Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Homemade Chicken Stock: A Base for Great Soups

A time-honored example of kitchen thrift, using leftover chicken carcass to make stock not only makes richly flavoured broth, but is the culinary stepping stone to creating delicious homemade soups and sumptuous braises. Every time we have a roast chicken dinner, the leftovers — lemons, string, skin and all — go into our freezer until there are 3 or 4 carcasses, enough to make a batch of homemade stock. I have even been known to disappear with the Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey carcass from other people's homes! The aromatics for both stocks are exactly the same: onions, carrots, celery, garlic and a handful of herbs — parsley, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves — plus a few black peppercorns. The leftover carcasses are added, chopped up if necessary, and thrown into a deep heavy pot. Covered with cold water and brought to a boil, then gently simmered for 3 to 4 hours, or even longer if you wish. The longer the simmer, the richer the stock. Chilled overnight and defatted in the morning, the rich tasty stock is set to go.

Roughly chopped onion and carrot with parsley, thyme, rosemary, smashed garlic and whole peppercorns

The leftover chicken carcasses — lemons and string too — are added to the pot and covered with cold water, then set over high heat until it comes to a boil

Once it comes to a boil, reduce the stock to simmer uncovered for 3 to 4 hours

Simmering after 3 hours...

Simmering after 5 hours...

Allowed to simmer gently overnight, the stock has become richer and much darker in colour

Poured into a colander, the stock is then drained of all the bones and vegetables

The stock is left to cool for about 30 minutes before being chilled overnight,
then defatted in the morning

Chicken Stock
Makes 10-12 cups

3 lb leftover chicken carcasses, including skin
1/2 head of garlic, unpeeled and bashed
5 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
5 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
5 sprigs of fresh parsley
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
10 whole black peppercorns

Place the chicken carcasses, garlic, vegetables, herbs and peppercorns in a large, deep-bottomed pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and skim any scum that has formed. Simmer gently uncovered for 3-4 hours, skimming as necessary. Strain the stock into a large bowl and allow to cool for about half an hour, then refrigerate overnight, and the next day, remove any solid fat that has formed on the surface. The stock can be used immediately or stored in resealable bags or small plastic containers and frozen for up to 2-3 months.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Luscious Leek and Potato Soup with Bacon & Dill

Of all the winter soups, Leek and Potato Soup is both comforting and familiar. A traditional Irish dish, this rich and creamy soup is frugal, filling and full of flavour. It can also be made in little more than half an hour. Leeks and onions are simply sautéed in butter until soft, then added to diced potatoes and chicken stock and simmered for 30 mintes. Puréed with dill until silky smooth and seasoned with salt and white pepper this hearty, warm and delicious Leek and Potato Soup garnished with bacon and dill is sure to warm you to the tips of you toes.

Leek and Potato Soup with Bacon & Dill
Serves 4-6

4 tbsp butter
3 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and pale green parts only
3 cups of yellow onions, finely chopped
3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup sour cream, for garnish
5 rashers of crumbled bacon, for garnish

Cook the bacon then drain on paper towel; crumble and set aside. In a large pot, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and broth, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 25-30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the dill. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until very smooth. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. To serve, ladle the soup into warm bowls, swirl in a dollop of sour cream and garnish with some sprigs of fresh dill and crumbled bacon.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mutabbal Batinjan: Arabic Eggplant & Tahini Dip

A classic Middle Eastern meze, Mutabbal Batinjan is a smokey creamy eggplant dip made with tahini and yogurt that's commonly mistaken for Baba Ghanouj, a lighter milder Levantine dish of cooked eggplant mixed with onions, tomatoes, pomegranate molasses, olive oil and various seasonings. The key to making a traditional Muttabal lies in the roasting of aubergine over a fire or hot grill for a deep smoky flavour. Once the skins are blackened, the sweet flesh is puréed with garlic, thick yogurt, olive oil and nutty tahini. Served on a decorative plate drizzled with olive, and garnished with bright red pomegranate seeds, a flurry of chopped fresh parsley and pinch of ground sumac, this healthy and delicious vegetarian meze-style spread is perfect served with fluffy warm pita.

Serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium-sized eggplant
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley 
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
salt and black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp of hot paprika or ground sumac 
Sprig of fresh mint for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 400°F. Pierce the eggplant a few times with a fork or knife and place on a baking tray. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, until the skin appears almost burnt and the eggplant begins to collapse. Note that roasting the eggplant on a gas stove or hot barbecue will make it even smokier. Set it aside until it's cool enough to handle, then scoop out the flesh, discarding any extra seeds. Mash the garlic clove into a paste by sprinkling with some salt then scrape on a cutting board with a sharp knife. Add the garlic to a bowl with the eggplant, and mash all together with a potato masher, fork, or pestle. Then add in the tahini, yogurt, cumin and lemon juice and keep mashing until the mixture becomes smooth. Add the salt, pepper, paprika, half the parsley, and half the olive oil, and stir until the mixture is well-combined, adjusting the seasoning as necessary. Transfer the mutabbal onto a deep plate and top with pomegranate seeds, parsley, a little ground sumac, olive oil, and serve with warm pita bread.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Trattoria Giancarlo: Classic Italian Cuisine in Little Italy

Located in the heart of Toronto's Little Italy, this intimate Italian trattoria at the corner of College and Clinton, has been a long time favourite among Toronto's dining cognoscenti for over 30 years. Executive chef and co-owner Eugenia Barato is the culinary heart of Trattoria Giancarlo, serving classic Italian cuisine, from homemade pasta, luscious risottos, succulent seafood, and Grigliate such as rack of lamb, aged bone-in veal chops and whole fish stuffed with herbs and fresh lemon and and finished with extra virgin olive oil. Inspired antipasti such as grilled polenta with baked mushrooms or flash seared beef carpaccio dressed with black truffle balsamic are popular favourites, but what keeps me coming back is Eugenia's sunny-hued Tagliatelle Limone simmered in a Parmigiano-Reggiano and lemon buttercream — delizioso!

View of the kitchen brigade from outside

Soft lighting, linen tablecloths, great wine list and solid menu of Italian classics make 
Trattoria Giancarlo hard to resist

A collection of vintage martini shakers were on display above our table

Bruschetta as grilled bread rubbed with garlic and basil, seasoned with cracked black pepper, 
and extra virgin olive oil with a small bowl of rosemary scented olives

Pot braised octopus, thinly sliced, garnished with oven dried cherry tomatoes in a 
white balsamic-sweet onion vinaigrette

Giancarlo's Carpaccio as lightly seared beef tenderloin, thinly sliced with Cavalli vinegar, black truffle pesto and Parmigiano shavings

Zuppa del Giorno: Tomato with Poached Egg

A 2008 Brunello di Montalcino selected from Trattoria Giancarlo's wine wall

Lombata: Aged, bone-in veal chop marinated with Sangiovese and rosemary, 
served with sautéed green beans, rapine and eggplant

Tagliatelle alla Limone in a Parmigiana and Lemon Buttercream Sauce

Costata: 5 Week Aged Rib Steak, boldly seasoned with seas salt and pepper then chargrilled

Pink and juicy and perfectly grilled

House made Vanilla Gelato with a sliver of Vanilla Bean

Fichi: Dried Figs poached in red wine-cinnamon syrup with Parmigiano shavings


Funghi al Forno 
(Oven-Baked Mushrooms)
Serves 4-6
Recipe courtesy of Eugenia Barato, chef/owner of Trattoria Giancarlo 

1⁄3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes, plus more if desired
1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1⁄2 tsp kosher salt
1 1⁄2 lb assorted fresh mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster or cremini
1 1⁄2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or similar cheese

