Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jumbo Shrimp Saganaki with Greek Feta & Ouzo

Inspired by the Shrimp Saganaki we enjoyed at Mamakas Taverna on Ossington Avenue last autumn, I prepared this dish as part of a Greek-themed menu for my brother and future sister-in-law this past weekend. The rich and thick homemade Ouzo-infused tomato sauce, plump jumbo shrimp and crumbled Greek feta makes this dish a standout, with plenty of extra sauce that can be sopped up with thick slices of grilled garlic-rubbed crusty baguette. Simple and absolutely delicious, this dish will definitely be making numerous encore performances this summer.

Jumbo Shrimp Saganaki with Greek Feta & Ouzo
Serves 4

20 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined with tail on
2-3 tbsp of olive oil
1/2 small yellow onion, finely diced
1/4 tsp dried red chili pepper
2 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup Greek feta, coarsely crumbled plus additional for garnish
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
3 cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp Ouzo, or to taste

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high and add the onion, chopped tomatoes and dried chili pepper. Sauté until the onions are soft and the tomatoes are starting to break down, about 5-7 minutes. Add the marinara sauce and dried oregano, and and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the sauce become rich and thick. Arrange the prawns in the sauce and cook until they are opaque and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in the crumbled feta and Ouzo and cook another 2-3 minutes. To serve, spoon the shrimp and sauce into a decorative serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining feta and garnish with the fresh oregano and Grilled Garlic-Rubbed Bread.

Grilled Garlic-Rubbed Bread
Serves 4

1 loaf crusty French or Italian baguette

2 cloves garlic
, peeled and cut in half length-wise
1/4 cup good olive oil

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Cut the bread into 8 diagonal slices about 3/8-inch thick, and place on a baking sheet. Bake until just golden, about 5-8 minutes — watch carefully to make sure they don't get too brown. Remove the bruschetta from the oven, and using the fresh cloves of raw garlic, rub one side of each of the toasts, brush with a little olive oil and serve alongside the Shrimp Saganaki. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Baked Tomato and Zucchini Tian with Thyme

A classic French Provençal dish of baked seasonal vegetables, this colourful Tomato and Zucchini Tian with fresh thyme captures all of the colourful flavours of summer. Simple and delicious, this dish is also low in calories. Traditionally, a vegetable tian can feature any variety of layered vegetables, herbs and cheeses from bright green and yellow zucchini and small potatoes to plump purple eggplant and plum tomatoes. Layered and baked, this recipe showcases fresh zucchini and tomatoes from the St. Lawrence Market with some fresh thyme. Topped with a little grated Pecorino, this decorative gratin-style tian is one of my favourite vegetable recipes, and is as healthy and delicious as it looks.

Tomato and Zucchini Tian
Serves 4

3 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
3 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan, Asiago, Feta or Gruyere, grated
4 sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat the oven to 400°F. Brush a small baking dish with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Combine the dried thyme, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Arrange half of the sliced zucchini in the baking dish and sprinkle with about 1/3 of the thyme mixture. Top with the tomatoes and sprinkle with half of the remaining thyme mixture, then top with the remaining zucchini and thyme mixture. Drizzle the composed tian with remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with the cheese. Scatter the fresh thyme over the Tian and bake until the vegetable are tender and the cheese has melted, about 30-40 minutes. Serve warm.

Friday, March 27, 2015

La Forchetta: Regional Italian Cuisine in Little Italy

Nestled in the very heart of the Little Italy district of Toronto, La Forchetta Ristorante offers a variety of classic northern and southern Italian dishes such as risottos, fine meat, game, fish, seafood and pasta such as Orecchiette con Salsiccia e Fagioli, Butternut Squash Agnolotti Torinese and Homemade Sweet Potato Gnocchi with baby spinach, gorgonzola dolce cream and toasted pecans. Conveniently located across from The Royal Cinema on College, an historic Art Moderne movie house that operates as an indie-art house cinema as well as a digitally-equipped screening and live event venue, caters to screenings, film festivals, and corporate events, and was the venue for the Canadian Film Festival this year, for which we had tickets before going for dinner at La Forchetta.

The cozy modern interior of la Forchetta 

The dinner menu with antipasti, pasta, second and dolce

An attractive bottle of Galvanina sparkling water 

A complimentary platter of Rosemary Garlic focaccia

Our server presenting our bottle of 2009 Crociani Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

With a good balance of red fruit and acidity with woodsy tones, the Vino Nobile was rich and delicious 

Carrot and celery soup of the day

Fior' di Latte Caprese Salad with vine ripened tomatoes, house made basil oil and aged balsamic

Cedar Plank Roasted Atlantic Salmon with du puy lentils mixed with baby spinach, whole cherry tomatoes and honey-Pommery mustard glaze

La Forchetta Spaghetti

Zuppe di Pesce with jumbo prawns, clams, mussels, scallops and fresh fish in brodetto

Linguine di Mare

The Cocksure Lads, a musical comedy featuring my stepson Edward Hiller in his first onscreen role!

