Friday, November 21, 2014

Lentil Salad with Roast Tomato, Red Onion & Cilantro

Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for Castelluccio Lentils with Tomatoes and Gorgonzola from his award-winning cookbook 'Plenty,' I created this modified version of his inspired masterpiece, while still retaining the spirit and exceptional flavour of the original dish, but eliminating some of the needless extra calories. Instead of adding soft and sinful morsels of high-fat Italian gorgonzola cheese, a generous dollop of thick and creamy low-fat plain Greek yogurt crowns the salad in its place. Still, flavour still reigns supreme with a magnificent marriage of sweet oven roasted cherry tomatoes, marinated sliced red onions, fresh chopped cilantro and heart-healthy low-cal lentils, all dressed with a fragrant vinaigrette of garlic, cumin, olive oil and both lemon and lime juice. Simple and delicious, this dish tastes as sensational as it looks.

Finely sliced red onions and marinated with white wine vinegar and lemon and lime juice until the onions turn quite pinkish

Olive oil, cumin, minced garlic and cilantro are added to the onion mixture

A can of lentils is added and the mixture can be left to marinate for an hour or so

A day before, cherry tomatoes were halved, tossed with olive oil and roasted at 425°F for 45 minutes, until they became sweet and caramelized

Lentil Salad with Roast Tomato, Red Onion & Cilantro

Serves 6

1 19 oz can lentils, rinsed
Juice of 1/2 lime and 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 red onion, thinly sliced into rings
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
12-16 cherry tomatoes, halved and roasted
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, as garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the tomatoes together in a large bowl with 1/8 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and lightly caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. This can be done a day before. 

Mix the lemon and lime juice, vinegar and a pinch of salt in a small bowl, then add the sliced onion rings and toss to coat. After 10-15 minutes the onions will soften and turn pinkish. Whisk in the oil, cumin and garlic to the onions, then add the lentils, cilantro and roasted tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Leek, Sausage & Mushroom Frittata with Taleggio

Light, healthy and delicious, this easy Leek, Sausage & Mushroom Frittata with Taleggio is simple to prepare and makes an easy brunch or supper dish anytime of the year. Italy's version of the Spanish 'tortilla', the frittata is a thick, hearty open-faced omelette with an egg base, that can be filled with any variety of herbs, vegetables, cheeses, meat, seafood or even leftover cooked pasta — the beautiful thing about frittatas is that they're wonderfully versatile with endless flavour possibilities. Frittatas are cooked either over very low heat on a stove, or in an oven, until the underside is set and the top becomes beautifully puffed up and golden brown. Unlike an omelette, a frittata is never folded to enclose its contents, but rather is divided into slices or cut into little wedges and served with cocktails as an hors d'oeuvre or tapas-style appetizer.

One leek finely sliced and sautéed in butter until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes

Small broccoli florets and sliced mushrooms are added and cooked for 4-5 minutes

The sliced cooked sausages are added to the vegetables just before the eggs are added, 
just to warm them up a bit

The whisked eggs and cheese mixture is poured into the pan,then covered and cooked for 15-20 minutes until set; a few minutes uncovered in the oven after firms and browns the top

Leek, Sausage & Mushroom Frittata with Taleggio
Serves 4

8 large eggs, beaten
1 large leek, halved lengthwise, rinsed and thinly sliced
2 sausages, cooked and sliced
8 oz crimini mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and finely sliced
1/4 head broccoli, stalks removed and cut into small florets
3 oz Taleggio
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 
1 tsp herbes de Provence
2 tbsp fresh dill or fennel fronds
3 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the grated cheese and chopped dill, and set aside. In a large non-stick sauté pan, heat the butter over medium-high and cook the leeks until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add the broccoli florets and sliced mushrooms and season with salt, pepper and herbes de Provence. Sauté stirring frequently until the vegetables have softened, about 4-5 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the vegetables and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low, sprinkle with a little more dill, then cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until the frittata has set around the edges and the middle is cooked through. If the top is still runny, place the sauté pan in the oven uncovered for 2-3 minutes, until the surface is set. To serve, slide the frittata onto a warm platter or slice into wedges, with a final garnish of dill.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pizza e Pazzi: Authentic Neapolitan Pizza on St Clair

Pizza e Pazzi is an authentic Neapolitan Pizzeria located in the heart of Toronto's Wychwood neighbourhood on St. Clair Avenue West, and one of a handful of pizzerias in the city that can claim VPN certification from the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana. With two locations, this family-run Italian Trattoria from husband and wife team Danilo and Sandrelle Scimo, will taste familiar to fans of Queen Margherita and Pizzeria Libretto, but it has so much more to offer with an inspired menu that sets it a world apart from the others, with appetizers such as Arancini, Frittura Mista, and Polpette della Nonna to heavenly Bufala e Parma which comes as a whole ball of fresh creamy Buffalo Mozzarella nestled on a mountain of thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma — heaven!