In a small bowl, stir together the parsley, garlic and hot pepper flakes; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar and salt. Add the mushrooms; toss to coat. Clean and trim the mushrooms, and if using shiitakes, remove and discard the stems. Spread the mushrooms in a single layer on a large parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle evenly with the parsley mixture and the cheese. Bake in a 400°F oven just until the mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms with their juices to a platter. Serve immediately and serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices, as either an appetizer or a side dish with roast meat, fish or poultry.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thai-Inspired Spicy Noodles with Red Curry Sauce

A simple pasta with complex flavours, this Thai-inspired Cold Noodles with Spicy Red Curry and Peanut Sauce is the perfect thing for a hot summer evening. Cold noodles are unique to Asian cooking, and the mouth watering combination of peanut butter, red curry paste, rice vinegar, lime juice, cilantro and chopped scallions come together to create a thick and velvety spicy sauce. Topped with sesame seeds and chopped cilantro, these noodles are a flexible dish that can be eaten either warm or cold, and can also be adapted to your favourite noodle, from Japanese buckwheat soba noodles, Thai rice noodles, Chinese egg noodles or even fettuccine, linguine or spaghettini. The sauce is so delicious, it could even be used as a marinade or dipping sauce for grilled chicken, pork, fish or seafood.

Cold Noodles with Spicy Red Curry Sauce
Serves 4-6

12 oz fettuccine, Chinese egg noodles, or soba noodles
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp red curry paste
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 lime, juiced 
1/3 cup of fresh cilantro, plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup water
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds, for garnish

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the noodles until al dente. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water until chilled. Shake out the excess water and blot dry. Meanwhile, purée the peanut butter, curry paste, vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, salt and red pepper flakes and water in a food processor or blender until smooth. In a large bowl, toss the noodles with the peanut sauce and sliced green onions and mix well, until the noodles are well coated. Season to taste with salt and stir in some of the reserved cooking liquid from the pasta to loosen the sauce, if necessary. Serve the noodles in a decorative bowl or platter, and garnish with sesame seeds and more cilantro.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pan Fried Monkfish with Lemon Caper Butter Sauce

Poor man's lobster. That's how this humble fish is often described. The meat from the monkfish tail is sweet, delicate and quite firm, and has a mild shellfish flavour because crustaceans are in fact, a large part of the monkfish's diet. Often served as a whole filet, Pan Fried Monkfish Medallions are an elegant way to prepare this delicious misunderstood fish. Served on a pillow of puréed cauliflower and a nest of wilted spinach, the medallions are dredged in some seasoned flour, and quickly pan fried in a little olive oil and butter. Garnished with a drizzle of tangy Lemon Caper Butter Sauce, this easy recipe is big on flavour, relatively low in calories and makes an elegant and refined entrée.

Pan Fried Monkfish Medallions with Cauliflower Purée & Wilted Spinach
Serves 2

Cauliflower Purée:
1 head of cauliflower
1/4 tsp salt & white pepper to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp whole milk or cream

Lemon Caper Butter Sauce:
4 tbsp butter
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 lemon, zested
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and minced

1 Monkfish tail
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt and white pepper to taste
1 bunch of fresh baby spinach

Break the cauliflower into florets and steam until very tender, about 10-15 minutes. Once cooked, place the cauliflower in a cuisineart blender with butter, salt and pepper, and process until very smooth. Add 1 tbsp of milk or cream to loosen the purée, if necessary. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and keep warm over low heat until required.

For the sauce, melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the juice of half a lemon, zest of one lemon, minced capers and chopped parsley, and stir to combine. Set aside and cover, over low heat. In a large pot, cook the spinach with a little water until just wilted. Let the water cook off, then add 1 tbsp of butter, a little salt and white pepper, and allow the spinach and warm through.