Scene from The Cocksure Lads with Ed as 'Blakey' (2nd from left)

The Cocksure Lads was the opening film for the 2015 Canadian Film Festival, a very funny feature-length musical comedy about an English band on the cusp of stardom who arrive in Toronto for their first-ever North American tour. Ten minutes after arriving, they get into a fight over royalties and break up. The lads scatter across the city and spend the day drinking, fighting, meeting girls, falling in love, and searching for a claw-foot bathtub. Through it all, they learn what it means to be a band – but can they patch things up before their big show that night? That was the question as we attended the Toronto premier of the film at The Canadian Film Festival, featuring my stepson Edward Hillier as one the 'cocky' lads! What a night.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Momofuku Daishō: A Temple to Asian Fusion Cuisine

David Chang’s Daishō, located on the third floor of the spectacular bento box of four restaurants in the modern Momofuku glass cube complex adjacent to the Shangri-La Hotel, also home to Momofuku Noodle Bar, Nikai and Shōtō, Daishō specializes in shared plates and large format family-style feasts. Completely encased in glass, the room’s vaulted ceiling is dominated by a grand finned structure made of oak, which not only brings warmth to the minimalistic space but serves as an elegant beacon along University Avenue. With its fabulous views, soft lighting, friendly professional service staff, superior wine, sake and dinner menu, Daishō is one of the most satisfying dining experiences in the city.

Of all the Momofuku Toronto concepts, Daishō has the most extensive menu, with large format meals for parties of four to ten guests and à la carte sharing plates ranging from about $10 up to a whopping $125 for the Raw Seafood Platter. Menus change often based on market availability and are inspired by the diversity of Ontario's native ingredients and relationships with local vendors and suppliers. Large format feasts include dishes such as Bo Ssam at $240, Salt & Pepper Nova Scotia Lobster from the Bay of Fundy for $250, Beef Short Ribs at $220 and a 65-day dry-aged Beef Ribeye for $600 for six to eight people! Although walk-ins are accepted, reservations for dinner Monday to Saturday are encouraged, in particular for the family-style courses — in fact, with only one ribeye available per night, advance planning is essential.

Daisho dinner menu

The Momofuku Vesper with gin, cocchi, vodka and lemon

The Kaleidoscope with sake, lemon, cranberry and cardamom

Spicy cucumber salad amuse-bouche

Korean-style fermented cabbage Kimchi

Soy Tea Egg with kimchi mayonnaise, furikake and chopped scallion

Eggplant Buns with tomato, provolone and banana peppers

Crispy Chicken Buns with pickled turnip, garlic sauce and parsley

Roasted Rice Cakes with spicy pork sausage, chinese broccoli and tofu

Chicken Thigh Ssäm with sriracha, shiitake and bibb lettuce

Roasted Pork Chop with rutabaga, kohlrabi, cucumber

Muscovy Duck with turnip, cranberry and confit 

Brussels Sprouts with fish sauce, puffed rice and mint

Momofuku’s Bo Ssäm
Serves 6-10
Recipe courtesy Momofuku

Ginger Scallion Sauce:
2-1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions
1/2 cup finely minced, peeled ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp  kosher salt

Ssäm Sauce:
1 tbsp ssamjang, a fiery soybean paste
1-1/2 tsp kochujang, a sweet Korean hot-pepper paste
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

5 lb boneless pork shoulder, patted dry
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar

3 heads cold Boston lettuce, leaves separated, washed, and dried
2 cups store-bought kimchi
2 cups cooked short-grain white rice

For the Ginger Scallion Sauce, mix the onions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar and salt in a medium bowl. Let stand at least 15 minutes before using, or refrigerate covered up to 2 days, and bring to room temperature and stir before using. (This sauce is delicious omits own over noodles!)

For the Ssäm Sauce, stir together ssamjang, gochujang, vinegar and oil in a small bowl until smooth. Refrigerate, covered, up to 2 weeks.

Place the pork in large bowl. In medium bowl, mix together granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of salt. Rub all over pork then cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate 6 to 24 hours. Transfer the pork, fat side up, to large roasting pan, discarding any juices. Roast in preheated 300°F oven, basting every hour with the pan juices, until the meat is tender and shreds easily with fork, about 6 hours. Remove from oven.

