Thursday, 15 September 2011

Green Beans and Hard-Tack Cod Fish Balls

Mediterranean appetizers in the Gaspé?  When your mom asks you to clear out some leftover cod and your father is prancing about with a sack of Purity hard-tack that he hauled all the way back from Newfoundland, what's a boy to do?

Best made with salt-cod, these delicious fritters are served up as "Bolas" in Spain, Bolinhos in the Portugese world, and Palle di Bacalao in Italy. They're done a hundred different ways in the old country.  I like to serve these up Italian-style, but with local ingredients (i.e. I had no parsley, so I tossed in some celery leaves, oh yeah, and the bacon, good old delicious bacon).

Bolas and Beans
Photo: Maria Giuliani

Green Beans

1 lb green beans, halved
1/2 onion
1/2 tomato
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt

Oil and salt your pan and get it heated to where the salt is sizzling. Finely chop your onions and fry them up on a high-heat in a covered pan.  Toss in the tomato and the garlic and cook off until the liquid has evaporated.  Drop in the halved green beans until they're tender, but not soft.

Cod Fish Balls


4 green onions, finely chopped
2 medium waxy potatoes, baked, cooled, chopped
1 bulb roasted garlic, mashed
1 egg
1 lb cod
2 shallots, finely sliced
2 tsps whole grain mustard
2 pieces bacon, chopped
1/4 c celery leaves, finely chopped
1/3 cup parmesan


3 hard-tack biscuits, crushed
2 eggs
2 cups flour

Oil for frying

This is one easy: chop and toss.  

Roll the balls up.  The yield should be around 24 small balls.

Dip the balls in flour, then in egg, then in the crushed hard-tack.  Salt them and serve them in a sauce.  I served them in a tomato sauce, but they will happily marry with garlic mayonnaise, dill sour cream, or any other dipping sauce.  Be creative, have fun.

Paparadelle con Ragu

I love my cooking sojourns in the Gaspé.  Down home the ingredients are limited, the stores are so far away that the inconvenience sets a stage that necessitates the mothering of much innovation.  For some nights I'd been dreaming about the Rigatoni Genovese recipe that I posted earlier, but I knew I wasn't going to find veal tail, rigatoni, and possibly not even fresh tomatoes.  Turns out the larder had round steak, flour + eggs, and Ti-Nou brought in a load of unripe and moldy tomatoes.

The answer to the evening's menu was founded thus: hand-rolled paparadelle and round-roast ragu.

Paparadelle and Ragu

Photo: Maria Giuliani


3 onions 
4 cloves garlic
1 carrot, chopped
500 grams round roast
1 tsp dried thyme
1.5 tsps black pepper
2 red peppers
2 cups red wine
3 celery
3 cups tomato sauce (preferably home-made with 12 tomatoes)
2 tbsps tomato paste
Olive Oil

Finely chop 2.5 onions and fry them in a small amount of olive oil. After a couple of minutes, add in the chopped carrots and celery and cover.  Once the onions, carrots, and celery have softened add in the garlic and re-cover for a couple of minutes.  Remove from the heat and puree to make the flavour base.  

Save the other 1/2 an onion for cooking up your tomato sauce.  I tossed my 12 barely ripe tomatoes in the with onion and 1/2 tbsp of butter and pureed the mess (sans onion) when it was soft.  The sauce was alright, but lacked flavour due to the quality of the tomatoes, hence the tomato paste.  Frankly, before the tomato paste, my ragu was still brown from the meat.  

Slice up the roast and brown off in a pan a few pieces at a time.  My parent's have this awesome antique copper pan that conducts the heat and I used it to brown off the meat in batches at  a high-heat.  Normally I probably would have down this using an oil with a high smoking point - like clarified butter or safflower oil -- but in this case  I just used regular butter.  Once finished I de-glazed with a bit (1/4 cup) of beef stock we had kicking around, but you can just use the red wine.  

Combine the beef with the flavour base and the other ingredients and cook down until thickened, preferably at a low heat over 2-3 hours. Like most ragus and stews, this sauce will really rock the next day, when the flavours have had a chance to come together.