Rinse monkfish and pat dry with paper towels. Cut each fillet crosswise into 1/2-inch thick medallions. Dredge the fish in a seasoned flour mixture of flour, paprika, salt and pepper, coating all sides and shaking off the excess. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat-high and cook the monkfish medallions until lightly browned and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and allow to rest in a warm place, or tent under foil until ready.

To plate the dish, spread 2 cups of cauliflower purée into the centre of each warmed dinner plate, shaped into a long puddle. Top the purée with wilted spinach, then place the monkfish medallions overtop. Garnish with a light drizzle of lemon caper butter sauce, and finish with a final flourish of sauce around the perimeter of the plate. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pan Seared Sea Scallops & Minted Pea Purée Crostini

These spectacular Seared Sea Scallop & Minted Pea Purée Crostini elevate a simple appetizer into something truly memorable. Serve these canapé as a starter, main course or even as an eloquent hors d'oeuvre by using smaller slices of bread. I love the notion of a canapé — all the fla­vours of a delicious meal, heaped extra­vag­antly into one per­fect mouth­ful. The word canapé was coined in 18th cen­tury France and means 'sofa', drawing on the analogy that the garnish sits on top of the bread similar to invited guests reclining on a love seat — the per­fect romantic descrip­tion! 

Pan Seared Sea Scallops & Minted Pea Purée Crostini
Serves 12 as an appetizer
Recipe and photo courtesy of Derek's Restaurant/Sarasota

Minted Pea purée:
6 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 tbsp garlic 
2 shallots 
1 cup fresh mint, washed, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 /2 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp white pepper 

Sherry aioli:
1/4 cup sherry vinegar 
2 tbsp shallots, minced 
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp white sugar 
1 lemon, juiced 
4 egg yolks 
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil 
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper

6 large sea scallops, patted dry
2 tbsp clarified butter or ghee
1 shallot, shaved for garnish
1 bunch baby watercress or sprouts, for garnish

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

Purée all the ingredients for the pea purée in a food processor and reserve for later. Slice the scallops in half lengthwise, pat dry and season with salt and white pepper. For the sherry aioli, purée all but the oil in food processor. Slowly add oil with food processor running until it emulsifies. Cover and set aside. 

In a medium sauté pan, heat the clarified butter over high heat and once the butter is hot, add the scallops and cook for 2 minutes each side, then set aside.

For the crostini, cut the baguette into diagonal slices about 3/8-inch thick, place on a baking sheet and set in a preheated 475°F oven. Bake until just golden, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the tartine from the oven, and using the fresh cloves of raw garlic, rub one side of each of the toasts, then brush a little olive oil. Set aside.

To compose the tartine, spread the pea purée over the toasted slices of baguette. Slice the seared scallops and lay on top of the pea purée. Top the scallops with the aioli and shaved shallots and garnish with young cress or sprouts.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Royal Quinoa with Dried Cranberries, Olives & Orange

Inspired by my dear friend Manita's fabulous Quinoa Salad Citrus Vinaigrette that I enjoyed with her the last time we saw one another in Miami, I created this simple and delicious Summer Quinoa using red and white 'Royal Quinoa' with diced pitted sun-dried olives, dried cranberries, slivered almonds, diced cucumber and oranges. Garnished with oodles of orange zest, drizzled with Manita's Citrus Vinaigrette and garnished with fresh mint, this is a low fat, heart smart gluten-friendly dish tastes great without feeling too naughty.

Quinoa with Dried Cranberries, Olives, Almonds & Citrus Vinaigrette
Serves 12

2 cups organic red and white Quinoa 
3 cups water

Citrus vinaigrette:
3 oranges, juiced
3 orange, zested
2 oranges, segments only, diced with pith removed
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup diced english cucumber 
4 shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 cup olive oil
Maldon salt and black pepper to tate
1 cup black sun-dried olives, pitted and quartered
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup slivered almonds
Fresh mint, for garnish

