where Faita seeks the help of Mr. Birri and his cohorts is especially amusing); he visits Bottega where he samples pizza made in a real Napoli pizza oven, and eats Nutella pizza for dessert (which is still very popular all over Italy) but what stands out for me is Faita’s emphasis, probably unbeknownst to him, on how with a bit of practice, great pizza can be made at home. He makes pizza for breakfast, he makes pizza with his daughter and he shows people (in his cooking school) how to make pizza at home.
Having sought out pizza all over Italy, New York, Boston, New Haven and Montreal, I can confidently tell you that the quest for the best pizza is an unattainable quest; but, Faita shows us that making pizza yourself brings you one step closer to sublime pizza, and your family and friends (and especially your kids) will think it's the best pizza they've ever had.

The Montreal summer series, which will air in September, is hosted by CBC news co-anchor Andrew Chang. For the complete schedule or to watch Al Dante: Respect the Pizza on the Internet, visit

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Old School Pasta Salad

Fig.1. Il Talismano is a must have for serious Italian food enthusiasts and food historians.

The more pasta research I do the more I realize North America is violating the tomato. A key part of my research involves old Italian cookbooks, and in these old cookbooks tomato skins and seeds are used and eaten. One such significant tome in Italian culinary history is a book called, Il Talismano Della Felicita. Il Talismano was first published in 1927 by Ada Boni. Boni was an upper-middle-class Roman who was enamoured with food, so-much-so, that she published Preziosa, a food magazine which ran from 1915 to 1959. Il Talismano has seen many editions since 1927 and it is unclear what changes have been made to Boni’s original work. Publishers have altered Il Talismano to suit changing tastes, lifestyles and product availability. Boni’s second book, La Cucina Romana is also a must have for anybody interested in the history of Italian cuisine.

In most of her recipes, Boni repeatedly calls for tomatoes to be used whole, seeds and skin and all—something I myself started to do with my tomato sauce with incredible results. When did it become normal to remove the skin? I see countless celebrity chefs make that small incision on the top of the tomato, boil, shock and peel. Well I’m here to save the humble tomato, the skin is full of lycopene, and the seeds (which contain glutamic acid) are responsible for most of the fruit’s umami flavour; and those of you who feel like you might choke on a tomato skin, maybe it’s time you start chewing your food.

Fig.2. This salad gets better the longer it sits. The fresher the ingredients, the better the salad, if the garlic isn't very fresh the dish won't work; and don't skimp on the olive oil.

Maccheroni in Insalata (Translated from, Il Talismano Della Felicita, Boni, Editore Colombo)
Serves 6

Here’s a recipe Boni herself writes, “is a perfect summertime pasta.” This is an old recipe not seen much in Italy anymore. It’s a recipe that brings the purity of ingredients to attention, so it’s vital that the ingredients be fresh. I had to calculate the quantities because Boni’s cookbook, vague on exact amounts, calls for a little of this and a little of that; however, feel free to add more of something you might like. The term “maccheroni” was used (and is still used today) to refer to many different types of pasta and does not refer to the little elbows used in Kraft Mac and Cheese. Any type of dry pasta will work in this recipe. You could have extra dressing depending on what kind of pasta you’re using, add the oil dressing in increments, if you have extra, use it as salad dressing.


Maccheroni 600grams, (I use a 500g pack plus ½ cup of penne)
Fresh tomatoes, diced 1 ½ cups
Fresh Basil, chopped ½ cup
Fresh celery leaves, chopped ½ cup
Fresh oregano, chopped 2 tablespoons
Extra-virgin olive oil, 1 cup (Use the really good stuff)
Fresh Garlic, 1 small bulb, or 4 to 5 cloves, finely diced
Salt and pepper

Fig.3. The basil, celery leaves, oregano and tomatoes are from my garden, the basil is from the market


Wash the tomatoes, which should be ripe, and dice without eliminating the seeds or skin. Chop the basil, celery, and garlic and put ingredients into a bowl. Add the oil, salt and pepper and the oregano. Mix ingredients and let them rest for 30 minutes.
Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente, drain and rinse pasta under cold water, drain again. Combine the pasta and herb and oil mixture together, mix well and let everything sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Eating to a Different Beet

Fig.1. Chioggia beets are quite beautiful to look at when raw; when cooked the beets turn pink. When fresh, beet leaves are perfectly edible, eat them in salads or cook them as you would rapini.

A trip to the market these days is truly wonderful. Because of the heat everything is early. The fava beans are aplenty, as are string beans and broad beans, the mere sight of all those zucchini blossoms makes my heart skip a beat, and, if I keep eating them stuffed with cheese and deep fried, my heart might cease to beat altogether. And if all this wasn't euphoric enough, tomatoes are at last beginning to taste the way a tomato should taste.

Lisa and I have been quite busy these days making jam (strawberry, raspberry, ground cherries and blueberry-wild blueberries are just starting to make an appearance. I found some from Abitibi, but according to LCN, the famed wild variety from Lac Saint Jean will be in short supply this year. I think the blueberry producers are just creating demand in order to boost up the price.) We've also been freezing bags upon bags of beans: simply blanch the beans in boiling water for a few minutes, drain, then put into freezer bags.)

