Thursday, December 15, 2011

 Inferno to the Rescue: A Karma-Christmas Story

Fig.1 The Inferno team. The funny thing is that Marcella actually ran away with the bowl of pasta she's holding as soon as the picture was taken.

Here comes another Christmas, and somewhere John Lennon is still asking, "So what have you done?"  Before you all stop reading, let me assure you there won't be any preaching in this post; rather, this post will bring attention to what a certain restaurant in Montreal has done to help embody the spirit of the season.
Karma Christmas is the brainchild of food writer and all around swell person, Marcella DeVincenzo, aka. EatalianGirl.  The idea behind Karma Christmas is simple.  Come to a restaurant and eat way too much food for ten bucks, all that is required of you is to bring a grocery bag full of non-perishable food items for Sun Youth.
We booked a restaurant and sold out of tickets very quickly. (Which is easy to do when tickets only cost ten dollars.)  The theme for the event was Italian Sunday Lunch, a la Nonna: Big bowls of pasta, meatballs, sausages, salad and dessert.
The proverbial unforeseen problem, (which always occurs when organising events such as these) came in the form of the original restaurant not being able to host the event then only two weeks away.  Enter Restorante Inferno (located on Dante and Ste-Dominique in Little Italy.) A plea for help was met by Chef Nick and his cohorts with a resounding show of benevolence.  Not only did Chef Nick open his restaurant on Sunday (a day the restaurant is usually closed) but he overfed us with delicious pasta, mounds of meat, and a dessert that perfectly possessed the essence of the "Italian Grandmother".  His staff not only worked for free, but also went above and beyond what Marcella and I expected.  Dante Alighieri would have been amiss with this Inferno: No hell or pergatory here, just good intentions.
I've since returned to Inferno for purely selfish reasons, I was hungry.  I had a bowl of perfectly prepared Trippa and sampled a deeply flavoured lentil soup.  I'll be back again soon to sample some menu standouts that connected with the food neurons in my head, namely, the Mac&Cheese Cavatelli and Shortribs. (The menu, written on a blackboard, changes regularly.)
So a big thank you to Chef Nick, Mark, Fabrizio, Piero, Tony and everyone who attended. As a result of everone's selflessness, over 50 heaping bags of food was loaded into the back of a Sun Youth truck.
Merry Christmas.

Fig.2. Can there be a more beautiful picture?

Fig.3. Filling up the Sun Youth truck with bags of food.

Fig.4. Sun Youth is always in need of food. If you have food or cloths to drop off they can use it.

Inferno. 6850 Saint-Dominique, MontréalQC H2S 1J7, 514274-0666
Sun Youth 4251 SAINT-URBAIN RUE  Montréal, Québec (514) 842-6822

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Jean-Talon Market Gets a Book

Fig.1. This book is filled with beautuful pictures and great recipes.

As someone who spends a lot of time at The Jean Talon Market, it was about time someone wrote a book about Montreal’s oldest and biggest food market.  About time because aside from the façade of food visible at The Jean-Talon Market, there’s a lot of history embedded within the roots of all those vegetables being sold there: a tale of immigrants, of culture, and of a city.  Susan Semenak succeeds in adding all of those ingredients to her book. A book that's well written, engaging, and reinforced with many beautiful photographs. 
In The Market Chronicles: Stories & Recipes From Montreal’s Marche Jean-Talon,  Semenak touches on the history of Montreal’s largest market, on the food, and on eating locally and in season; but what really makes this book unique are the stories of the people behind the food.  Mushrooms at Les Jardin Sauvage taste great, but reading about how Francois Brouillard and acclaimed chef Nancy Hinton forged a romantic relationship over foraged fungi spoke to the bond between food and sensuality.  The vegetables at Birri are beyond reproach, but Semenak sheds some light on why Lino and Bruno Birri’s standards are so high.  Anyone who has been to the market will be familiar with the smell of grilled meat coming from L’Olivier, but Semenak captures the ambition and cultural nuance that resides within a tale of two immigrants.  

Fig.2. Photos of Semenak visiting a sheep's-milk farm in Ste-Helene-de-Chester. The where-a-bouts of the lamb Semenak is holding are still unknown.

