Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Baked Razor Clams with Sautéed Bread Crumbs

Named for its sharp shell and resemblance to an old-fashioned straight-edge razor, Razor Clams are hands-down one of the most unusual looking shellfish with their suggestive knobby white protuberances that retract when touched, but are also among the world's sweetest, delicate and most flavourful seafood treats imaginable. With a shell much more slender and fragile than its cousin the clam, and a texture similar to squid with the subtle sweetness of scallops, these bivalves are delicious either steamed, sautéed, grilled, fried or broiled, but can become tough and chewy if overcooked. My favourite recipe is a combination of methods where the razor clams are first steamed in olive oil and white wine, then cleaned, chopped into a coarse dice and finally crowned with a savoury topping of sautéed garlic, scallions, red pepper, fresh tarragon and dried bread crumbs, and broiled under high heat for just a few minutes until they become crisp and golden. Served hot from the oven and garnished with some fresh parsley and sliced lemon, they're a sexy little appetizer with lots of panache.

1-pound of fresh razor clams

The clams are soaked in salted water to help them emit the sand

The razor clams braising in olive oil and white wine

A whole cooked razor clam: the foot on the left should be cut off along with the guts

Cleaned and gutted, the razor clams are chopped into a fine dice

Minced garlic, scallions and red pepper are sautéed in olive until soft, about 3 minutes

Bread crumbs and minced tarragon are added to the soffrito and toasted until crisp

The empty shells are laid out on a foil lined baking sheet

Cleaned and chopped, the razor clams are nestled in the most attractive of the shell halves

Topped with the savoury bread crumb mixture, the razor clams are broiled at 425°F for 5-10 minutes until cooked though and golden brown

Aromatic and toasted, the razor clams are ready to be plated

Garnished with fresh slices of lemon and sprigs of parsley, the razor clams are plated for presentation 

Steamed and Baked Stuffed Razor Clams
Serves 4 as appetizer

1 lb fresh live razor clams
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup diced red pepper
2-3 tbsp dry white wine
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 cup breadcrumbs
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

chopped fresh parsley & lemon wedges

Quickly rinse the razor clams under cold running water to remove any sand and strain. Place a frying pan on the stovetop over high heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and when hot, add the razor clams and a splash of wine and cover. Steam until all the shells open. Drain in a sieve, reserving the cooking liquor, and leave to cool.

Place the frying pan back on the stovetop over medium heat and add the remaining olive oil, scallions, garlic and red peppers and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until just softened. Add the reserved liquid and breadcrumbs, and stir until toasted and most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped tarragon and lemon zest and allow to cool.

In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to the broiler setting with the rack placed in the highest position. The razor clams should now be cool enough to handle, so carefully remove the clams from the shells, keeping the shell intact. Wash the shells under cold running water, dry and set aside. Cut off the gnarly dark foot at one end and discard the dark digestive sac in the middle. Rinse under cold water then chop the meat into a 1/4-inch dice, and set aside. Repeat until each of the clams are cleaned, rinsed and diced. 

Place the shells on a foil lined baking tray and spoon the chopped clams into each of the shells and top with the breadcrumb mixture and broil until they're crisp and golden, about 6-8 minutes. Carefully remove the shells from the oven and transfer to a serving plate with a garnish of chopped fresh parsley and wedges of lemon.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Spicy Carrot & Red Lentil Soup with Harissa

Most lentil soups fall into one of two categories: highly spiced, or not spiced —sometimes called bland. This one sits very happily at the spicy end with the harissa adding a tolerable amount of heat and a wonderful complexity of flavour. A hearty, thick and satisfying soup, the ground cumin, coriander and allspice add a robust note to this delicious low fat soup, and a spoonful of Canadian maple syrup provides a delicate hint of sweetness. The perfect potage for chilly nights, even the vibrant golden hue shouts Autumn.

