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

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