Semenak also succeeds in establishing the connection between localization and The Jean Talon Market; all the while asserting a human face, and many dirty human hands, toward all of the food products we sometimes think just magically appears on grocery store shelves.  She removes the cheese from its vacuumed prison and the fruit from its cellophane container and reminds us all that’s it’s all right for hands to touch the foods we eat.  The book is also an important reminder of how blessed we are in Montreal to have such a wonderful farmer’s market.  

Looking for a great Christmas gift, here it is.
Market Chronicles: Stories & Recipes From Montreal's Marche Jean-Talon is available in English and in French at all book stores, as well as in Costco. Published by Les Edition Cardinal.
English verions have almost sold out, but I found some still available at La Maison de la Presse in Little Italy.

Here's just one great recipe from Semenak's book. A soup made for winter and the cold nights ahead.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Foraging For Real Mushrooms

Fig.1. The cool dude holding one porcini is Adriano.  The dorky one holding two is some guy we met in the woods and claimed to need a friend.  He's still following us.

Ask any mycophagist and they’ll tell you this was a great year to forage for mushrooms.  Chanterelles and porcinis were especially in abundance due to the damp, humid mornings, and wet nights.
Found so many mushrooms this year in fact, that after the freezer was filled to the door with porcinis, we had to dry the rest. 

Fig.2. Out of the freezer and lying in a row.

Porcini mushrooms, when fresh, are a real culinary treat.  Unlike the tough nature of the dried variety that requires re-hydrating however, fresh porcini are meaty, juicy, and overflow with fungal flavor.  The best way to eat fresh porcini mushrooms is to simply sauté them in some good olive oil and garlic, and add a pinch of sea salt to them once cooked.  You can also get creative should the mood strike you, as I did below.

Porcini Pizza

Fig.3. It's a pizza, but this one is all about the mushrooms

If you’re not up to making your own dough, just go to a good boulangerie and pick it up there.  This is a pizza “in bianco” so no tomatoes here, as they will take away from the flavor of the porcini.  Don’t skimp on the olive oil or your pizza will be dry.


Good quality olive oil
4 cloves garlic, whole and crushed
12 to 15 porcini mushrooms, sliced to app. 1/4 inch  (if you don’t have porcini, use oyster, king, chanterelle, Portobello or even all of them.  There are many different mushrooms hailing from Quebec available at your supermarket right now.)
a pinch of chili flakes (optional)
sea salt
Pizza Dough
1/2 cup mozzarella di buffala, grated
Grated Parmiggiano cheese


Preheat oven to 450 degreesF
Pour some olive oil into a large non-stick pan set over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, add the mushrooms, chili flakes and cook until softened, about 8 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms from the heat, season with sea salt and set aside.

Knead out your pizza (shape is up to you) in a non-stick pizza-pan coated with enough olive oil to prevent sticking.  Drizzle the top of the pizza with olive oil and sea salt, and place in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until outer parts of the dough begin to firm up.  At this point, remove dough from the oven and add the grated mozzarella (make sure it's drained properly and not watery), and dress with the mushrooms. (but not the garlic, unless you want to)
Return pizza to oven and cook until dough is cooked through, about 10 to 12 more minutes.  Top with freshly grated pamigianno cheese and eat immediately.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hot Sandwiches Montreal Could be Proud of

Fig.1. Basi's lunch door is located on Shamrock, facing the market

We foodies tend to complain a lot: not enough of this and not enough of that and why don’t we have food like this city or that city.  Well we do, and often the great food we lament about not having slips right under our mouths.
It’s a while I’ve known about Basi’s new lunch and take out counter, but I hadn’t been since it opened about 5 months ago.  Located on Shamrock, directly facing the Jean Talon Market, Basi’s new counter offers up pizzas and sandwiches for people on the move, as well as for those who just need to re-energize from a busy market day.  On the lunch menu are classic pizzas such as pepperoni, bacon and seafood, to the more imaginative roasted tomato and figs.  Same variety goes for the sandwiches: Smoked salmon, sausage, prosciutto, veal parm, and a Basi Burger.