Hand-Rolled Paparadelle

Hand-rolling pasta is a real pain, but it's worth it if you can get it right. I won't bog this article down with the best recipe for pasta, any basic pasta recipe will do.  Once the dough has been kneaded and has sat for 20 minutes, begin rolling it out.  Rolling a fresh batch of pasta involves a lot of stretching and pulling, which makes for a lot of minor tears that will help the sauce stick to it later. 


This pasta is heavy, rich, and meaty.  For my meat-and-potato-loving guests it was a sure win.  Toss the pasta with the sauce in a separate bowl or cooking the pasta into the sauce, as you wish.  Save 1/4 - 1/2 of the sauce for service and top it off the pasta on the plates.  Sprinkle it with some cheese or some hot pepper pickles or however you think will best go over with the guests.

Rigatoni Genovese (Veal Tail Rigatoni)

We set out from Napoli on the ferry to Sorrento around 8 a.m.  Jawed it up with some French tourists in la belle langue, on our way across the bay to Sorrento.  Sorrento’s looming cliffs yawning out at us, we dismissed the tourist guides on the ferry that suggested a cab and we hiked it up.  It was hot in Sorrento, really hot, nigh half-way to boiling at 45C.  When we finally found our secluded hotel, nestled in a secret kind of garden, round the back way, we switched for beach gear and tore down towards the beach, juggling ice cream cones between bites of arancini.  It was sweltering on the truckload of gravel that was the public beach.  We laid out our towels over the blanket of cigarette butts and I made my way through the haze of tobacco smoke to my 2 hour sunburn in the water, where the heat was finally bearable. 

The first night’s repast of lemon leaf fish and fettucini a la vongole – tourist-fare crap at tourist-fare prices – was rendered pleasant only because we chanced to pick a frothy lambrusco (a sparkling red wine we later learned is best served with pizza), bursting in flavour and refreshment.  The service was awful, the waiter grimacing out a smile as he abandoned the charming impolitesse of Mediterranean service for poorly-effected, saccharine North American-style service. 

That night the AC in our room broke and the ragged party crowds of tourists raged deep outside our open window, into the sauna of the night. 

The next day, beaten and tired, we found 2 reasons to go to Sorrento.  The first was our day trip to Capri, where the beaches are cleaner and the salad was, perhaps not surprisingly, the best Caprese I’ve had to date.  The second was in Sorrento. 

Determined that the locals must have some food they can stomach, where the service is comfortably cold and the pasta piping hot, we set out past the typical tourist area and found a little cantina.  All the locals were eating this rich meaty pasta whose aromas filled the back corner of the little square in which it sat with a heady smell.  The service was counter-only, the beefy pasta was not on menu, and the server looked angry.  This was definitely the place for us.  We snagged 2 plates of the pasta, smothered in ragu, by stammering something that, to be generous, may have sounded like: “voglio mangiare la pasta che lui magiare … !?” To be generous…  To be fair, it was probably a hammed up series of grunts and some wild finger pointing.  But we got our pasta.  This pasta.  It was the best god-damned pasta I’ve ever eaten: simple, rich, and meaty.  I practically skipped back to the hotel with gelato in hand. 

That night was worse than the night before.  1 a.m. I decided to join the Yahoos and got a bit licked on Moretti, as some Australian chick yammered on about how fantastic Sorrento was.  I may have slouched like a rough beast towards the train station the next day; I may have been cantankerous and asleep for the next 15 hours.  But by God do I remember that pasta, and now I’ll pass it on to you.


1 tbsp olive oil on a medium heat
8 shallots to the pan
2 ribs of celery
1 carrot, brunoised, finely diced
2 roasted red peppers, chopped
5 cloves of garlic
1.5 lbs of veal tail
2 fresh bay leaves
2 cups of red wine
1/2 cup of passata (fresh tomato sauce)


Fire the shallots until they start to go transluscent and toss in the garlic, cooking until they both go a bit golden.  Fry in the other veggies and the meat, stirring for a few minutes.  Add the wine and bring to a simmer.  Reduce, uncovered on a low heat. The veggies will dissolve after a good 45-60 minutes, into the sauce, thickening it.  Finish with the passata, keep warm.

