Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Want to be a Quebec Pepper Smothered in Bacon

Local peppers can still be had. Look for Quebec peppers at the box-super-markets (not the corporeal ones that say Tabarnac, rather, the green and red vegetable variety-known in French as poivron) This recipe is simple and fast, just like this article. I should also mention that there's a lot of bacon in this dish-now I got your attention.

Pasta With Bacon And Peppers
Serves 4 to 6

3 tbsp olive oil
6 Bell peppers, diced (any color will do, I like to mix red and green)
Half a pack of bacon, chopped (Buy the low sodium variety)
3/4 cup white wine (chicken stock will work too.)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chili flakes, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
450g to 500g Pasta, long or short it's up to you.

Add the olive oil to a large, heavy bottom sauce pan set over medium heat.  Add the diced peppers to the pan, give the pan a shake.

Sprinkling the chopped bacon evenly over the  diced peppers-DO NOT STIR.

Cook for 8 to 10 minutes without stirring. (The lack of stirring action will allow the peppers to properly brown, while at the same time allowing for an even fond to form on the bottom of the pan; also, the heat will cause the bacon fat to drip in and around the diced peppers, which will confit the peppers.) Season with salt, pepper and chili flakes. At this point, start cooking the pasta. Your (salted) water should already be boiling, add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente.

After about 10 minutes of not stirring, give the ingredients a stir and continue to cook until bacon is golden but not crispy.  Add the wine or chicken stock, turn the heat to high and using a wooden spoon, scrape the caramelized brown bits (see picture above) that have formed on the bottom of the pan until dissolved and liquid is reduced by half, at this point, shut the heat off.  Add the cooked pasta to the pan and stir well.  Serve immediately with some freshly grated Parmesan.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Marcel Proust's Pastina

Fig.1. Pastina the way my mother made it. The pasta changed with her moods and the specials of the week but she always used a small pasta.

The longer you are disconnected from ancestry, the more you connect with a way of life that alienates oneself from the past. Food, however, is one of those marvelous vehicles that can help you reconnect with not only tradition, but with an emotional state of childhood bliss lost in the recesses of your adult mind: a Rosebud winter stew, a Proustian Madeleine, or in my case, a pastina soup made with chicken, carrots, celery, and of course, pasta.

Fig.2. The guy on your left is thinking about gnocchi. The framed guy on your right is thinking about his aunt's madeleines and tea. Ref-Portrait de Marcel Proust, Jacques-Emile Blanche 1892. Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Marcel Proust, in his epic work, In Search of Lost Time (also published under, In Remembrance of Things Past, and originally in French as, A la Recherch√© du Tempe Perdu) addresses (among many other things) the notion of food and memories.  The narrator, in Volume one of Proust’s epic, is reminded of his past while eating a madeleine soaked in tea.  This madeleine triggered an event the narrator describes as, An Involuntary Memory, which is defined by Oxford as: a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort.
Based on this definition, an involuntary memory cannot be planned. Now here comes the conundricle (I just made this word up) paradox: If I suggest, like I often do, and by the very nature of this article, and indeed, the right existence of this blog, that you go and connect with your culinary past and cook something traditional, the experience will be voluntary, thereby evoking a Voluntary Memory; rather, what I want all of you to do is simply to be aware.  Awareness comes in the form of many guises, but the best pretext of all is the one that come unexpectedly. So the next time you’re eating something home-made, empty your mind of disconnecting thoughts and allow your attention to transcend into a netherworld of trapped memories. I don’t know how to do this, but according to Proust, it will happen on it’s own if you let it.
And another thing, if you’re a parent, pay attention to what foods you’re offering your child in moments of distress, these comforting foods are the very triggers your child will involuntarily experience 30 years from now when they themselves are assaulted by life’s grievances. Food that will reconnect your child to you long after they have lives of their own and become disconnected with you in the paternal sense.  It’s in your child’s best interest that they involuntarily recall something you made from the heart, rather than from any reactions that might derived from a Twinkie.

Pastina is soup derived from stock. The very word pastina amongst Italians connotes comfort.  It’s what our grandmothers and mothers made us when we were sick or throughout the cold winter months.  If I needed extra soothing, my mother would cut up hot dogs and add them to my pastina. Any stock will do.