Fig.2. Veal Parm

It was a blustery day with a chill in the air.  Hunger struck like a free flowing autumn leaf slapping me in the forehead.  Basi was in eyeshot.  Walked through their lunch door, (the lunch entrance is different than the dining room entrance.) looked through their menu and opted for a veal parmigiano paninni, while my market companion chose the mortadella with rabiolo cheese. 
Our paninnis emerged from the kitchen wrapped in aluminum foil.  Clasping the packets in my hands revealed their hot and comforting nature.  Given the cold outside, I didn’t know whether to eat them or shove them down my pants.  I decided to forgo the pant stuffing as I wore my 501 tight fits that day and had consumed potato chips the night before, squishing the sandwiches was inevitable.  Tasty, hot and packed with flavor, the sandwiches were perfect.  While they might not be the best sandwiches in the world, they are the type of sandwiches that complement this city.  Everything from the bread, to the meat, to the combinations of flavors’, to the way in which they are served, add to this city’s foodscape.  They are just the type of sandwich you would eat in New York and say, “I wish we had sandwiches like this in Montreal.
So the next time your mouth is wasting precious chewing time complaining about how the food in Montreal just can’t compare with the food in (insert city here), shut up and eat something, you might just taste the next best thing.

Fig.3. The aluminum package to the left of the bag is how Basi's sandwiches come wrapped

Fig.4. Mortadella and melted rabiolo cheese

Basi.  77 ave. Shamrock (corner Casgrain)  514.750.0774

Friday, October 7, 2011

Old Isn't Always Good

Fig.1. Baked pasta.  Disclaimer: It looks better than it tastes.

It’s generally believed that old, traditional recipes will result in great tasting meals.  That isn’t always the case as I discovered just last week.  Sometimes tasty ingredients, such as cheese or cured meats, are just the type of elements a recipe needs to propel it from a good meal to an unforgettable one.  The reason many old, Italian recipes don’t call for these tasty ingredients vary. From a geographical reason, to an economic one, ingredients such as salt, spices and cheese were unattainable for many Italians fifty years ago, and so, they made the best with what they had. 
If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know my position that Italian ingenuity, with regard to food and cuisine, has no rival (except possibly China).  And that when it comes to making the sparsest and simplest of ingredients taste good, Italy will win wooden spoon down. So imagine my surprise when I made a recipe from a Slow Food book and it tasted, well, tasteless.
The recipe in question is Pasta al Forno Con Prociutto Cotto, Fontina e Bechamel. The idea seems great: cheese, pasta, butter, flour, cream, more cheese, and did I mention pasta.  All cooked in the oven until golden and gooey.  The end result was a dish that tasted bland and starchy; a dish that needs to be tweaked for sure.  I’m all for recording old recipes for posterity and tradition, but dishes such as these should come with a disclaimer that reads: I don’t taste as good as I look. 
When in doubt, always side on the air of umami. Some parmesan cheese and less pasta (I can’t believe I just wrote that) are all this recipe needs to make it unforgettable. My additions and suggestions to the original recipe are indicated in parenthesis. 

Pasta al Forno Con Prociutto Cotto, Fontina e Bechamel
Makes 4

12 pasta circles 1/4" thick-(or 20 thin pasta circles. Make pasta and cut into circles the size of your oven dish.  If making pasta isn`t your thing, simply buy fresh lasagna sheets and cut into circles.  I prefer the thin ones as I find the thicker pasta the original recipe calls for make the dish too starchy.)
3 cups of bechamel
2 1/2 cups grated fontina cheese
12 prociutto cotto circles, 1/4" thick (If you can't find prociutto cotto, use ham)
(1 cup parmesan cheese, not in the original recipe but it's all this recipe needs to make it taste as good as it looks.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
Prepare your pasta by cutting it, boiling it in salted water, and draining.  Make your bechamel sauce and set aside. 
In a non-stick pan, fry procuitto cotto on both sides until golden.
Once you have all the ingredients in front of you, you're ready to assemble.  Begin by coating the bottom of the oven dish or ramekin with bechamel, followed by some grated fontina, pasta circle, and grated parmesan. Keep adding in the same order until you reach the top.  Finish the pasta by topping it with bechamel and fontina. Place the dishes or ramekins on a cookie sheet (there will be spillage) and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let it cool for 15 minutes before tucking in.

