Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Malloreddus al Sugo di Maiale

Read my first restaurant review for 2010 on

Fig.1. These Sardinian gnocchi are firm and hearty. Finish your plate, lie down, undo the waist button on your pants, and see how long it takes to digest these pillows of goodness.

Those of you on a low carb regiment beware: This web site will overflow with pasta this year. My goal is to collect and document family, pasta recipes that are under threat of extinction; as well as study the evolution—from Italy to Canada—of various pasta dishes from an anthropological perspective. I’m doing this, along with a colleague of mine, to better understand what changes traditional cuisines undergo when produced intergenerationally, and within a new environment—all to better understand the link between food and national identity. If you feel like sharing your favourite ancestral pasta recipe, send it to me; if we get enough recipes, it just might be enough for a book down the line.
Let me begin with a very typical, Sardinian pasta dish called Malloreddus Al Sugo. The ingredients are akin to cavatelli, but with a texture and shape much like gnocchi. This is a great winter recipe and a good example of the island’s cucina rustica; malloreddus may take long to make, but they will also take a long time to digest—a trait common to the cucina povera dishes of Italy.
Semolina flour, water and saffron make up the pasta. (Over 50 percent of Italy’s saffron crop comes from Sardinia.) In North America, the use of saffron is often omitted, so is the wild boar meat traditionally used in the sauce. While boars run wild in Sardinia, they unfortunately do not in Montreal (boar meat—sanglier in French, cinghiale in Italian—is available through some butchers in the Atwater Market.); use regular sausage meat instead.

Malloreddus al Sugo di Maiale
Serves 4



2 cups semolina flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground saffron (optional, but recommended)
¾ cup warm water

Sugo di Maiale

1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound of Italian sausage, removed from casing
2/3 cup white wine
½ tsp saffron threads
1 ½ cans (28 oz) of whole, plum tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried chilli peppers
½ cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Fig.2. I like to use the back of a fork when forming the pasta, a gnocchi board, available at Quincaillerie Dante, will also work.


For the pasta:
In a large bowl, dissolve the salt and saffron in warm water. Mound the semolina flour in the center of a large wooden board and form a well in the center. Add the water to the center. Incorporate the flour and water together using a fork, working your way evenly out of the center (make sure your well stays intact). The dough will start to hold together once all of the flour is incorporated (if the dough forms and holds before you have used up all of the flour leave it as is.) Continue to knead until the dough forms a complete mass. (Discard any small dried bits of dough) Knead on a well floured work surface for 5 minutes, dusting occasionally with flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. Wrap the ball of dough with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. Break apart a small piece of dough (keep the unused dough wrapped or it will begin to dry) and roll into a ½ inch cylinder, cut cylinder into ¼ inch pieces. Press the pieces down the back of a fork (just like gnocchi or cavatelli) and place on a floured baking sheet making sure they don’t touch each other. (At this point the pasta can be frozen, put the baking sheet in the freezer, once malloreddus are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag.) To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, wait for water to come back to a gentle boil (adjust heat accordingly) and cook for 6 to 8 minutes.

For the sauce:
Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 to 6 minutes while stirring. Reduce heat to medium, add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sausage meat, making sure you break the meat apart into little pieces with a wooden spoon, cook and stir for about 10 minutes. (I cook the sausage until it begins to slightly brown and some caramelizing begins to form on the bottom of my pan.) Add the wine and saffron threads and simmer while scrapping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon (the scrapping insures that the caramelized fond stuck to the bottom of the pan dissolves in the liquid.) Add the plum tomatoes (break them apart with a wooden spoon), bay leaves and dried chillies. Simmer gently for 1 hour. Sauce can be (and should be) made the day before. This is supposed to be a thick sauce, but if you want to loosen it up, add some of the pasta water.

To serve:

Add 1 cup of sauce to drained pasta and mix well. Plate the pasta, pour some of the sauce on top and sprinkle with pecorino cheese.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Quing Hua Dumpling-Asian Authenticity in Montreal

To see a lot more pictures of Qing Hua's dumplings, as well as some other menu items, go to

Fig.1. Steamed pork and cabbage dumplings. Each dumpling is filled with hot, savoury broth.