Put the quinoa in a large pan. Pour in 3 cups of cold water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10–12 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is transparent. Drain and leave to cool. Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the oil, shallots, citrus juices and zest of one orange. Combine the cooked Quinoa with half of the vinaigrette and mix thoroughly. Then add the olives, orange segments, olives, dried cranberries, remainder of the orange zest and cucumber. Check the seasoning and adjust according to taste. When ready to serve, add the almonds and orange segments and spoon into a large serving bowl. Garnish with the remaining orange zest and drizzle any additional dressing over the quinoa salad before serving with a garnish of fresh mint.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Crispy Potato Rösti with Smoked Salmon & Dill Crème

Wolfgang Puck is well known for putting smoked salmon, caviar and dill-flecked crème fraîche on his designer pizzas, but he also loves to use the trio of special toppings on his Crispy Potato Pancakes, one of the dishes that he features at the star-studded Governors Ball — the dinner celebration that takes place each year immediately following the Academy Awards. "The Governors Ball is a celebration of artistry and achieving your dreams," says Puck. "Our art is on the plate for everyone to savour and enjoy. We cast star-quality ingredients and keep the focus on flavour." A wonderfully decadent dish, Crispy Potato Rösti with Smoked Salmon & Dill Crème makes a sumptuous brunch dish, light entrée or elegant appetizer for any occasion, but for Hollywood's elite, Puck garnishes the dish with mixed baby greens, chopped capers and edible baby nasturtiums, making this dish a truly Oscar worthy culinary performance.

Crispy Potato Rösti with Smoked Salmon, Dill Cream & Baby Greens
Serves 4
Recipe and photo courtesy of Wolfgang Puck

1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 small shallot, minced
2 tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
2 tsp lemon juice, plus more for brushing
1 lb baking potatoes, peeled
1 small onion, peeled
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup vegetable cooking oil
3 tbsp butter
1/2 pound smoked salmon or gravlax

1 tbsp capers, drained and chopped 
3 cups of baby micro greens
Edible flowers, such as nasturtiums 

In a small bowl, stir together the crème fraîche, shallot, dill, chives and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk the mixture until thickened, about 30 seconds. Cover and chill.

Using the large holes of a box grater, shred the potatoes into a mixing bowl, then grate in the onion. Transfer the mixture to a cheesecloth-lined bowl, and twisting the cloth around it, squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Then transfer to another bowl. Add the egg, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and mix with a fork until well blended.

Heat some vegetable oil and a knob or two of butter in a large, heavy skillet until it ripples and feels quite hot. With a metal tablespoon, scoop spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil, patting down the mixture with an offset spatula to form an evenly thin pancake about 3 inches in diameter. For appetizers, just make the pancakes more bite-size. Add more spoonfuls, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook the pancakes until they're crispy and golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning them over carefully with a slotted metal spatula. Transfer to a tray lined with paper towels to drain. Continue with the remaining mixture. If not serving right away, allow the rösti to cool completely. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400°F, place the potatoes on a baking sheet and heat in the oven until crisp, about 10 minutes.

To serve, transfer the rösti to a platter or individual serving plates. Spoon a small dollop of the crème fraîche mixture onto each pancake and top with generous folds of smoked salmon. A little secret, Puck lightly dabs the salmon with some oil and lemon juice to make them glisten! Garnish with a small mound of baby greens and a sprinkling of small edible flowers and chopped capers over the dish and around the plate. Serve immediately.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Grilled Fennel with Fresh Herbs, Lemon & Parmesan

With their mild, licorice-scented flavour and crisp texture, fennel bulbs are delicious boiled, braised, sauteed, grilled, roasted, steamed or simply eaten raw as part of a light antipasti. In this Grilled Fennel Salad recipe, they're thinly sliced then grilled until soft and tender, and finished with an aromatic mixture of fresh herbs, lemon, olive oil and shaved parmesan. Served over a bed of wild arugula, this is an easy yet elegant side dish, delicious served along side grilled fish, veal chops or succulent roasted pork, for a sensational summer dish.