Fig.2. Bechamel first, followed by fried ham.
Fig.3. More ham and more cheese.

Fig.4. A circle of pasta

Fig.5.Make sure you end with a generous amount of bechamel and fontina and parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wild For Fungus

Fig.1. Les Jardin Sauvage at The Jean Talon Market.

Fig.2. A large variety of mushrooms and a few other surprise

Some foragers I’m acquainted with have informed me that this is a great year for wild mushrooms, especially with the cool damp mornings of late. 
Mushrooms are fungus, which is a word that carries a somewhat bad connotation, especially when one thinks of feet.  People who love fungus, and like foraging for them, are called, Mycophagists, which is also a funny word if only because it sounds like it has nothing to do with mushrooms.
For the best selection of wild mushrooms in Montreal, I go to Les Jardin Sauvages in the Jean Talon Market.  I’m always amazed at the selection, and owner Francois Brouillard will be more than happy to regale stories of his farm and discuss fungus with anyone who will listen.  Les Jardin’s porcinis are fat fungus this year, and very flavorful.  The most interesting specimen however, is hands down a mushroom called Vesse du loup.  It resembles a football size marshmallow, white on the inside and light as a feather.  I was told that this mushroom need simply be pan fried on both sides, and drizzled with a little olive oil and vinegar. 
Mushrooms are a lot like women in the morning, scary in appearance, but once you clean them and dress them up a little, they become things of beauty.  Of course, it also depends on the woman, and the mushroom.  All that to say, don’t be scared of how they look.

 Fig.3. Porcini, chanterelle, and vesse du loup, ready to go into an omelet.

Wild Mushroom Frittata
Serves 3 to 4

 Fig.4. Wild mushroom frittata.

This omelet is on the plain side purposely so you can properly taste the mushrooms.  Adding Parmesan or olives will take away from the fungal flavor.  Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel and never under running water; and those small worms sometimes found in fresh porcinis will not harm you, look at them as protein. 


3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup porcini mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1 cup chanterelle (or any mushroom or your choice)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
5 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick pan set over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook until wilted, about 8 minutes.  In a medium bowl, whip all of the eggs together until combined and just frothy.  Pour the egg mixture evenly to the pan (make sure the pan is not dry, if it is, add a bit more olive oil.)  Lower the heat to medium low, sprinkle with parsley, and cook until the frittata sets.  Flip the frittata around and cook the other side, unless you like your omelets slightly runny like I do, then don’t flip it.

Fig.5. Biggest mushroom I've ever seen, vesse du loup. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tomatillos-Just Another Tomato

Peeling Tomatillos 

Fig.1. Tomatillos with thier husks on at the Birri Kiosk in The Jean Talon Market.

Tomatillos are fruits associated with tomatoes, and like tomatoes, are part of the nightshade family.  They can be eaten both raw and cooked.  The fruit is surrounded by a thin husk that begins to split open as the green fruit ripens.  The taste of a tomatillo is acidic, tart and full flavored; a mouthful can leave you with puckered lips. 
Tomatillos are an integral part of Mexican and Indian cuisine.  In Mexico (as well as most of Central America) tomatillos are used in most green sauces and are poured over tacos, fish, and all types of meat.  In India, tomatillos are used in chutneys. 
I like to make sauce with tomatillos, which I then preserve.  There’s a lot of natural pectin in tomatillos, which helps the sauce thicken.  Birri sells tomatillos in small bushels.  Look for fat ones, the husks should look like they’re two sizes too small for the fruit.  I look for the ones that remind me of Danny Devito. 

Tomatillo Sauce
Fills about 6 small mason jars

This sauce can be used on everything from beef to fish.  It can also be added to guacamole.  When you remove the husk, you’ll notice that the tomatillo has a slight, slimy texture to it, this is normal and does not need to be washed or scrubbed off.  They are also good raw.