Then there are is the pizza, loyal to what real pizza is, that truly captures the spirit of Naples. The restaurant uses only San Marzano tomatoes and fresh Fiore di Latte Mozzarella brought in fresh daily. The dough is made with naturally leavened Italian Caputo dopio zero flour, then Pizza e Pazzi's 
Neapolitan pizzaiolo Lorenzo, slides each dressed pizza into the wood-fired oven and cooks it over extremely high heat to achieve a perfect charred and blistered, soft and crispy crust, fragrant with natural woodsmoke. It’s the passion behind the pizza, and the ingredients that are laid on top, that makes all of the difference. Simple, honest, and natural. Just the way it’s supposed to be.

Pizza e Pazzi Pizzaiolo Lorenzo busy creating some of the best pizzas in the city 

The warm and inviting interior with weathered wood finishes, white tile walls and quirky black and white framed food-themed photographs 

Exposed bulb lighting and exposed brick walls add an industrial chic ambiance to the space 

The Italian-inspired menu at Pizza e Pazzi

A glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Frittura Mista with deep fried calamari, shrimp and sole with fresh lemon

Insalata di Rucola: Arugula dressed wirth olive oi, balsamic vinegar and halved grape tomatoes

Braised Chicory with Italian Mozzarella di Bufala Campana dressed with extra virgin olive oil 
— an outstanding dish!

Insalata di Tonno with mixed greens topped with tuna, boiled eggs, capers 
and dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Pizza Boscaiola with extra virgin olive oil, fresh fior di latte, ham, mushrooms and basil

Pizza Napoletana with anchovies, black olives, fresh fior di latte and basil

Pizza Margherita Verace with extra virgin olive oil, Mozzarella di Bufala D.O.P. and basil

Cannoli — a sweet finish to a great lunch 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Buttery Orzo With Parmigiano-Reggiano & Basil

Quick, easy and delicious, this recipe for Orzo With Parmigiano-Reggiano and Basil is a sensational side dish for any occasion. A one pot wonder, the orzo is simply sautéed in butter until lightly browned then simmered with chicken broth until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. A handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped fresh basil are stirred in at the end, and then seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Light, luscious and full of fabulous flavour, these five simple ingredients come together as the most mouthwatering and memorable dish.

Orzo With Parmigiano-Reggiano & Basil
Serves 6

3 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups orzo
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup fresh basil, washed, dried and julienned 
salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and sauté 2 minutes until lightly browned. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the orzo is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Mix in the grated parmesan and sliced basil,  and season with salt and pepper. To serve, transfer the orzo to a warm bowl and garnish with a sprig of basil. Delicious served with any dish, it's particularly nice with my Braised Sausages with Fennel and Olives.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Braised Sausages with Fennel & Olives

While watching an episode of 'Lidia's Italy' on the Food Network a few years ago, Lidia Bastianich made a humble dish of braised sausages with fennel and chopped green Cerignola olives. We were so intrigued with the rustic simplicity of the dish that we decided to make it that night, and have now served it many times since. Lidia's recipe for Salsicce con Finocchio e Olive calls for sweet Italian sausages, however I decided this time to choose an assortment of handmade sausages for variety and bought: Toulouse Sausages with Berkshire pork and herbes de Provence; Alsatian with pork, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon; Guinness with pork, Prince Edward Island beef and Guinness beer; and Sweet Italian with pork and fennel, all purchased from Sam and Ben Gundy at Toronto's St Lawrence Market. As we found out, fresh fennel is a great companion to sausage, and although it may seem that there's a lot in the recipe, the fennel reduces significantly as it cooks and becomes wonderfully sweet and tender. Served on its own or with a bowl of pasta, this dish celebrates the basic principles of Italian cooking — culinary simplicity and the use of the finest, freshest ingredients. A simple and delicious recipe, this dish is always greeted with relish whenever it's served — so as Lidia says: "Tutti a tavola a mangiare".

