Category Archives: pasta

SO SMEARED

This photo makes me laugh. Our chef at Lawrence is particularly clear about tidying up the plate’s edges, so as the dish moves from the kitchen to the pass to the dining room, the plate must look clean, impeccable, and gleaming white. So this meal —  smeared so grossly onto the plate, like it was dragged there by a hungry animal — made me giggle. It was also a clean-out-the-fridge kind of dinner, made in haste, and driven by hunger: stewed chickepeas, halved cherry tomatoes, garlic, shallots, tomato paste, sunflower oil, butter, chopped parsley and basil, and a big handful of wilted mizuna and micro arugula, added right at the end, all came together in a pretty tasty tangle. I had another plate after this one.

PASTA NIGHTS

Our freezer is always stocked with one of or two loaves of my sourdough, ready to be transformed into slices of toast, a tupperware of breadcrumbs, or a pan of garlicky croutons. Recently, I read about a curious walnut-bread sauce, thick and creamy and off-white in color, spooned over pasta and served with a glass of cold Ligurian wine. I pulled out some bread from my freezer and got to work.

It all starts with a loaf of stale or defrosted country bread, torn into manageable chunks and soaked in a pot of warm milk. A pan of walnuts is lightly roasted and then crushed in a mortar and pestle. A few cloves of garlic are peeled and lightly flattened. Then, the entire aromatic mess is blitzed with an immersion blender until pureed, but still chunky. With a wooden spoon, I whipped in a few cups of grated Parmesan and half a cup of good Italian olive oil. What appeared next was one of the most voluminous, gorgeous sauces I’ve ever made. It’s rustic and pasty — who likes that wan, pale shade of beige, anyway? — but the taste is totally remarkable. There’s that faintest shade of garlic, the salty punch of cheese, those sweet, earthy walnuts, and the tang and heft of the milk-soaked bread. I used Rachel’s recipe as a guideline and inspiration more than anything else, but if you’d like to follow it exactly, you can find it here. When we were ready to eat, I thinned out the sauce with a big splash of starchy pasta water, which loosens and relaxes the sauce, perfectly coating your pasta.

Okay, a few notes about the linguine, which was so easy to make. Marcella Hazan’s basic pasta recipe has always been my favorite, and I love her preference for intuitive dough-making: the feel and look of the pasta is way more important than precisely scaling out ingredients. Hazan estimates about one cup of flour for every two eggs, and I find those proportions to be exactly right. Our dough was springy, soft, and smooth.

The rest of the dinner was light and fresh, starting wedges of Tuscan melon and smoked Charlevoix ham. Next, an easy and colorful chopped Italian salad, using mostly bitter-tasting vegetables like radicchio and dandelion greens, all brightened by red bell pepper, golden raisins, shaved fennel, and chopped almonds. It might be my new favorite winter salad.

The rest was seriously simple: a wedge of my favorite 18-month aged Comte, straight from Jura, eaten with slivers of ripe Comice pears and sourdough toasts, followed by Italian blood oranges and dark chocolate-covered candied ginger, a lovely Valentine’s gift from my mom. The night was a perfect homage to the region of Liguria, and the certainly perked up our cold winter nights!

FAIL SAFE

Whenever I feel totally uninspired by cooking and the contents of my refrigerator, I reach for a few fail-safe tricks. Like: Boiling a pot of beans with an onion and some bay. Simmering a quick tomato sauce and adding dried pasta. A scoop of miso dissolved in some vegetable broth.

One of my all-time, fool-proof favorites: Roasting whatever I have around in the oven at high heat until dark, caramelized, and fragrant. I like to cut everything into similar sized pieces — here, I used a head of broccoli, a few wilting brussels sprouts, and a few cloves of peeled garlic — and coat with olive oil, lemon zest, aleppo pepper, and lemon juice. Simple. Twenty minutes later, fresh out of the oven, charred and crispy, I deglazed the pan with a little white wine and some starchy pasta water, just enough to make a light sauce. If none of that inspires you? Delivery pizza is totally a legit alternative.

GOLD MEDAL PLATES

A few weeks ago, the team at Lawrence competed in the annual Gold Medal Plates competition, a charity event featuring Canadian chefs cooking their signature dishes for hundreds of people. Marc was invited to participate in the Quebec event, and we all helped him out. I felt like I finally had a taste of what it would be like hustling on one of those insane Top Chef challenges — complete with copious amounts of running back and forth between our display table and the onsite kitchens — and we took home a bronze medal! The dish? The ultimate marriage of sweet and salty: crispy pork cheek and mustard sauce atop a mini apple tart tatin. I’ve never made more puff pastry in my life.

KEEPING IT COMFY

Election day-derived anxiety calls for comfort food! We picked up a beautiful branch of broccoli from Birri, and I roasted it with lemon zest, olive oil, garlic cloves, and red pepper flakes until charred, more charred than you can imagine. (If we’re getting technical, about 10-12 minutes in a 450 degree oven). With some good bacon, grated pecorino, toasted pine nuts, and a handful of tiny, tender orecchiette, I enjoyed a big plate of coziness to help ward off election day jitters.