1 small bushel of tomatillos, halved
3 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed and chopped
5 medium plum tomatoes, halved


Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper and bake the tomatillos, peppers and tomatoes in a preheated 375 degree oven.  Bake until outer part of the fruit begins to brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Add all of the fruit (in batches) to a blender and puree until just broken up. (If you like your sauce finer, puree longer.)  Pour all of the pureed sauce into a large pot and bring to a boil.  Let it simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes and then fill your hot mason jars (I like to put my Mason Jars into the oven until they’re just hot but not too hot.) Seal the jars immediately and cover jars with a kitchen towel.  After a few hours, verify the jars to make certain they all sealed.  If some of the jars have not “pop”, submerge them into a water bath, and, using the canning method, boil water until jar seals 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nothing Sooths a Midnight Craving Like Nutella

Fig.1. Eat the top and drink the bottom.

I love getting surprises, especially when it has to do with food, well, in this case a drink.
Many a cold coffee has been consumed this summer, (and not one from Tim Hortons I’m proud to say.)  Vietnamese coffee is my all-time favorite, with a proper cold espresso a close second, but, as I sat thirsty, hot and sluggish one day last week at La Cornetteria craving something cold and laced with caffeine, a friend asked whether I had ever sampled La Cornetteria’s edible espresso. 
“Never heard of it” I said sleepy, “bring me two of them”
What I got was a very refreshing, cold, deep flavored coffee, topped with a coffee flavored whipped cream concoction that was what can only be described as yummy. Served with a straw and a spoon, it’s coffee that you both eat and drink.

Fig.2. An example of what to expect at La Cornetteria this Saturday at midnight during Italin week.
photo by: ©Adriano Ciampoli 2011

Let’s not forget that this week is Italian week.  After having ranted a couple of years ago about the lack of effort and will on the part of many of the stores and eateries on St Laurent, I figure it’s time to stop complaining, and time to start encouraging.  La Cornetteria is having a Midnight Nutella Cornetti event this Saturday night from midnight (that’s 12am) to 3am.  Nothing warms the heart like Nutella, so before falling asleep in front of the television, come and take a walk on St Laurent and have that midnight snack.  Alex from La Cornetteria assures me the cornetti will be warm and oozing with Nutella.  Nutella can either be eaten, or rubbed all over you face, both are good and socially accepted means of behavior in Italy.

La Cornetteria, 6528 St.Laurent

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What's Yellow, Oily and Grown in Quebec?

Fig.1. Rows upon rows of yellow. They're taller than they look.

For the last two years a friend of mine has been urging me to come and visit his hometown of Upton, situated in the Eastern Townships. Of the many points of interest his small town of Upton has to offer, the one that caught my attention the most was Upton’s sunflower farm.

Fig.1. It's not the flower itself that faces the sun, it's the pedals. Sunflowers need lots of busy bees to polinate.

Imagine acres upon acres of sunflowers. Yellow pedals sprawled out as far as the eye can see, all swaying in unison to the summer breeze as they face fixated to the East, as if every morning’s sunrise is the only thing that matters to them.

Champy farms (which is certified organic) is owned and operated by Christian Champigny. Champigny was inspired to plant sunflowers, and press sunflower oil, after a trip to Spain in 1999. The sunflower seeds are pressed on the farm, and hit store shelves no less than two weeks after they are pressed. It takes 4 kilograms of sunflower seeds to make 1 liter of oil. Last year, Champy farms pressed 10000 liters of sunflower oil.

Fig.3. The oil press. The dried sunflower seeds can keep for months, so the oil is pressed as it's needed.

There are tours being offered during the next two weekends at the farm. Champigny will gladly give you a tour of the sunflower fields and show you exactly how the sunflower seeds are pressed, and how the oil is extracted.

Fig.4. The oil during the various staged of sitting. Time is all that's needed for the oil to clarify.

While, as a food lover, the idea of fresh, mono-unsaturated oil being cultivated and produced right in our backyards passionately sparks my curiosity, what affected me the most from my visit to Champy Farms was how it felt to stand amidst all of those tall, proud sunflowers. I felt how important it is to share our human existence with other forms of life; and, if you listen hard enough, I swear you could hear the sunflowers singing to the winds.

Fig.5. Owner, Christian Champigny bottles the oil in a machine that removes air and seals the bottle at the same time.