Ting Liu walks into her restaurant between 8:00am and 9:00am every morning to prepare for the 11:00am opening. Her day ends around midnight after she’s cleaned the place and finished preparing for the next day; she goes through the same routine seven days a week. Liu’s restaurant is Qing Hua, and what Liu specializes in are dumplings.
Liu is the embodiment of the spirits and ideals held by many of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents—she’s an immigrant, and the first of her family to grace these shores. Liu hails from the industrial, coastal city of Dalian, in the Liaoning province of Northeastern China, where her parents still run a dumpling shop. This summer, Qing Hua moved from St-Marc Street to its new location on Lincoln. (Zoning issues forced Liu to move, during which time I called the Ville-Marie City Counselor once a week to pester him about Liu’s dilemma, and threatened to sue for personal, mental anguish.) During the relocation, Liu went back to China to hone her skills in her parents’ dumpling shop. Everything, from the dough to the filling, is made in house and by hand. The dumplings are made one at a time, so, be patient while waiting for your order, dumplings this good are worth the wait.
Now before thoughts of peanut butter sauce start dancing in your head, let me clarify a few things. Liu’s soup dumplings are not wontons, they are jiaozi dumplings, and the soup—or broth—is contained within. The thin dough is filled with everything from pork and cabbage, (Qing Hua’s most popular dumpling) to lamb and coriander (definitely one of my favorites) or spotted mackerel (a dumpling with a pleasantly, fishy taste.) The dumplings come three ways: Steamed, boiled, or pan-fried. The steamed dumplings are cooked in traditional bamboo steamers, which impart an intrinsic, subtle, woody taste to the dumpling. The boiled dumplings, which according to Liu are the most popular way to eat jiaozi in Dalian, allow the palate to truly taste and savor the contents within—so before drowning your dumpling in soy sauce, try it on its own and experience the real, inherent flavors in each ingredient. The pan-fried jiaozi—also referred to as pot stickers—are not deep fried, but rather, cooked in a special, double-sided press until the dumplings (along with a light, egg white sauce that hold all the dumplings together) are neatly browned on one side. Whatever the cooking method, the finished dumplings have one common ingredient: the steaming, hot liquid crimped within each one. So be careful with that first bite, putting the whole dumpling in your mouth is not recommended.
I heard about Liu and her fabulous dumplings (as well as her great soups and authentic salads) from a colleague a couple of weeks after Qing Hua opened. As someone whose life revolves around food, I was exited to have found something as fresh and exceptional as Qing Hua; upon that first bite, I knew it was a real find. (And if the Qing Hua thread on Chowhounds is evidence of anything, it’s that I’m not the only one whose gastronomic spirit has been awakened.)
It’s never just about the food; it’s about the people who make the food. Liu, her gang of cooks, along with their hands—and plenty of “savoir faire”—are essential ingredients which transcend the corporeal, thereby entering the food; giving us something beyond simply tasty, but sublime and magical.
Liu embodies many ideals, like the masses of immigrants who came before her, she arrives to her new world with the promise of a new life, filled with the anticipation of bigger and better things, and we’re all the better for it.

Fig.2. Everything at Qing Hua is made in house. The dumplings above are pork and green onion.

Qing Hua Dumpling, 1676 Lincoln Ave., 438.288.5366. (Just west of Guy)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

  • Minestrone-The Ultimate Weight-Loss Meal

The beginning of another year and yet again we’re bombarded with ads telling us to lose weight and exercise; all good things yes, but not if you give in the diet propaganda: Pills, Jenny Craig, Nutri System, Slim-Fast, along with all of the self-proclaiming weight loss gurus claiming to have found the secret to weight loss, will only exacerbate your weight in the long run. It starts with real, proper food! If you’re eating something that wasn’t around 100 years ago, get rid of it!
I too like to detoxify after the holidays (too much pasta and good wine) and I do so with minestrone. This Italian, peasant soup is a perfect example of eating real, proper food, and in keeping with my mantra of eating in the same way your great grandparents would have eaten.


Like most staples of “cucina povera” there is no real recipe to making minestrone, you simply use whatever vegetables you have on hand. (If your refrigerator is void of any vegetables, you might want to make that one of your New Year’s resolutions.) I’ve provided some instructions under each photo.

Fig.1. Meat is optional, but adds depth to the broth. This hunk-a-hunk of meaty goodness is a beef osso-bucco, a blade cut or beef ribs works just as well. I Sear the meat in olive oil in the same pot I make the soup in; once the meat has browned on both side, put it aside.

Fig.2. Onions, garlic, cabbage, potato, celery, carrots, a can of chick peas and a large can of plum tomatoes which I purchased at Costco--if you can't find a large can, use three regular 28 ounce cans instead.

Fig.3. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the pot you seared the meat in, begin with a soffritto--add the chopped onion, carrots and celery and cook over medium high heat for about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the diced potato, cabbage, and chick peas (if using canned, rinse them first) and any other vegetables you wish to add and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, stirring all the while. Add your garlic (I like to press mine through a garlic press for this soup, but you can add them chopped or even whole--your choice.) cook and stir for about 2 minutes. Add your tomatoes, (when using whole plum tomatoes, it's a good idea to break them apart--go ahead and use your fingers, become one with your food!) and equal parts water. (1 can of tomatoes=1 can of water) I then add the seared meat, one tablespoon of sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes, three bay leaves, some fresh parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
Let your soup come to a gentle simmer, and cook for about two hours with your lid partially covering the pot--skim off any tomato scum which floats to the surface of your soup, failure to do this will result in a slightly acrid taste.
There is no right way to make this soup--whatever vegetables you decide to use, just remember that the liquid should cover the vegetables by at least three inches minimum. Let your soup cool slightly, cover pot with plastic wrap, and place pot in the fridge overnight--as with most soups and stews, it's better the next day. Oh, and don't forget to break up your meat and throw it back in the soup.

Fig.4. The next day, fill your containers and freeze. Bring them to work, pop them in the microwave, and avoid all other temptations.