Thursday, April 2, 2015

Buca on King: Chef Rob Gentile's Cucina Italiano

Few places encapsulate Toronto’s innovative new dining culture better than Buca Osteria & Enotecca, one of the most successful restaurants that's opened in recent years. Hidden away down a long alleyway at King and Portland in a former warehouse boiler room with exposed brick walls, dramatically soaring 30-foot ceilings and glowing industrial chandeliers, Buca's subterranean dining room feels like the city’s most exquisite warehouse. At the culinary helm, Executive Chef Rob Gentile and his team prepare some of the most original Italian cuisine in the city. And Gentile trained under the best, Mark McEwan at North 44, Bymark and One — but with Buca, he's gone back to the cooking of his nonna. Dishes are based on fresh market seasonal produce and change constantly, so Buca's menus are printed daily and date-stamped each morning. Always included are their house-cured meats, such as spicy calabrese style pork sausage, Prosciuttini, Salame Toscana and Salsicce Ciociare with house made preserves, plus a long list of fabulous Italian cheeses. 

Executive Chef Rob Gentile of Buca, Buca Bar and Buca Yorkville

Buca was a former warehouse boiler room with exposed brick walls, dramatically soaring 30-foot ceilings and glowing industrial chandeliers

Buca's subterranean dining room 

Bare honey-hued industrial lightbulbs enhance Buca's hip ambiance

Buca's hammered cutlery table setting with dish towel-style napkins

Buca 'Eska' carbonated spring water

A perfect start to the evening, a Hendricks Martini with slice of cucumber

We started with Martinis and a selection of Salumi di Buca along with an order of Deep Fried Carciofini Fritti and Chef Gentile's famous Nodini, warm bread knots tossed with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and sea salt. We followed with a bottle delicious Gavi to enjoy with our Spaghetti Pomodoro, Grilled Whole Branzino and Brasato Manzo, a slow cooked George McGee Farms steak with smooth artichoke parmigiano, brodo di lemon and wild spring greens. To finish, we shared two dolce — Mela al Forno and Torta di Sanguinaccio, a traditional southern Italian chocolate and pig's blood tart topped with fresh figs steeped in grappa and espresso topped with a satiny buffalo-milk crème anglaise and chopped candied almonds. Buca isn’t the place for a quiet romantic dinner, but if you’re looking for a delicious evening with big buzz and big bucks, Buca is the place to be.

Buca's sensational dinner menu with 3 pages of cucina Italiano

Buca's signature Nodini: warm bread knots, olive oil, rosemary, garlic and sea salt 

Gnocco Fritto: tuscan spiced crisp dumplings with pancetta

Salumi di Buca with Prosciuttini, Salame Toscana and Salsicce Ciociare with house made preserves

Carciofini Fritti

A superb bottle of Tenuta la Merchesa Gavi 2013 had great depth and character, 
a delicious wine with fish and light pastas

Spaghetti Pomodoro with ripe fall tomatoes, ottobratico olive oil, basil and fiore sardo

Grilled whole Branzino with bariole olives, preserved lemon and terre di san mauro olive oil

Brasato Manzo: Slow cooked George McGee Farms steak with smooth artichoke parmigiano, 
brodo di lemon and wild spring greens

Mela al Forno: Baked Apple Crostata

Torta di Sanguinaccio: a traditional southern Italian Chocolate and pig's blood tart with fresh figs steeped in grappa and espresso topped with a satiny buffalo-milk crème anglaise and chopped candied almonds 

Aquavite Ciliiege 

Buffalo Ricotta Stuffed Cannelloni
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Rob Gentile, BUCA

Tomato Sauce:
4 lb fresh Roma tomatoes
1 cup olive oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
3 cups small basil leaves

2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp Spanish or white onion, chopped
10 oz fresh spinach
1 500 gram package buffalo’s milk ricotta 

6 sheets fresh pasta, cut into 18 pieces, 3 by 5 inches each
6 – 8 prosciutto slices, torn
2 handful basil leaves
Parmigiano-reggiano, for garnish

To prepare the sauce, slice an X in the bottom of each tomato, and blanch in a large pot of boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes until the skin begins to peel, then immediately plunge into ice water. When cool, remove from water, peel and quarter. Chop coarsely in food processor.