2 cups rigatoni (I think I really used 225 grams of rigatoni)

Cook your pasta separately, removing it from the heat when it’s still a bit tough (al dente).  There are different philosophies on how to mix the sauce with the pasta.  You can cook the pasta in the sauce and incorporate the flavours.  I mix the sauce and the pasta in a separate bowl, which ensures the pasta’s texture is preserved and that you can taste the pasta as a separate element of the dish, rather than having all of the flavours blended.  Dress with a good sea salt and a nice drizzle of olive oil.

Fresh parmesan curls on top, fresh parsley, crushed black pepper.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Carrot Pickles with Onion Seed and Sesame

Carrots.  Before we figured out how to pickle them they were just insipid root vegetables boiled to make stock. I dread them in boiled dinners, I abhor them in stews, I hate their pretty orange flesh and I hate that I cannot rend it from bones.  The orange carrot; another Dutch conspiracy.

But pickled carrots!

Crunchy and with a sourness offset by the umami flavour provided by the onion seeds and the nuttiness of the sesame seeds, these pickles are a perfect match to many meat and pasta dishes.  I often bring their vibrant orange colour along with a towering sandwich to work.  If you can’t find kalonji or black sesame, because you live in a remote region, you can just use toasted white sesame seeds or maybe a small dash of roasted, ground cumin for a similarly rich flavour.

While the water’s going, you can toss in a “water’s bylin’, nobody’s home” to your audience, to impress them with your firm grasp of Gaspesian idioms -- they’ll be impressed, even though someone is obviously home, because it will become a self-deprecating comment on how you’re here but not all there. Gaspesians love a bit of the sarcasm.

Bylin’ bits
4 cups carrots
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 c olive oil
2 tsps kalonji (onion seed), toasted
3 tsps black sesame toasted

Slap the water and vinegar in a pot on the stove and crank it up to high. Quarter the carrots and dice them large.  When the water is boiling, toss in the carrots. I won’t tell you how long it will take, since that will depend on the carrot.  However, you’ll want to remove them while they still have a bit of crunch to them.  It usually doesn’t take 10 minutes, unless you’re using the monster carrots from a Chinese grocer or have purchased particularly tough or stringy carrots.  Bang down a skillet on a burner at high heat, while you’re at it , and get it real hot (you can skip this step if you’re using a gas stove).

While the carrots are on the boil, smash up your garlic with the end of a knife, chop off the hard end, whisk off the skin and chop it up quick A garlic press is equally as effective as the quick-chopping, but a bit slower if you have the proper knife skills.  Toss the seeds in the hot skillet and shake or stir them quickly for a minute or two, until you can smell them roasting.  

Remove the carrots, strain'em, and mix'em up with the garlic, oil, and seeds.


Saturday, 3 September 2011

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

The auspicious beginnings to my cooking career began as a New Year's Eve feast with a dozen good friends and a few visitors from abroad.  Everyone chipped in a bit of cash and we had the most fantastic feast, with wines paired by my friend Jean-Michel Gauthier and with Tristan Brand capturing the event for posterity, on camera, as is his wont.  The first course that night is one that I've made often since.  It was a deliciously fresh soup of roasted red pepper and tomato.  Best off, it's fast to make.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato; served with a homemade organic goat yogurt with fine herbs and cream
Photo: Tristan Brand


4 large red peppers
8 cups chopped Roma tomatoes
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
salt to taste

The Red Peppers 

Crank your oven to 375F and put the red peppers in a pan. When the sides are blackened, let them cool on the counter or in a closed container.  The closed container works best, since the steam will help with your later removal of the skin.  When they are cool, remove the skin, stem, and seeds.  Puree them in a blender with the olive oil and set aside.

The Tomatoes

While your peppers are roasting, core and chop your tomatoes.  Toss them in a pan on a medium heat with the onion, butter, and garlic.  When the onion is tender, remove it and the garlic from the tomatoes and toss them all.  So your tomatoes are soft and now you're ready to get on with things.  You'll need to puree the tomatoes.  I prefer to run them through a food mill, so that I can remove the seeds and skins.

If you do not have a food mill and you want a beautiful soup, then you will need to process the tomatoes before cooking them: boil water, dunk the tomatoes in the water for 30 seconds and then remove the skins.  Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds.