Grilled Fennel with Fresh Herbs & Parmesan
Serves 2

1 fennel bulb and fronds
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
fresh herbs like basil, parsley and thyme and some fennel fronds
lemon juice and zest
Maldon salt and black pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano shavings

Trim off the woody base of the fennel bulb, and holding the bulb upright, cut 1/4 inch slices vertically from top to bottom. Brush each side with a tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Whisk together the lemon, remaining olive oil, herbs, zest and set aside. Place the sliced fennel on a medium hot grill and turn until both sides are tender and nicely charred, about 10-15 minutes. To serve, arrange the grilled fennel over a bed of arugula and drizzle with the herbed olive oil and garnish with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and chopped fennel fronds.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Veal Chops with Tuscan-Style Marinade

A classic way to prepare veal chops is with the bones 'frenched' or exposed, that is, removing the meat, fat and membranes that connect the individual rib bones, giving the chops a more aesthetic pleasing and elegant presentation. This simple and delicious recipe is at its best when made with the freshest and thickest veal chops you can find. Marinated for a few hours in an aromatic combination of fresh herbs, bold garlic, tangy lemon juice and freshly grated zest, these tender milk-fed Tuscan-Style Veal Chops are simply grilled on medium-high, turning once until veal is well-marked and cooked to medium, about 6 minutes per side. Succulent and juicy, simple fresh seasonings transform these grilled veal chops into a work of culinary artistry worthy of a Tuscan chef — Mangiamo!

Tuscan-style marinade of minced garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, mint, thyme, tarragon and olive oil

Veal chops marinating

Veal Chops with Tuscan-Style Marinade
Serves 2

2 veal chops, cut 1-inch thick 
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp tarragon
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, thickly sliced for garnish

Combine garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, mint, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Place the veal chops in a baking dish and drizzle half of the marinade over the chops, pressing the mixture into the meat with your fingers, making sure they coat the meat. Turn the chops over and repeat with remaining oil and herb mixture. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 6 hours or even overnight. 

Half an hour before cooking, remove the veal from the refrigerator and allow it come to room temperature. Preheat an outdoor grill to medium high then grill the chops for 5-6 minutes per side for medium doneness, turning with tongs halfway through. For nice crosshatch marks, rotate the chops 90 degrees after 3 minutes of cooking on each side. While chops are resting, brush the lemon slices with olive oil and grill until slightly charred and warmed through. Transfer the chops to a platter and let rest for 3 minutes before serving.

Serve the veal chops with the lemon slices and your favourite side dishes, such as grilled fennel and a simply dressed arugula salad. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Gruyère Tartlets

There's an elegant beauty to puff pastry — the way its paper-thin layers puff like magic, delicately crisp and golden. The way it shatters with each bite. The deep buttery richness tucked inside every morsel. These delicious little Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Gruyere Tartlets are gloriously rich and delicious, and best of all, they're easy to make. Finely chopped onion, sautéed in a little butter until it caramelizes, are added to sliced mushrooms, garlic and thyme, and cooked until all the liquid evaporates. This savoury mixture is then spooned on top of little coin-size discs of puff pastry and sprinkled with gruyere cheese. Baked for about 15 minutes, these gorgeous fragrant savoury tartlets come out of the oven, bubbling, golden brown and absolutely delicious.

Caramelized Onion, Mushroom & Gruyère Tartlets
Makes about 12 2-inch appetizers

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp unsalted butter

8 oz white button mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp dried thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup white wine
1 sheet store-bought puff pastry
1 cup shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese
1 egg and 1 tbsp water, beaten together, for the egg wash
parsley or onion sprouts, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Add the butter to the pan. Once melted, add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are completely soft and all of the liquid evaporates, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and the thyme and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to pull up all of the browned bits, and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated, then remove from the heat.

