Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Northern Pie: A Pizza we Can Call Our Own

                                          Fig.1. Northern Pie
Just got back from Italy.  I usually fall into a culinary depression upon my return from the Motherland; however, this time, I'm curtailing my sadness in a new direction.
Food tastes phenomenal in the region of Italy my parents are from. A small town called Ripi in the province of Lazio.  Eating in a small town is obviously different than eating in the big city and eating off the farm even more so: If I want eggs, I literally go to the chicken coup and take what I need. I want rabbit for supper, my grandmother and I fetch a rabbit; bunny meets knife, garlic, rosemary, olive oil and a hot pan. Tomatoes? No problem, walk to the garden and twist them off the vine; you get the idea. The depression comes when I attempt to try and simulate the tastes sensations experienced in Ripi here in Montreal; it ain't the same. The salumi, cheese, gelato, water and air are not the same and nothing I do will make it the same. I've accepted this now.

There are many many reasons indigenous foods in their countries of origin taste so different; (too many to list here) but one constant remains the same whether you're in Italy, Japan, France or China: tradition.
I have always maintained that Italian food is not just about the food, but also about how Italians approach what they eat.  Italians are proud of their food. Mortadella dates back to the renaissance, and odes to Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese can be found in Boccaccio's The Decameron. I guess what I'm saying is, if you've been making something for over 500 years it must be molto molto good.  So the question is, after 145 years as a country, and 249 years as a province, what's our approach to food and what traditional Canadian/Quebec foods are we eating? What's our regional equivalent to parmesan cheese? Squeaky cheese maybe?
The notion of Canadian cuisine is without notion. In a land made up mostly of immigrants, our cuisine stems from several different countries. And because of the immigrant mentality, all of the ethnic races in Canada keep their proper foods shielded from the rest: It's a melting pot where nothing is melting.  So I say, like Quebec cheese curds in a poutine, let's get the melting underway; whose got the patience for evolution?  I don't; time to get the ball rolling.

Whenever possible, we need to start using foods and ingredients made in Canada in everything we make.  Let's replace olive oil with sunflower oil, balsamic vinegar with apple vinegar, and imported cheese with local cheese. Let's use Canadian flour and source pasta made with Canadian flour. Buy only locally cured meat. We need to really start eating in season. Fruits and vegetables in the height of their seasons are worth more than all the umami in the world.
In an effort to change our food landscape, let me set the example by making Canada's very first Canadian pizza which I'll call Northern Pie.  If anyone can think of a better name, I'm opened to suggestions.

Northern 'Elk' Pie 
Makes 2 square 9"x16" flatbreads.

For the dough
3 3/4 cup Canadian or Quebec all purpose flour (You can use La Milanaise brand, available in health food stores and farmer's markets.)
1 3/4 cups water
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tsp maple syrup (to activate the yeast)
1 tbsp sunflower oil

8 leeks sliced, white parts only
app 800g ground wapiti (Elk) (you can substitute ground caribou, bison, deer etc, just make sure it's from Canada)
12 cherry tomatoes, halved (make sure they're local)
1 1/2 cups (+) poutine sauce
sliced Oka cheese (slices should be cut to 1/4" thick)
5 green onions, chopped


Mix all the ingredients for the dough together in a bowl with your hands or a wooden spoon. When the dough comes together, coat the bowl with the sunflower oil and let the dough rise, at room temperature and covered with plastic wrap, for about 8 to 12 hours.
Preheat oven to 450
Lightly grease your cookie sheets with sunflower oil and extend your dough.
Add some sunflower oil to a large pan set over medium high heat and add the sliced leeks. Cook gently until softened and just slightly caramalized, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the ground wapiti, cook and stir until no longer red, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and add the poutine sauce and stir well. (if you find the meat too dry, add a little more poutine sauce. It should resemble a thick chili.) Top the flatbread evenly with the meat mixture and add the sliced Oka over top. Sprinkle with the chopped green onions. (If you have extra topping, eat it for lunch the next day)  Place Northern Pies in the oven and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until dough is slightly golden.