If you do not want a beautiful soup then just run them through a food processor or blender.  You can achieve some redemption by then straining them through a sieve.  Don't worry though, either way it will still taste great.

The Finale

Mix the two purees together and season with salt.

The Alternate Endings

Add 1 tsp of pomegranate molasses to the tomatoes as they cook, for a sweeter and fruitier finish.  If you do so, add the juice of one lemon at the very end to take the edge off the sweetness.  A soup prepared in this manner should sit overnight to allow the flavours to fully blend.  This variation might enjoy a hint of cumin as a finisher.

The original finish was with a homemade organic goat yogurt, both plain and flavoured with herbs.  Try not to hit it with heavy herbs like sage, you already know how well basil goes with tomato, right?

If you only swirl the two soups together in the bowl itself, you will achieve a lovely swirl of the two shades of red.

Scallops in Clarified Butter

Searing Scallops

Pan-Searing a scallop is the easiest thing, I'm gob-smacked every single time I go to a restaurant and they look sickly grey, dripply wet, or the sort of watery brown that makes them look as though they've been dredged from the bottom of a puddle.

Pan Seared Scallop with Birch Syrup and Zucchini Pickle
Photo: Maria Giuliani

Take a frying pan and lay down some clarified butter and be a bit heavy-handed, like 2 tbsps, and you'll need to keep replenishing it.  That clarified butter will have a higher smoking point than regular butter, so it'll get pretty damn hot by the time you see wispy of fumes coming from it.  You must strike while the butter is hot!  (I lost the censorship battle with myself on that bit of cheese).  Flick a large pinch of coarse sea salt into the pan.  As you admire the intense sizzle from the salt, begin placing the scallops into the pan.  Place one, with your fingers or (more prudently) with tongs, and swirl it around in the butter until you're confident it's not going to stick before placing the next one.  Let them sit.  You should be able to visually verify when a crust has formed, although it may take some practice.  The brown should be visibly climbing up the sides.  Do not disturb the scallops while they cook. While they're cooking, you can impress your friends by using a spoon to shell sizzling butter over the top of the scallops, thereby lessening the time it takes for you to cook the top-side, starting a crust that will make them less likely to stick on the flip, and generally make you look like a pro food network star.

When you approach your scallop for the flip, do not be cocky.  You have probably screwed this up and they have stuck to the pan.  Please use a metal spatula or some thin metal implement to gingerly lift them before flipping.  If they have stuck, get down low and hard on the crust and try to save it from the bottom of the pan.  If they have not stuck then you have probably put too many in a pan that was not hot enough and they're steaming instead of frying.  Do not noob out on your scallops, they are more delicate than a fragile ego.  Do not season them heavily.  Do not plate them with strong flavours.

The perfect specimen will have a lovely brown crust and remain slightly translucent in the middle (see above).  

Thursday, 1 September 2011

My Spanish Inspiration: Stealin' Cod from the Newfies

A bit late this week on my posting, due to the death of my electronic recorder, on which this week's posting had been recorded, I decided to post a recently hashed together introduction to my in progress cookbook:

My Spanish Inspiration

The RENFE train bolted us northward for 11 hours from windy shores of Tarifa at 270 big ones an hour. Freed from the shackles of Andalusian Tapas, we parachuted into San Sebastián and bust out into Basque country, leaving the Madrid myths of Ferran Adria-trained chefs behind us.  

Within our first hour there, like a mad bull, I had already lowered my head and charged the pension owner of Bellas Artas and got jammed to the shoulders as I strained to get through the narrow doorway to her office and see Puyol’s game-winning header in the Spanish World Cup Semi-Final.  As cries of joy burst out from every room in the pension and hugs and kisses flew around the world, my wife and Leire were in tears, laughing at me, still struggling in the doorway, craning my neck to look at the small black and white television under the counter in her office. 