Unfold the thawed sheet of puff pastry and cut out 2-inch circles from the dough, placing them evenly spaced on the baking sheet. Using a very sharp knife, make a score around the diameter of the dough, about 1/4-inch in from the edge. Top the rounds of puff pastry with a small spoonful of the onion and mushroom mixture, keeping the filling within the score marks, then top with shredded Gruyère cheese. Brush the edges of each of the dough rounds with egg wash and bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm garnished with fresh chopped parsley or chives.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Spaghetti with Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

There’s nothing more satisfying than a heaping platter of spaghetti and meatballs in a thick rich tomato sauce. It's the perfect Italian comfort food. However, it's not in fact an authentic Italian dish, but an Italian-American adaptation. But who cares? Smaller meatballs are more traditionally Italian, but the stars of this dish are the meatballs, and in this case — size does matter. The robust combination of pork, beef and veal flavoured with fresh parsley, Italian seasoning, breadcrumbs and lots of Pecorino cheese, give these plump meatballs a rich depth of flavour that stands up to even the heartiest tomato sauce. The meatballs are gently pan fried and then braised in the sauce for about half an hour, adding an extra complexity to the thick marinara sauce. Served on a large platter over a mound of perfectly cooked spaghetti, this is a delicious heart warming dish to have in your repertoire, since both the meatballs and tomato sauce freeze wonderfully well, and can be reheated whenever you need a dose of comfort food on a cold winter's evening.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Serves 6
Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

1 1/2 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Pecorino

1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 1/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs, crusts removed
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

2 tbsp good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion 
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
2 28-oz can crushed tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp dried crushed red peeper
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
3 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place the ground meats, bread crumbs, parsley, Pecorino, salt, pepper, Italian seasonings, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork, being careful not to overmix. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs, which will make about 14 to 16.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil over medium-high, and very carefully place the meatballs in the oil in batches, and brown them well on all sides, turning them carefully with a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, dried crushed red peppers, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. As the meatballs cook, they will also add complexity to the sauce. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Pecorino. If you're feeling decadent, some warm garlic bread wouldn't go amiss!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tuscan Ribolitta: Classic Italian Peasant-Style Soup

An icon of Tuscan cuisine, Ribolitta is a classic peasant style soup that looks more like a stew than a soup. A thick hearty potage of beans, winter vegetables and day-old bread, the soup used to be made from the leftovers of other dishes, which is how it got it’s name — 'Ribolitta' is Italian for 'reboiled'. There are many variations of the dish, but the main ingredients always include leftover bread, cannellini beans and inexpensive vegetables such as carrot, cabbage, beans, onion and cavolo nero, a Tuscan back leaf kale essential for an authentic Ribollita, however robust greens such as swiss chard, savoy cabbage or kale work just as well. Although the soup doesn't take long to cook, adding the ingredients in stages helps it to develop a fuller, more complex flavour. A perfect cold weather meal, Ribolitta embraces the heart and soul of peasant cooking. 

Tuscan Ribollita
Serves 8

1/2 pound dried or canned cannellini or barlotti beans
Kosher salt
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/4 pound large diced pancetta or smoked bacon
2 cups chopped leeks
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup zucchini, chopped
3 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
4 cups coarsely chopped or shredded savoy cabbage 
4 cups coarsely chopped kale or swiss chard
1 cup diced fennel
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 cups stale sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino, for garnish

In a large bowl, cover the dried beans with cold water by several inches, seal with cling film and refrigerate overnight. For canned beans, rinse and drain before using.

Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add the pancetta and onions and cook over medium-low until the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, a tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and red pepper flakes, and cook for another 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes with their purée, cabbage, kale and basil, and cook stirring occasionally, for another 8-10 minutes.

Drain the beans, reserving their cooking liquid. Purée half of the beans with a little of their liquid, in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, then add to the stockpot, along with the remaining whole beans. Pour the bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve hot in large bowls sprinkled with Pecorino and drizzled with olive oil.