I also was surprised to find Chioggia beets at the Birri kiosk. Chioggia beets, named after the coastal town of Chioggia off of the Venetian lagoon, have a very distinctive "candy cane" appearance. The concentric red and white circles will however turn a uniform pink when cooked. You can eat them raw, but their high levels of geosmin (an organic compound) gives the Chioggia beet a strong earthy taste and best if eaten with bread, or drizzled with (a real) balsamic or vino cotto. When cooked they become sweet, cook them the same way you would cook a potato.

Fig.2. Make sure the beets are even and not overlapping.

Fig.3. When cooked properly, the beets will be crispy and slightly chewy on the outside, and tender in the center; the white and red colors will turn a pinkish purple.

Chioggia Beet Chips

Chioggia beets can be baked whole, either wrapped in foil or in a roasting pan, I often add beets whenever I'm roasting a chicken. Slicing the beets will caramelize and crisp up the beets, if you can't find Chioggia beets, regular beets will also work.


Chioggia beets, sliced 1/4" thick
Bush basil--you can use whatever fresh herb you would like.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 375. Place the sliced beets on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, add your herbs, salt and pepper and toss, making sure they're evenly coated and that there is enough oil coating the cookie sheet. Arrange them on the cookie sheet side by side (make sure none are overlapping) cover tightly with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. When the beets crisp up, flip them over, re-cover and bake until the other side crisps up as well. Sprinkle with coarse salt just before serving.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Antonio Pettinicchi: A Man Whose Ideals you can Taste

Fig.1. Some of the products Antonio Pettinicchi brings with him to Montreal--unadulterated, natural and healthy.

To say that Antonio Pettinicchi is passionate about the products he makes would be an understatement. Pettinicchi, who hails from the town of Lucito, located in the province of Campo basso, owns and operates a Azienda Agricola Biologica. Pettinicchi sells much of what his company makes here in the Montreal and outlying areas. Passata e polpa di pomodoro (pureed and chopped tomatoes), peperonata (pureed peppers), pate di olive (olive paste) and peperoncino macinato piccante (minced hot peppers, I’ve been buying these for years, they’re spicy but they also taste of peppers.) are just some of the wonderful products Pettinicchi and his wife Tina grow and make on their farm in the region of Molise.
I met Pettinicchi in his St Michel warehouse where he ranted about the problems within the business of food and extolled the virtues of growing food naturally and bottling without any preservatives. “Everything I make has an expiry date, and that’s how it should be” exclaims Pettinicchi when I asked him to explain the function of sulfites found in most vinegar products. “Sulfites will preserve the vinegar, but it’s also not good for you.” I tasted his wine vinegar—it was sharp and acidic but light and flavorful. Pettinicchi also has real balsamic vinegar from Modena. I’m talking the real stuff here, no caramel or sugar added, just oak-aged wine from trebbiano grapes. “Norman Laprise asked me years ago to get him good balsamic vinegar; he buys one that’s forty-five years old.” I unfortunately didn’t taste Toque’s! balsamic but Pettinicchi did let me sample a twenty-five year old that was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. The list of restaurants Pettinicchi sells to is indeed impressive; aside from Toque!, they include Laloux, Le Club Chasse et Peche, Decca 77, Newtown, and L’eau a la Bouche. (For a complete list click here.)
Pettinicchi was eager for me to sample some of his products, armed with a hand full of plastic spoons, Pettinicchi offered up preserved artichokes, hot peppers, rapini sotto aceto (rapini in vinegar), and a porcini and white truffle paste. Pettinicchi then brought out a large suitcase which contained several bottles of his olive oil. “My olives are picked one day and pressed the next, and I only press what the trees provide, if I sold containers of oil the oil wouldn’t be good.” Pettinicchi’s oil was indeed extraordinary and it should be pointed out that Pettinicchi uses his olive oil in all of his products—if you buy his preserved artichokes for example, you can then use the oil for cooking or dressing salads. But what really stood out for me was some of his flavored oils, namely, his lemon and garlic oil. Pettinicchi exuberantly explained that the pronounced flavors were a result of macerating the olives and the flavoring ingredients together: rather than chemical flavoring agents, or the common practice of letting lemons sit in oil on a supermarket shelf, Pettinicchi adds the lemons to the olives and everything is pressed together. Pettinicchi also boasted how his oil is filtered with natural cotton, the industrial standard uses pressed, bonded paper.
I’ve been buying Pettinicchi’s products for years; his pastas (which he does not make but buys from someone as fervent as he his) are made from Italian semolina flour only! No imported flour as is the case with all large pasta manufacturers. Pettinicchi’s products are available at Charcuterie Noel, Milano and Capital and many shops outside of Montreal—for a complete list click here.

Fig.2. Some of the olive oil Pettinicchi makes: Picked one day and pressed and bottled the next.