Champy Farms. 205, rue Principale, Upton (Eastern Townships) J0H 2E0 450-549-4510

For a complete list of where you can purchase Champy sunflower oil here in Montreal, and for more information on their farm, visit their web site.

Fig.6. As the pedals fall, the seeds grow and begin to take over the flowers. The weight of the seeds will eventually cause the flowers to hunch over.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fresh Peas and Fava Beans, Let The Shucking Begin

Fig.1. Bushels of fresh peas and fava beans at Birri. Buy a bushel, get together with some family and friends, and shuck them. Peas and favas freeze very well.

The sense of touch is not something we usually attribute to the food experience: Nose and mouth, we smell our food and taste our food. Our utensils create a barrier between our fingers and our food, therefore denying a tactile, sensory experience; luckily, there are foods that can only be accessed with our hands. I believe these foods can help us to reconnect with what keeps us alive and counteract the disconnect created by many of the processed and prepared foods that are killing us.

Quebec pods are now available at the Jean Talon Market and a perfect way for you to get ‘in touch’ with your food. Fresh peas and fava beans require only hands and fingers to be enjoyed.

The general belief that peas grow already frozen in a plastic bag and delivered to grocery stores by the Jolly Green Giant is not accurate. Peas grow in pods. Peel away the pod and the small, beautiful peas hang on to the outer shell by a green umbilical vine.

There’s something so rewarding about eating fresh peas. Maybe it’s the little bit of effort required or the fact that they taste so good, whatever the appeal, it’s the perfect example of how nature provides us with everything we need. It’s hard not to look at fresh peas and fava beans and think that they just might be one of those small miracles that are often overlooked.

It will always taste better when you can touch it first. Be gone with forks and spoons; grab with your hands and pick with your fingers. The next time you have friends over for a Barbeque, put some peas in front of them, give them a piece of bread, and tell them they’re looking at their appetizers.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

All This Inspiration is Making me Hungry, For Onions

Fig.1. Colander of Spring goodies: Cucumbers, asparagus, radishes, and of course, green onions (or scallions). All local, all fresh.

I just can't write or say enough about how the Jean Talon Market makes me feel. Each visit makes me anticipate the next: from the visuals to the scents, it's truly an experience that transcends simply "going food shopping for the week". (It shouldn't be a chore people, food is both a part and way of life, and, as such, life itself.)
Quebec strawberries, rhubarb, lettuce (the lettuce alone will change how you approach salads, Homer Simpson was wrong: you can make friends with salad, as long as you buy it from Birri.) Walking through Birri yesterday, I noticed that fresh, local zucchini and flat beans are now available; as well as those bright, beautiful orange zucchini flowers just begging to be eaten.
One could very well walk through a market on a sun soaked day and realize that a life spent absorbing such a phenomenon would not result in a life wasted. Outdoor farmer's markets have the energy and capacity to flourish epiphanies in some; if you haven't been to a farmer's market yet this year, go now and see whether there's a soft spark somewhere inside of you that can ignite an approach toward what and how you eat that you didn't know exisited. (I'm preaching, I know.)

Moving on to onions. Green onions--or scallion--are available both fresh and local as of now at Birri (as well as other vegetable purveyors.) The red and the green variety taste the same. Great grilled, raw in salads, or cooked down and caramelized until sweet. Also awesome of course, in pasta. There's a big surprise coming from me.

Rigatoni With Sausage, Scallions and Olives
Serves 6, (or 1 for 3 to 4 days, taking into account lunch, supper, and snacks)

Fig.2. Yes, it is as good as it looks.


5 to 6 tbsp of olive oil
1-450g- pack rigatoni or penne
2 cups scallions or green onions, chopped (They are not shallots, as most people refer to them as.)
4 sausages or 4 cups of sausage meat removed from their casings
1 cup pitted olives (please don't use those sad canned varieties--too much salt)
1 cup white wine
chili flakes or fresh chopped chillies (optional)
1 cup reserved pasta water


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Add the olive oil to a large pan set over medium high heat. Add the scallions and the sausage and cook until meat is cooked through, about 12 to15 minutes. Add the olives and cook for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, until the meat and onions begin to caramelize the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to high and add the wine, deglaze and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Once the wine has reduced by half, turn the heat down to low. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, stir well, and let it come together for a couple of minutes. If the pasta seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water (Some have asked what I mean by 'pasta water'. I'm referring to the water used to boil the pasta.) Top with some chili flakes or fresh chillies and serve hot.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eat Your Roots: Baby Garlic

Fig.1. At Birri, you can by baby garlic in the pot or cleaned in bundles. They're not as strong as regular garlic, and the 'garlic' taste does diminish after it's cooked.