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil and set over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic for 1 to 3 minutes until translucent, then add the tomatoes and simmer over medium-low for 1 hour until thickened. Add the basil for the last 30 minutes of cooking, then remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, push through a food mill then let cool completely.

To prepare filling, coat a medium frying pan with olive oil and heat over medium-low. Cook the onion for 2 to 3 minutes until translucent, then add the spinach and cook until wilted. Remove the spinach-onion mixture from the heat and when cool, squeeze with paper towel until dry then finely chop. Whip the ricotta in stand mixer for 1 minute until fluffy. Stir in spinach mixture then spoon into a piping bag.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pipe the spinach-cheese mixture into thick strips along the length of each pasta sheet, leaving 1/8-inch exposed at the edges. Lightly spray with water and roll up. Coat the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish with sauce. Place the cannelloni seam-side down and spoon more sauce overtop. Cover any remaining sauce and set aside.

Cover and bake in centre of oven for 40 minutes until the pasta is cooked and the sauce has thickened. If needed, remove the foil for last 10 to 15 minutes of baking to thicken. Serve 2 or 3 cannelloni per plate and spoon any remaining sauce overtop. Top each serving with prosciutto, basil leaves and cheese.

Duck Bigoli
Serves 16
Recipe courtesy of Rob Gentile, BUCA

This is the way it’s done at Buca. The recipe for fresh pasta follows, but you can use dried.

Duck Ragu:
5 lb duck legs, skin removed
3 1/2 oz duck heart
3 1/2 oz duck liver
3 1/2 oz duck gizzard
7 oz diced onion
7 oz diced carrot
7 oz diced celery
53 oz canned whole tomatoes
3/4 piece of cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
5 cloves
10 peppercorns
2 cups white wine
Kosher salt, pepper, olive oil, to taste

Combine the cinnamon, bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns in a sachet. Set aside. Season duck legs with salt and pepper. In a rondeau pan, add olive oil and bring to high heat. Sear legs on both sides and remove from pan. Set aside. Sear duck offal, remove from pan. Set aside. Add the mirepoix to pan and sweat. Deglaze with white wine and reduce by half. Add seared duck legs, offal and sachet to the pan. Cover with 74-40 tomato filets, or canned tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Cover pot and braise in oven at 325°F for 3-4 hours or until the leg meat is falling off the bone. Cool the braise by submerging the pot into an ice bath. This will speed the cooling process. Once cooled, remove the duck legs from sauce and pull duck meat from the bones. Roughly chop the meat and set aside. Crush sauce with hands, added chopped duck back to the sauce and set aside for finishing.

Pasta Dough: 
1.1 lb semolina flour
1.1 lb all-purpose flour flour — Arva Mill, if you can get it
1 whole duck egg 

Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer outfitted with a dough hook attachment. Mix on speed 1 until well integrated. To shape, cut 1/4 lb blocks to be cranked through a Torchio hand press.

To Finish: 
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 piece medium-sized fresh garlic
1.1 lb duck ragu
1 lb fresh duck egg pasta
6 oz mascarpone cheese 
8 basil leaves 

In a large sauté pan, heat oil on medium heat along with garlic and gently toast garlic long enough to be infused in oil. Add duck ragu to sauté pan and bring to medium simmer. Drop pasta into a pot of seasoned, boiling water. While pasta is cooking (about 1-2 minutes for fresh; 8-10 minutes for dried), add the basil and mascarpone cheese to the sauce and mix until fully incorporated. Remove the garlic and discard. After pasta has been cooked to al dente, pull the pasta from water and add to the pan. Cook the pasta in the sauce for 1 minute and add a splash of hot water while adjusting the sauce consistency to your liking. Serve immediately with a garnish of baby basil leaves.