Chicken bones
4 chicken thighs
6 carrots
6 celery stalks
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic, whole
4 Bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cooked pasta (use something small)

Put all of your ingredients in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a light boil and simmer for 3 to 4 hours. Make sure you skim the fat periodically. Let the stock cool overnight in the fridge. Remove any fat that has congealed on the surface and remove all of the ingredients from the stock.  Pass the stock through a sieve to remove any floating particles. (I don’t always do this. Floating particles do not bother me nor do I weigh the want or appearance of consomm√© upon my culinary shoulders.) Cut up the chicken, carrots, celery and onion, and discard the bay leaves, garlic and chicken bones. Add the pasta to the broth and what you’ve got is an Italian Pastina alla Nonna.

Fig.3. Watch Anton Ego have an Involuntary Memory. (I always cry when I watch this.)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

FCO di Fiumicino: Bet You Can't Eat Just One Meter

Fig.1. Yes, it tastes as good as it looks. 

I have always held the position that finding a pizza outside of Italy that tastes like it does in Italy is impossible.  Bottega was the first pizza joint to make me reconsider my opinion. While the pizza at Bottega came pretty close to una vera pizza Napolitana vis a vis the crust, the flavor of the tomatoes and the freshness of the cheese still lacked compared to the red and white stuff grown and pulled in Italy. Enter FCO di Fiumicino, the pizzeria that makes it easy for me to imagine a dolce vita with every bite.

Fig.2. Actually, it tastes better than it looks.

FCO di Fiumicino is the brain-child of Dino Palmieri, and his idea was as brilliant as it was logically obvious: If you want pizza to taste like it does in Italy, get an Italian to make it; and not an immigrant-spawned, Montreal-Quebec-Canadian-Italian like myself or Dino, but a real bona fide Italiano. The Mediterranean species who take great pizza for granted because they can buy pizza at a gas station in Italy that’s better than most of the pies we have here in Montreal. The bona fide Italians in this case are Filomena and Sacha, (both of who hail from the province of Frosinone) and to say they make great pizza is an understatement.  
The pizza style served up at FCO di Fiumicino is known in Italy as Pizza Al Metro-which translates to, pizza by the meter. And while you don’t have to eat a meter in one sitting, you might just want to when you taste it.  “There’s more to Italian pizza than pizza Napolitana” says Palmieri. Indeed, pizza styles in Italy vary from region to region: pizza in Rome and pizza in Sicily are both different and equally delicious.  Palmieri was inspired on his many trips to Italy, especially with the pizza al metro made in and around Rome.  Lucky for us all, he brought this pizza formula back with him.

Fig.3. Lots to choose from.
On my last visit to FCO, I ate a pizza topped with mozzarella and tomatoes that was so freggin good, I thought I was in Italy. It was only when I finished eating the pizza, that I remembered I was in Montreal.  (In case you’re wondering what the name of the restaurant means, F.C.O is the designated airport code and Fiumicino is the city in which you’ll find the Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, Rome’s major international airport.)
But what about the, ‘ingredients here not being as good as in Italy' argument?  Palmieri's way around this quandary is equally as simple: use Italian ingredients that travel well—such as 00 flour—and top the pizzas with seasonal and local ingredients, such as cherry tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms. As for the cooking vehicle, FCO’s oven hails straight from Italy—Les Marches to be exact. “It’s all stone on the inside” says Palmieri “The stone maintains a consistent heat, it’s the only one of its kind in Quebec.

Fig.4. Entrance to pizza heaven.
Fig.5. Don't know whether to eat it or frame it.

Seeing and tasting the pizza at FCO di Fiumicino, you can’t help but notice something that transcends taste: It’s a visual cacophony of color and design, an exactitude enacted upon each slice of pizza in which one can’t help but notice a beautiful symmetry of ingredients.  It doesn’t matter if the pizza is sparse or laden, all it takes is one look to know that Signore Palmieri is proud of his pizza, and rightly so.

Fig.6. Best gelato in Montreal, hands down.

I also want to point out that I could have written the same article about FCO’s gelato. Replace the word ‘Pizza’ with the word ‘Gelato’ in the above article and you have yet another reason to stay in Montreal. (Also, gelato doesn’t go in the oven so remove the oven paragraph.) In my opinion it’s the best gelato in Montreal hands down.

Also, this month is pizza month according to some, but, if you're like me, every month is pizza month.

FCO di Fiumicino:
451 Viger Ave W  Montreal, QC H2Z 1G6
(514) 861-3636
Fig.7. pizza with fresh local veg.

Fig.8. It's never too cold for gelato.

Fig.9. More pizza

Fig.10. Still more pizza.