Archive for May, 2008
To make this, first pour a good splash of olive oil on a piece of your favourite crusty bread. Place in a panini press or grill it for a minute or so. Take a raw garlic clove and gently rub it around the perimeter of the bread, on the top edge of the crust only.
To make the ‘pesto’: heat some vegetable oil in a pan until hot. Sear some chopped green onions until they brown. Add some thinly sliced raw asparagus, about 1/2 cup of water, a splash of extra virgin olive oil, and some smoked sea salt (or regular salt) and some ground pepper. I used New Zealand manuka wood smoked sea salt here which imparted a very complementary flavour. Cook until most of the water has evaporated. Then add some toasted pinenuts, and pulse briefly in a food processor. Make sure the mixture has a chunky texture.
Spread this on the top of your crostino and place some shaved manchego cheese on top of that. Goes well with a glass of chardonnay that has a touch of oak to it.
Even though the green looks a bit washed-out from mixing with seared scallions, the flavour is excellent. A really delicious crostino perfect for a Spring evening, especially as the weather becomes tolerable enough to eat al fresco.
Gooseberries aren’t the most commonly eaten berry in these parts, although in Europe they are certainly better known. When I was a kid, my Mom grew some gooseberries in the backyard along with red currants and blackberries. Being from the UK that would have been a taste of home.
Back when ‘Marks & Spencers’ still operated stores in Canada (I’m pretty sure they pulled out of Canada — maybe North America, much to the chagrin of British expats) I remember eating gooseberry fools — a combination of gooseberries, cream, sugar and maybe a bit of gelatin to firm things up — sold in individual serving cups like yogurt. For a department store Marks & Spencers had a great food section. I still miss it.
Today I felt like trying a new pastry recipe. It’s not particularly revolutionary, but it turned out nice and flaky and had no butter in it, just vegetable shortening, and cold evaporated milk instead of cold water to bring the dough together.
The pastry crust was for a tart filled with pastry cream and some gooseberry preserves.
The pastry (enough for a 9″ single pastry crust):
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening
3 T cold 2% evaporated milk
Proceed as per usual pastry making methods, i.e. don’t overwork the dough. Rest it in the refrigerator for about an hour. Don’t handle it too much and melt the fat, etc. I have to say though that I was pretty casual with this one and the crust still turned out light and flaky. Definitely forgiving and definitely a keeper.
After greasing and lining a small tart tin (4″) with the pastry, I filled it halfway with some vanilla pastry cream:
2 cups milk
3 large egg yolks
100 grams granulated sugar
50 grams all-purpose flour
2 T liquid honey
Split the vanilla pod and put the pod and seeds in a pot with the milk. Scald the mixture. Make sure to scrape the inside of the vanilla pod with a spatula to get all the seeds out. Remove the pod and save it (dry it and put it in your sugar pot). Meanwhile whisk together the yolks and sugar. Add the flour making sure there are no lumps. Temper this mixture with the milk then add the lot into your pot and heat on med-low heat stirring constantly until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. If there are any lumps pass the mixture through a strainer. Stir in the honey at this point.
On top of the pastry cream I spooned some gooseberry preserves. You could put whatever preserves or jam that you like in here. On top of that is a lattice of pastry that I made with a pasta cutter.
You could brush the crust with milk or egg to brown but I found the crust browned just fine without. For 4″ tarts bake at 375°F for about 40 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown.
As the weather warms up chilled soups make a pleasant start to a meal. This one is really simple to prepare. No cooking required — just break out the blender.
3 cups buttermilk
1 medium english cucumber
small bunch parsley
small bunch dill
small bunch watercress
zest of 1 lime
1 T white wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 T extra virgin olive oil
hemp seed oil
Chop the cucumber and scallions. Reserve a few sprigs of dill and watercress for garnish. Blend everything except the yogurt and hemp seed oil on high speed for a few minutes until almost completely puréed. For a very smooth texture you could strain this through a sieve. Adjust with white pepper and salt. You may want to add more of a tang to this soup with extra buttermilk or vinegar/lemon juice.
Garnish with some of the greens, a dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of hemp seed oil.
This could also be used as a sauce for something like grilled shrimp. The contrast between spicy hot shrimp and cool green sauce would definitely work well.
Ontario asparagus is in full-swing right now. These bunches are from the Riverdale Farms Farmers’ Market which is held every Tuesday afternoon until sometime in October.
Pickings are slim as this was the first market of the year, but as the growing season progresses, more farmers show up. I can hardly wait for the heirloom tomatoes in August! — but back to Spring and asparagus. I peeled the stalks after snapping them at the appropriate spot. Quickly blanched in boiling salted water and refreshed in ice water. Tossed with olive oil and sea salt. Then onto the barbecue for a good charring.