In small bowl, mix together remaining 1-1/2 tsp salt and brown sugar. Rub all over pork. Raise oven temperature to 500°F or broil and return the pork to the oven. Cook until the sugar melts into a crisp crust and the fat starts bubbling, about 7 to 10 minutes — be careful as it will burn in bottom of pan! Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Serve the pork on a platter or large plate with tongs or chopsticks to pull it apart. Set out a plate of lettuce leaves and bowls of kimchi, rice, ginger scallion sauce and Ssäm sauce. To eat, place a torn piece of pork on each lettuce leaf and top with  a dab of rices, some hot sauce or kimchi or pickles. Fold and bite, fold and bite. Repeat and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Burger's Priest: Sinfully Delicious

In a city full of people who love a good burger and no shortage of places to find those two fisted feasts, The Burger's Priest reigns supreme among many burger-philes. Since opening its first shop at Queen and Coxwell in June 2010, this classic American-style burger emporium has rapidly gained a devout following. The burger king himself is Shant Mardirosian, a man who's almost evangelical about meat. The California native grew up with old-fashioned burgers and after visiting a popular burger joint in New York, decided Canada needed a burger revival. The Armenian-American moved here in 1984, having graduated from Tyndale University College & Seminary and planned to be a pastoral minister until God called him to something else. That 'something else,' he discovered three years later in a burger joint in New York, was “redeeming the burger one at a time” — but only six days a week. “We close everything down on Sunday.” 

The high altar of Burgerdom — Burger's Priest open kitchen on Queen West

All burgers start from a custom blend of premium beef that’s ground in-house several times a day and rolled into 4-ounce balls and seasoned with just salt and peppers. They’re cooked to order on a flat-top griddle, where they’re smashed into patties and transferred to small, soft, white and squishy buns. The menu, posted on ecclesiastical hymn boards, features cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, as well as veggie burgers, called 'The Option', made of fried, cheese-stuffed Portobello mushrooms. The Priest burger is an 'Option' plus a cheeseburger. The oddly popular Vatican City boasts two grilled cheese sandwiches, made from buns and two cheeseburgers. The Pope, a double cheeseburger plus Option, becomes the Tower of Babel when you add the Vatican City bun. There’s the Noah’s Ark, an Option with chili, cheese and onions, and the Religious Hypocrite — an Option plus bacon. The Judgment Day, two Options in a cheeseburger, becomes an Armageddon when you ask for two cheeseburger patties, a positively sinful experience. Oh, and don't forget the bag of fresh cut fries. Will you feel guilty after eating at The Burger’s Priest? Absolutely. Will you enjoy it? You bet your sweet bippy!

Hymn boards with engraved crosses are retrofitted with the burger menu 

The 'High Priest' Burger with two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce and processed cheese on a non-sesame seed bun

A side of fresh cut french fries is a 'must' with the burgers

The simple Cheeseburger with one beef patty, special sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion and processed cheese on a non-sesame seed bun

The 'Armageddon' burger with 2 patties and two fried, cheese-stuffed Portobello mushrooms

Burger's Priest founder Shan't Mardirosian — Zagat’s just named it the third-best restaurant in Toronto, after Scaramouche and Chiado! photo © David Laurence

Beer-themed proverbs cover the wall as a nod to Shant Mardirosian's seminary background

The 'Vatican City' Double Cheeseburger squeezed between two grilled cheese buns
was named 'Burger of the Year' by Toronto Life magazine 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oliver & Bonacini Mushroom Soup with Truffle Oil

This is Toronto restaurateur Michael Bonacini’s healthy and outrageously delicious Mushroom Soup that's a bestseller at his Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants across the city. This recipe was featured in Bonacini's cookbook '3 Chefs: The Kitchen Men', written together with Massimo Capra from Mistura and Jason Parsons of Peller Estates Winery Restaurant in Niagara. Using neither butter nor cream, this sensational soup is a heart-smart choice for those looking for a calorie-wise mushroom soup that positively bursting with flavour.

Canadian chefs Michael Bonacini, Massimo Capra and Jason Parsons

Oliver & Bonacini Mushroom Soup
Makes 4 cups

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped yellow onions 
2 cloves garlic, minced
Chopped leaves from 1 sprig thyme
6 cups diced assorted mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster and king oyster
Kosher salt + freshly ground pepper
4 cups water
1 bay leaf

Truffle oil, chopped chives and trimmed enoki mushrooms

In large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium. Add the onions, garlic and thyme, and cook while stirring, until the onions soften, about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onions start to brown. Add the mushrooms in 4 batches, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper and stirring constantly, which allows each batch to cook down slowly. Add the water and bay leaf, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Discard the bay leaf, and purée using hand-held immersion blender. For creamier soup, purée in blender. Return the soup to the pot over medium heat, and taste, adjusting the salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately, or refrigerate overnight to let flavours develop. Garnish each serving with a drizzle of truffle oil, a sprinkling of chives and several chopped enokis.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington: Real Neapolitan Pizza

We're fortunate to have a fabulous selection of authentic Neapolitan pizzerias in Toronto, and one that's received it's fair share of media buzz is Pizzeria Libretto, the brainchild of chef Rocco Agostino and his partner Max Rimaldi, who in 2009 sparked a Neapolitan pizza craze serving blistered, wood-fired thin-crust pies at their first location on Ossington Avenue.
The pizzeria's name comes from the traditional Neapolitan way of thinking about pizza: it should be thin enough to be folded in half into a little book, or a 'libretto', and it appears Pizza Libretto wrote the book on Neapolitan pizzas — as they're still considered by many to be the very best in the city. Agostino is so serious about Neapolitan-style pizza that there’s an 'Ideology' section on the Pizzeria Libretto website. 