The fire and excitement of that hour set the tone for our first night’s trip to Fuego Negro, San Sebastián’s pinnacle of Pintxos.  Pintxos: the Basque answer to the Spanish Tapas.  We watched the sun set over the Atlantic to the verdict:  Basque 1 Spain 0

The Winner

I gorged myself every evening on guindillas fritas that are only in season for 3 weeks, txangurro (crab) crackers, Kobe beef sliders, the carrillera de ternera (braised veal cheek) and foie gras at San Telmo, and all the Rioja wine that we could find.  And a special shoutout to the cafe with the excellent grilled brioche a la marmelada, you really made my morning.

The Loser

Madrid:  The stodgy old French cuisine of an Adria disciple was drenched in overbearing, if well-executed, sauces that wouldn’t make the news.  Mind, they did adorn the plates with beautiful presentations, even if they oft ruined them with the sauces splashed all over everything by the server at service.  Still, I thank you for the complex and playful desserts like “bubblegum,” they were unexpected and appreciated.  Madrid, he was outdone by a clam dish in the Mercado San Miguel, but he was the only one who brought you close.  I have 5 lbs of a most delicious prosciutto and home, but I had so much ham and cheese with you that I still can’t bring myself to crack it.

This was my Spanish inspiration: gaining 7.5 pounds a week, packed on in 10 inch high sandwiches of fried bread, beef tenderloin (lomo) and cheese; affectionately called “zapatilla” or “slippers.”  Heaps upon piles of variously cured pigs; rice thickened stews; potato stuffed omelets that were practically deep-fried in olive oil; a boondoggle of badass sandwiches; pyramids of wine bottles left in my wake, all delicious, none memorable.  Everything was eminently local and fresh; all local except for all that bacalau (cod) that they obviously poached off the coasts of Newfoundland, right?

Squished Zapatilla Decimated by my Millstones

Eddie F. Setser and Troy Harold Seals, they knew

      There were seven Spanish trawlers,
      They were fishing in the sun;
      The Spanish they caught all the fish,The Newfies they got none.
      Then the clouds appeared, and the fog rolled in,
      The sun no longer shone;
      And seven Spanish trawlers took all the codfish home.

And this summarizes the dilemma I faced when I set out to write a cookbook.  I grew up in a climax of Gaspesian culture, at a turning point between two times.  My parent’s generation saw the advent of electrical refrigeration on the coast, computers, and we had the unique excitement of exploding an egg in one of the first microwaves on the coast.  With the increase in the availability of goods from away, we saw our local resources wane – the closing of the mine in Murdochville, the crushing collapse of the fisheries, the end of the forestries industry. 

I grew up in a world where I ate lobster every week in the early summer, fried cod tongues in Gaspe butter, cod head stew, cod livers, salt cod, herring, mackerel, all of the Chacuteries de la Mer: lobster butters, taramosalatas, smoked fishes.  And I left that world, on a tear, running from all the mac’n’cheeses a-mash with wieners, cream of corn and ketchup, ramen noodle packs that were eaten raw and whose wrappings lay a-littering college dorm room floors, fried chicken, ”Lebanese sandwiches” that were really pepperoni submarines wrapped in pita bread, as McDo and Timmy Ho muscled their way into the local food scene.  As I sprinted towards the exit, our local cookbooks were sporting 2 dozen recipes for meat loaf with soup mixes and a what-to-do with a variety of canned goods and not a one for fish. 

I tripped my way into Montreal, fell on my face as they rolled me out the college doors, and tumbled through a series of adventures.  I was voracious.  I burnt the candle at both ends, consuming every cultural experience or cuisine that I could find.  I left the white bread at the door and learned to cook Ethiopian from a girlfriend’s family friends, I shacked up with chef roommates, hung around in Indian markets, asking unsuspecting Tamils for tips, plied Korean depanneur owners with beer and lobster for their Kim Chi craft, traded canned roast peppers for green chili chutneys from South America and the Mexican chocolate dropped off at my door, straight from the uncle’s shop, was bartered for curried lamb chops and biryani.  I spent 6 years as a vegetarian, with frightening pantries full of fermenting grains and produce that terrified my roommates.  I sought out and trained in every cooking style I could find.  I never wanted to eat canned green beans with garlic powder ever again. 

I wanted to eat local, cooked foreign.  I burned to get back to that critical point of foreign invasion.  Spain inspired me.  Spain, with all their stolen cod.