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.