RELIVING SUMMER

[All photos by Etienne Mar]

There’s a lovely journal post over at Kinfolk Magazine detailing the beautiful Grand Aioli dinner I threw with Michelle Marek almost two months ago. The night, which was full of chaos and love and fresh vegetables, was one of the highlights of my summer. As we approach fall, it’s so nice to relive the moment when we were still thrilled by the emergence of garlic, and the warmth of sunshine. Anthony really couldn’t have summed up the night better:

Between the food, the wine, the ambiance, and the assembly of enthusiasts, something magical happened that evening. Somehow Montreal’s natural joie de vivre merged with a sense of Provence’s. One terroir (the one that produced our vegetables, flowers, cheeses, and breads) was united with another (the one that produced the wine). And the vehicle for this experiment in teleportation was as honest and elemental as they come.

I took a few photos too, though they’re aren’t as nice as Etienne’s, and I’ll share them soon…

A DÉPANNEUR LUAU!

ALOHA!

Montreal friends, I’m hosting a Hawaiian luau at the Pick Up this Friday, July 20. (Full details here). I’m in charge of the dessert course, and I can’t stop reading about of the amazingly retro South Sea options out there, like “Millionaire’s Pie,” a classic no-bake dessert featuring a charming mixture of Cool Whip, crushed pineapple from a can, and condensed milk. The search for a gorgeous Hawaiian dessert continues…

RECCURRING CRAVING

The other afternoon, I couldn’t stop fantasizing about thick, tender ribbons of fettuccine, coated in a slick, peppery carbonara sauce, or translucent purses of ravioli, cradling mushrooms and chopped greens. I was gripped with another intense longing for pasta. Never one to deny myself a craving, I called up my friend Carlo, who owns a pasta maker, and we dove right in.

I’d say making pasta is equal parts tricky and simple — slightly tricky at the outset, then astonishingly easy all the way to the finish line. I decided to use Marcella Hazan’s fresh pasta recipe (she of the famous tomato-butter sauce!), which requires two cups of flour for every two eggs. Easy enough to remember. (While I used simple all-purpose flour, other recipes recommend dopio zero flour, which has a high protein content and is also great for pizzas).

The process, at the start, is a little fussy: build a small volcano, crack the eggs into a crater at the top, and gently, steadily, work the egg into the flour. (A little egg will run down the sides of your volcano like lava. No stress. I folded it back in and reshaped until combined). After it comes together into a shaggy ball of dough, knead like crazy for about five or six minutes until the glutens develop. The finished dough will be smooth, soft, pliable, and a beautiful pale yellow.

(At first, your pasta dough may be a little fussy and brittle, as you can see from Carlo’s first attempt! But after we ran his dough through the pasta press a few times, it turned surprisingly supple and soft. And I promise you can’t taste the difference!)

I was so happy with the fettuccine that we made. The wavy, marigold-colored ribbons, barely dusted with flour, was exactly what I had been fantasizing about earlier that afternoon. I didn’t want to distract from the perfection of the pasta, so the sauce was simple, just a few cups of halved cherry tomatoes, minced shallots, and chopped garlic, fried at high heat in a little bacon grease and olive oil until the tomatoes released their sweet, rose-colored liquid. I added a fat splash of white wine, and piled on chopped basil, parsley, shaved Pecorino, toasted pine nuts, and reserved bacon to finish. We made a big mess — flour everywhere! — but it was worth it. Think I may just invest in my own pasta maker!

RESTAURANT MELODIES

Last month I hosted a small concert at Le Pick Up for my friends Steve Gunn and Doc Dunn. We rarely have concerts at the restaurant because of its tiny size and residential location but it turned out to be perfectly suited for the mellow music. It was such a cozy night!

Adam and I took advantage of the kitchen space and prepared dinner for the touring musicians, including an awesome Moro East cauliflower soup, which is flavored with cumin seeds, pine nuts, and paprika. Super recommended. (I found the recipe online here!) Adam also whipped up two Roman-inspired dishes, including an incredible puntarelle salad with halved grapes and anchovies (totally inspired combo — especially if you like bitterness), and a streamlined pasta dish flavored with tiny navy beans, roasted red peppers, and greens.

And to finish, big slices of my red velvet cake. Not as elegant but who turns down a piece of cake? HA!

 

 

LATE NIGHTS AT NORA GRAY

Love the new restaurant Nora Gray. What started out as an intimate dinner date with Michelle quickly ballooned into a massive group of 10. Our gang asked for the meal both “family style” and chef’s choice, which, admittedly, was an expensive commitment (For example: Emma brought us a pig’s head with braised endives as one of the main dishes). Next time, I will happily sit at their sleek bar instead and order a few appetizers and exercise a little restraint. The food, however, is memorable, delicious, and rarefied. We were so engrossed in our meal that it wasn’t until I looked at my phone at the dismal hour of 2am that I realized it was time to go home.