Bright, bustling and loud on a Wednesday night on Ossington

Libretto is loyal to what real pizza is — invented in Naples using local natural ingredients, cooked in a wood fired oven at extremely high heat to achieve a charred, blistered crust. They use San Marzano tomatoes and Fiore di Latte Mozzarella, brought in fresh daily; the dough is made with naturally leavened Italian Caputo doppio zero flour and is baked in less than 90 seconds at 900°F in their wood burning oven, hand built by a 3rd generation pizza oven maker in Naples. Simple, Honest, and Natural. They serve many different styles of pizza, but it’s the passion that's behind the pizza, and the ingredients that are laid on top, that makes all the difference at Pizza Libretto, from Duck Confit with Bosc Pear and Mozzarella; Spicy Nduja Sausage with Tomato, Garlic, Oregano, Basil, Mozzarella and Stracciatella; Cremini Mushroom with Buffalo Mozzarella , Gorgonzola, Roasted Garlic, Rosemary, Thyme and Pecorino; to their signature Libretto Margherita with Buffalo Mozzarella, Crushed Tomato and Grana Padano. With line ups out the door most nights, the Ossington Libretto is still a booming success with devoted pizza-philes across the city. Grazie mille Rocco!

Pizza Libretto's busy kitchen with handsome 5000-pound oven hand built in Naples 

Pizza Libretto's pizza-centric menu

Libretto serves their own purified water to help reduce their carbon footprint

Warm, fresh and squishy house made focaccia with spiced olive oil

Sangiovese 2011 IGP from Falesco, Umbria available by the glass, quartino,half litre and bottle

Rocco's Salad with Crispy Egg, Butternut Squash, Heirloom Beets, Pine Nuts and Pingue Proscuitto

Antipasto Misto of Prosciutto di Parma, grissini and marinated vegetables

Beet Caprese Salad with Ontario Fiore di Latte, Basil, White Balsamic and Olive Oil

Margherita D.O.P. Pizza with tomato, basil and mozzarella

Nduja Sausage Pizza with tomato, garlic, oregano, basil, mozzarella and stracciatella

Libretto Margherita Pizza with Buffalo Mozzarella, crushed tomato and Grana Padano cheese

A delicious pizza and glass of wine...what could be better?

An Affogato of hot espresso poured over vanilla gelato

Fresh Ricotta
Makes 1 1/2 cups
Recipe by Rocco Agostino, chef/partner at Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto

4 cups whole milk
1 cup 35 per cent cream
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Crusty bread
Extra-virgin olive oil

Stir the milk, cream and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice. Let stand, without stirring, for 5 to 8 minutes until mixture separates. 

Line a colander with 5 layers of cheesecloth. Place the lined colander over a bowl so excess liquid can drain. Pour the mixture into lined colander and let stand for 1 hour. Transfer the ricotta to a serving dish or container. If making ahead, ricotta will keep well, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days. Serve with crusty bread and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

Libretto Meatballs
Serves 4-6
Recipe by Rocco Agostino, chef/partner at Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto

1 1/2 kg ground beef, ground pork and ground pork belly
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 large egg
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped chives 
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano 
1/2 cup roasted and puréed red peppers
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano 
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp black pepper

Tomato Sauce:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely diced
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic 
1 litre canned San Marsano tomato, puréed
1/4 cup chopped basil 
1/4 cup Bomba, an Italian spicy condiment found at most grocery stores
1/2 tbsp salt
6 slices crostini from a baguette, about 1/2-inch thick each
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano

Combine all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Portion the meatballs with ice-cream scoop, then roll the meat into tight circular balls and place on large sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 375˚F oven for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside.

For the tomato sauce, add 1/4 cup of olive oil to a pot large enough to hold the meatballs. Sauté the onions over medium heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for a minute. Add the tomato purée and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the chopped basil, Bomba, salt and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Add the meatballs and drippings left in the baking tray and simmer for another 15 minutes. While the meatballs simmer, lightly brush the crostini with olive oil and bake at 375˚F until the bread is golden. Remove from oven and set aside

To serve, place three meatballs in a bowl and pour sauce over each one. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of grated Parmigiano over the meatballs, and add a crostino to each plate.