A selection of handmade sausages: Toulouse with pork and herbes de Provence; Alsatian with pork, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon; Guinness with pork, beef and Guinness stout beer; and Sweet Italian with pork and fennel — each cut in half to fit better in the pan

Braised Sausages with Fennel & Olives
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Lidia Bastianich

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
12 sweet Italian sausages, or mixed assortment
1 cup dry white wine
6 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/4 tsp hot red chili flakes, or to taste 
1 cup large green olives, squashed to open them up to remove pits
4 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

Trim the stalks and tough bottoms off the fennel bulbs, and reserve the fronds for later use as garnish. Peel off the outer layer, then cut in half lengthwise and trim out the bits of stalk that go down into the bulb. Cut into 1-inch chunks and set aside. 

Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large sauté pan, big enough to hold all of the sausages, and set over medium-high heat. Lay in the sausages in the pan and cook for 5 minutes or more, rolling them over occasionally until nicely browned. Pour in the wine and boil until it's reduced by half. Remove the sausages to a platter and pour the remaining wine sauce over them.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the empty sauté pan. Toss in the garlic cloves and cook for a minute or so over medium heat until they're sizzling, but don't let them burn. Drop in the chili flakes in a hot spot for a few seconds, then scatter the squashed olives in the pan. Toss and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the fennel chunks and stir. Season with 1/4 tsp salt, cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, tossing and stirring now and then until the fennel softens, shrinks, and begins to colour. Add a bit of water to the pan if the fennel remains hard and resistant to the bite.

When the fennel is cooked through, return the sausages and wine to the pan. Turn and tumble the meat and vegetables together, and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes, until everything is deeply caramelized and glazed. Adjust the seasoning to taste, garnish with the fennel fronds and serve immediately on a warmed platter on its own or with a side dish of Orzo with Parmesan & Basil.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

The perfect balance of sweet, crisp and chewy, these classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are the perfect combination of nutty oats and plump, juicy raisins. Some versions also include chopped walnuts, pecans and even chocolate chips or dried cranberries, but however they're made, it's amazing how quickly they disappear. And no wonder, they're pretty close to being the ultimate comfort food, for who can resist the smell of fresh baked cookies straight from the oven?

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Makes 50-60

1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
3 cups quick or old fashioned oats, uncooked

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Soak the raisins in hot water for 10 minutes before using, then blot dry — this will make them lovely and plump for the cookies. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, and mix well. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugars until creamy, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture, then stir in the oats and plump raisins.

Drop or roll the dough in rounded tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto parchment lined baking sheets, and bake 9-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool one minute on the cookie sheet, then using a spatula, remove to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies will continue to firm up on the baking sheet during this time. Once cool, store the cookies in an air-tight container.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Moules Marinière à la Crème with Leeks & Thyme

The clean cold waters of Newfoundland and Labrador have the perfect conditions for harvesting mussels, with ideal temperature, salinity and depth that result in some of the world's most succulent and sweet tasting mussels. Superior in taste and quality compared to mussels raised in warmer waters, or wild and bottom-cultured mussels, not only are they unbeatably plump, juicy and flavourful, they're also high in protein, low in fat and with above average levels of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, one serving of mussels provides close to 100% of the daily-recommended intake of zinc, promoting good growth, brain function, and enhanced immunity to guard against flu and colds. This recipe for Moules Marinière à la Crème is based on classic Moules Marinière, but with a little cream added, creating a rich luscious broth ideal for mopping up with a crusty loaf of French bread or piping hot pommes frites — délicieux!

Moules Marinière à la Crème
Serves 4

4 lb mussels
1 leek, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 handful of fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp butter
kosher salt and white pepper
1 crusty French baguette, for serving

In a large heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the leeks, season with salt and white pepper and sauté until translucent, about 5 or 6 minutes. Then add the wine and fresh thyme, and stir to combine. Once the wine is bubbling, add the mussels and give them a stir to coat. Cover and turn the heat up to medium-high, and continue cooking 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mussels have opened up. Those that haven't, you should discard. Add the cream and give it all a good stir. Pour the moules in one large serving bowl or portion into four individual warmed dinner bowls. Ladle the sauce overtop and garnish with some additional chopped thyme. Be sure to mop up the sauce with a loaf of warm crusty bread.