The yukon gold potatoes were also boiled and barbecued. On the top of the asparagus is a spoon of black truffle butter. To be exact “Beppino Occelli – Crema di Burro con Tartufo Nero.” This is one of the better truffle-infused products because there is actually 6% black truffle pieces in it. That’s not bad. Beppino Ocelli is an artisanal butter and cheese producer in Piemonte, Italy. On the potatoes is some shaved Grana padano, a splash of good olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.
Tiny king oyster mushrooms, organic shiitakes and morels fresh from the Riverdale Farm Farmers’ Market. The morels were foraged up near North Bay, Ontario. The chocolate brown shiitakes with the split caps were sold by a fellow growing them on some logs. He was cutting them off right there. I was offered one of these mushrooms wrapped up in a wild leek leaf. Tasted great — instant salad.
When I have a haul of beautiful mushrooms thoughts naturally turn to a rich eggy pasta. I broke out the reliable Atlas to make some mafaldine which is a long ribbon about one centimeter wide.
200 g all-purpose flour
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp milk
pinch sea salt
Stinging nettles — handle with care!
If you look closely you can see the small barbs sticking out of the leaves and stems. When dealing with these it’s probably best to get out the yellow dishwashing gloves.
My first experience with stinging nettles was when I worked in a northern Italian restaurant about 5 years ago. While doing a stage in Trentino-Alto Adige I had to prep these alongside the dishwasher. Crates of stinging nettles were delivered to the restaurant where we would fill a large sink with cold water, wash the plants and snip off the leaves with scissors. The ‘ortiche,’ as they are known in Italian, would be blanched, chopped and make their way into ‘canederli’ — basically large bread gnocchi. If memory serves, I believe the canederli rested on a pool of fonduta cheese sauce. Substantial northern Italian fare.
Hopefully the stingers haven’t put you off cooking with nettles. When cooked the barbs disappear. The taste is better than spinach. The blanched leaves are a beautiful deep, deep green. The ultimate though is the fact that this is a very healthy plant to eat. I mean, medicinal healthy. I bought the leaves from a holistic practitioner who picked them outside the city. They were being sold as medicine. I just felt like some pasta.
For everything you would ever want to know about this plant and its health benefits, may I suggest this article from Vitality magazine.
The pasta dough is quite straightforward. This recipe will make good portions for you and your best friend:
200 g all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp water, maybe a little more
For the pasta filling:
1 shallot, finely diced
50 g stinging nettles (weight after blanching in boiling, salted water, drained and chopped)
100 g ricotta, drained
20 g grana padano, grated
sea salt, pepper
Sweat the shallot in a bit of olive oil. Remove from heat and in a bowl mix all the ingredients together to form a thick paste. I find it easiest to put this filling into a piping bag to make the stuffed pasta.
Roll out the pasta dough by hand or with a machine to its thinnest setting. Cut out rounds. Pipe a bit of stuffing into the centre of the circle. Wet your finger with some water and rub it around half the circle. Fold the circle in half to create a half-moon shape. Dust your finished mezzaluna with some flour and continue in the same way until all the pasta is made. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for a couple of minutes at the most. Fresh pasta cooks very quickly.
I finished the mezzelune in some butter with poppyseeds and lots of grated grana padano. For drinking, perhaps a northern Italian pinot grigio.
I bought the purple potatoes at the local farmer’s market. They are quite prevalent these days — they even sell them at the bargain grocery store.
In order to keep the purple colour as strong as possible, cook them with the skin on. I boiled them in salted water until a knife went through with slight resistance. They can get mushy if overcooked. You could also roast them with the skins on.
The potatoes were broken up with a fork to retain a nice chunky texture, and lightly tossed with a dijon-herb vinaigrette while still warm:
1/3 cup organic apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
7 sprigs dillweed, stems removed, chopped
7 chives, chopped
sea salt and pepper, to taste
Put everything in a cylinder and use a stick blender to emulsify. This vinaigrette is weighted heavily toward the vinegar, but I like vinegar and it goes well with the potatoes. Add a bit more oil and/or less vinegar according to your preference.
The watercress, some more dill and some flat-leaf parsley were also tossed with some of this vinaigrette.
On top is some Monforte Dairy ‘Black Sheep’ cheese which is an artisanal sheep’s milk cheese made in Ontario. It has a striking black ash rind with herbal and citrus notes. This piece was good and ripe and as a result was being sold at the Saturday farmer’s market for an amazing price. That worked out well — I wanted the cheese to be ripe anyway. Maybe I should have bought another one… Aside from ending up in this salad, the rest got polished off with wine and crackers. In fact it didn’t last the day.