If you live in Montreal, then you already know that the markets are ridiculous. Like, jaw-droppingly, achingly spectacular. It’s my favorite time of year around these parts — early summer vegetables are still kicking around, and early fall produce is starting to make its first appearance. (I saw pears yesterday!) Basically it means that you can eat whatever you want and in incredible abundance. Yesterday morning, we went for the corn, tomatoes, amaranth, carrots, kale, and fresh eggs. Tomorrow, I’m going back for eggplant — we’re finally upon ratatouille season!
Ever since I’ve traded the hours spent in my kitchen for another, cooking elaborate meals at home feels less and less appealing these days. A strange adjustment since I’ve always loved cooking at home and entertaining. Not only do I lack energy to plan and execute multi-course meals — “cooking” these days is basically toast with almond butter in the mornings, and popcorn dusted with nutritional yeast late at night — I can barely muster the enthusiasm to cook proper, simple meals for myself.
So I’m extra grateful when Adam shows up, eyes bright from the market, bearing a tote bag bursting with juicy, sweet tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, field basil, and a hunk of bread from the new (amazing!) bread-by-the-pound place, Joe La Croûte, all of the perfect ingredients for the best no-cook lunch that my tired brain could have imagined. Shamefully, this was the very first Caprese salad I had assembled yet this year, the most iconic of summertime dishes, but I almost wept over the results, a joyous marriage of licorice-sweet basil, milky cheese, and tomatoes streaming with juice and dotted with salt.
There’s nothing quite like a proper summer BBQ — held outside on a drizzling, humid July night — that pools together the talents of your friends. Cassady and Adam opened beautiful bottles of wine all night, and made sure I never saw the bottom of my glass. Noam from Kaizen, having just finished a 10-hour shift at the restaurant, grilled a few dozen quails until golden and charred. (What a champion!) Adam made a delicious spread of smoked eel from Kamouraska, fennel fronds, and milk bread toasts. Marc from Lawrence grilled duck hearts, served alongside simple salad of green beans, anchovy and radishes. And I roasted vegetables — beets and new potatoes from Birri, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, and tossed directly on the coals — and made the easiest dessert ever. (This cake, which has yet to let me down.) We were spread around Cass’ back stoop, dishes perched on our laps, and picked at the tender quail meat with our hands, throwing the bones directly into the fire. Messy, delicious eating, and one of the best moments of the summer so far.
One of the very best things about the internet (besides adorable cat videos, of course) is the fact that I have met so many cool ladies through our various blogs, though many of our friendships exist only in the cybersphere. Happily, I had a one-night-only chance to meet beautiful Jennifer and her partner Evan in real life.
The pair were in Montreal for some R&R, so I invited them over for a Monday night supper: crispy roast duck legs, navy beans, heirloom beets and dill, Chad Robertson’s dinosaur kale caesar salad (and please, don’t hesitate: make this salad immediately) with big whole wheat croutons, roasted carrots in honey, and duck fat-fried potatoes. (Pro tip: sprinkle your potatoes with chives and smoked paprika and they will emerge from their oven roast tasting of Ruffles-brand sour cream & onion potato chips). For dessert, a little Canadian pride: Ontario peach and Quebec blueberry galette and vanilla-scented whipped cream.
Just a few words on making perfect duck legs. The legs I purchased had a tremendous amount of excess fat, so I rendered all of my trimmings. Just place them in a big pot, cover them halfway up with water, and let it simmer on low, low, low heat. After a few hours, the water will have completely evaporated, leaving behind crisp, golden duck cracklings and a few pints (!) of perfectly rendered duck fat. I used a decent amount to coat the roast potatoes, and bottled the rest — it’ll be perfect for biscuits, savory pie crust, and scones.
But back to the duck. This video sums up the technique quite nicely — the idea is low and slow — though Adam and I couldn’t help but make a few adjustments. Rather than 90 minutes at 300 degrees F, we roasted our legs for two hours at 250 degrees F, turning on the broiler at the end to get extra crispy, golden results. The result is a stunner every time: paper thin shards of skin atop moist, tender leg meat.
A buoyant dinner of fruits from the ground and the ocean — Snow crab tossed with lime juice; salt cod poached in coconut milk; slices of kiwi and halved grapes; mango and spicy pepper relish. Food for staying cool (and looking good).