I for one am ready for some outdoor heat. It gets increasingly difficult to endure our frigid Quebec winters. Waiting for the various outdoor markets to open is like waiting for Christmas morning.
A visit to the Jean Talon market last week helped provide some hope that spring was finally here: potted herbs, potted salads, some fiddleheads, asparagus and Birri’s very succulent greenhouse cherry tomatoes are all in season and ready to be savored. It’s a very pleasing experience to be humbled with a new discovery. Vegetable man extraordinaire, Joseph, handed me some baby garlic, still in their pot, (Birri also has the garlic available cleaned and in bundles) and while there’s nothing new about baby garlic, Joseph explained to me that with this garlic, one eats the roots as well. Sold!

Fig.2 This is a somewhat dry pasta (pastasciutta) so drizzle with some olive oil at the end.

Spaghetti With Baby Garlic, Bacon and Olives.
Serves 4 to 5


1 pack (500g) spaghetti
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 pot baby garlic, about 5 to 6 garlic plants, cleaned and chopped (Birri also sells these out of the pot and cleaned.)
5 slices of bacon, chopped
½ cup pitted olives
½ cup white wine
2 large fresh tomatoes, diced

Fig.3. Just run them under water to clean them, but a little dirt won't kill you.


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pour a little olive oil in a large pan set over medium high heat. Add the garlic and the bacon and saute for 6 to 7 minutes (don't let your garlic brown, if it starts to, lower heat or add more olive oil.) Add the olives and the wine. Let the wine come to a simmer and reduce by half, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the diced tomato and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the pasta directly into the pan with your garlic sauce. If the sauce is too dry, add some of the pasta water.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Italia in Festa: Leonardo Davinci comes to St Leonard

Fig.1. Dr. Guiseppe Manisco stands behind one of his working, Davinci models. This machine is capable of lowering and lifting buckets of well water simultaneously.

I've always been fascinated with characters. Someone, who for no apparent reason, just doesn't swim upstream with the rest of the tunnel-visioned members of society. A person who's uncomfortable with the mold assigned to him or her and proceeds to do things others would perceive as, 'not normal'. Enter Dr. Guiseppe Manisco, an engineer with a serious passion--some might say slightly obsessive. "In 2004 I received a book entitled, The Machines of Leonardo Davinci", say Manisco, "wouldn't it be fun to recreate [Leonardo's] models." And that's exactly what Manisco has been doing ever since. On display, in the Leonardo Davinci Centre's gymnasium, are 50 of Manisco's, Davinci models, all of which work I should add. Manisco is more than happy to show what all of the machines do, fervently demonstrating all of their moving parts. As he describes all of the machines to me I can't help but think how much a person is capable of if they would just stop watching television.

Fig.2. This one is my favorite. The pig or lamb is placed on a spit, the heat under causes the fan to turn, which then spins the animal; no 'arm power' necessary. This proves Davinci was a foodie.

Fig.3. One of Davinci's famous parachutes, flying wings, and a design for an emergency bridge used by warring soldiers who found themselves having to cross a small body of water. The bridge is self-supporting: no nails or rope anywhere.

Fig.4. This machine is made up of rotating blades, which when pulled by a horse, causes the long knives to spin very fast. Was intended to cut wheat but also used to cut the legs off of soldiers on the battlefield.

Fig.5. No idea what this one does.

Also on display is one of the largest private collections of art and publications about Leonardo Davinci and his works: Reproductions of his artwork, statues of Davinci, very old facsimiles of Davinci's workbooks, as well as some very old letters pertaining to Davinci are all on display. This vast collection of Davinci collectables belongs to Montreal neurosurgeon, Dr. Rolando Del Maestro.

Fig.6. A 60 year old wax facial model of Davinci. Part of the other exhibit featuring publications and collectables on the life of Leonardo Davinci.

Sunday, May 29th is "Italia in Festa", an all day and night affair. The streets will be closed and the front of the center will be filled with everything from entertainment for the kids to informational kiosks representing each province in Italy. The outdoor party culminates with a big musical concert under the stars.

Indoors, the center will be featuring free musical events, including a homage to Italian film soundtracks, under the direction of Italian grand pianist, Enzo De Rosa, who will be behind the piano playing along to the film scores.

As for the food, (this couldn't very well be a Hungry Italian post if I didn't make you hungry in some way, right?) The indoor trattoria will set up a command post outside where a team of cooks (myself included) will be armed and ready to cook for the estimated ten thousand hungry people expected to show up. On the menu: paninis (sangweeches)of porchetta and grilled sausages, and various pasta dishes.

Fig.7. The trattoria fashioned restaurant in the LDV center. Everything available during the big feast on May 29th will be cooked on the spot.

So come by and see Giuseppe Manisco's incredible, working reproductions of Davinci's models, (and bring your kids to this one); Del Maestro's private collection of Davinci publications, and get something to eat while you're here. Click here to see the whole itinerary.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Le Marchand du Bourg: The Best Dry Aged Rib Steaks in Montreal

Fig.1. Master butcher Marc Bourg standing in front of his signature, 40 day old, dry aged rib steaks, and as you can see by the picture, it's the whole rib.

Le Marchand du Bourg is a place I stumbled on by chance. I was walking along Beaubien Street just east of Papineau when I came across signs on the window declaring meat to be within. As I peered through the window, owner Marc Bourg kindly opened the door for me and assured me that I would be safe inside. I walked in, always eager to gaze at meat, but saw none. Where meat fridges should have been sat a large wooden church pew, and wooden shelves festooned with books, little sculptures, straw baskets and other various antiques; all that seemed edible on the shelf was Marc's home-made, Montreal steak spice. Opposite the shelves, an old counter also made of wood. The counter holds a cash register, an old wooden analog radio--the kind with a dial--and a rotary phone--also the kind with a dial. In the back of the store looms a large walk in fridge fashioned to look like an old, wooden cabin, complete with wood shingles and large windows. There are no packaged meat products in Marc's shop wrapped in cellophane or hermetically sealed. Marc cuts your meat in the walk-in fridge while you look on: you choose the animal, the cut and the size. The animals that Marc sells are lamb, veal, pork (all from Quebec), and of course, beef, his specialty. Marc's beef is Angus, and he's one of the few butchers in the city who dry ages his rib steaks. "I age my ribs whole for forty days, I have to set myself apart. That's why I don't sell chicken, everybody has chicken, but not everybody has dry aged beef."
Marc Bourg decided to open Boucherie Le Marchand du Bourg because he couldn't take the everyday practices that went on in the big supermarkets anymore. "The amount of waste is disgusting, at the end of every day, so much meat went into the garbage, I couldn't take it anymore." Marc’s passion is evident as he tells me that people need to change the way they buy their meat. That meat shouldn’t be bought in bulk and forgotten in the freezer, instead, we should just buy what we need and eat it right away.
While the dry-aged rib steaks need to be ordered in advance, Marc does sell other cuts of meat like filet mignon and flank that can be purchased on the spot. Pork cuts are also available 'sur place' but lamb and veal need to be ordered.
Getting to know Mark is an investment in meat: He's the type of butcher you can just ring up when you need some meat, he's the type of man who'll have your order ready and packaged for you (wrapped in nice brown paper) if you're in a hurry, and he's the type of person who'll sit next to you on his church pew and engage in friendly discussions ranging from summer barbecues to the importance of treating animals humanely.

Fig.2. Marc's butcher shop is a step back in time, a time when the neighbourhood butcher new your name and what your favorite cut of meat was.

Fig.3. The walk in fridge in, Le Marche Du Bourg has a a big window so you can see Marc at work.

Fig.4. Marc at work.

Fig.5. Two, 40 day old ribs aching to meet my cast iron pan. Did I mention my pan was scorching hot?

Le Marchand du Bourg: 1661 Beaubien east, (near Papineau) 514-439-3373