Spicy Carrot & Red Lentil Soup with Harissa
Serves 4

2 tbsp butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into a small 1/2-inch dice
1 cup split red lentils
1 tbsp harissa
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Mix in the carrots, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and allspice, and sauté for about 6-8 minutes, until the vegetables start to soften and the spices become fragrant. Add the lentils, harissa and broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the carrots and the lentils are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat and purée with an immersion blender or in a blender, until smooth. Return the puréed soup to the pot and stir in the maple syrup, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat the soup over medium-low heat, if needed. To serve, ladle the soup into pre-warmed bowls, and garnish with a swirl of light cream or yogurt.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Greek-Style Lamb Chops with Sautéed Dandelion

Inspired by the flavour and presentation of the Char-Grilled Ontario Lamb Chops served at Mamakas Taverna, a splendid Greek restaurant where we dined the other night, I found myself consumed with the notion to try and recreate the classic Aegean masterpiece at home. Known as Padiakia in Greece, which means 'small ribs', this traditional dish is fabulous served with Horta, steamed dandelion greens with fresh lemon juice and olive oil, and Patates sto Fourno, crisp golden roast potatoes. Although sometimes garnished with latholemono, a classic Mediterranean lemon and olive oil sauce, lamb chops are equally outstanding served over great puddles of cool and creamy Tzatziki. Never having prepared dandelion greens before, I was delighted to discover that this popular Greek staple, like most greens, is a nutritional powerhouse. Rich in potassium, antioxidants and vitamins, dandelion greens can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, sautéed or braised, and bursting with flavour, are a healthy and delicious addition to this taverna-style menu of grilled New Zealand rack of lamb and pan-roasted new potatoes nestled over great swaths of tzatziki — Kalí óreksi!

Lamb chops marinating in olive oil, garlic, mustard, parsley, thyme, lemon juice and black pepper

Fresh whole dandelion greens

Washed, trimmed and chopped, the dandelions are blanched for 10 minutes until soft and tender

The greens are then drained in a colander and squeezed dry 

Olive oil, slivered garlic, cumin, salt and pepper are sautéed for about 5 minutes

The dandelion greens are then added and cooked for another 2-3 minutes

The new potatoes are halved and steamed for 10 minutes

The potatoes are then cooked in a non-stick frying pan for 3 minutes on each side 

The potatoes are golden brown and perfectly cooked

A dollop of tzatziki is brushed onto the serving board using a rounded kitchen palette knife

Lamb Chops with Sautéed Dandelion Greens & Roasted Potatoes
Serves 2

1 rack of New Zealand lamb, cut into single chops
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp of Dijon mustard
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp of fresh thyme
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tsp fresh ground pepper
4 lemon wedges and sprigs of rosemary, for garnish
1 cup tzatziki

Pan-Roasted New Potatoes:
12 new potatoes, washed and halved but not peeled
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes

Dandelion Greens:
1 bunch dandelions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper to taste

In a shallow glass baking dish, add the olive oil, garlic, mustard, parsley, thyme, lemon juice and black pepper, and stir to blend. Add the lamb chops and coat with the marinade, then cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. 

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl or sink with cold water and rinse the dandelion greens to get rid of any sand or debris, then place in a salad spinner to dry the leaves. Using a small knife, cut away the tough ends of each stalk then chop the leaves into 1 to 2-inch pieces. Place the chopped dandelions in large pot with enough salted water just to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain the greens and rinse with cold water, then drain again. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible and set aside. 

Put the halved baby potatoes on to steam for 10 minutes. Once they are tender, turn off the heat under the steamer and allow to sit for 3 minutes. Bring the lamb chops to room temperature and preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper, and sauté for 5-7 minutes. Add the cooked dandelion greens and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice, and stir to combine. Cover and keep warm, but bring up to high heat just before serving. 

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat with olive oil and tip the steamed potatoes into the pan and fry for three minutes, then turn them over and fry for another three minutes, shaking the pan every now and again to make them tumble and turn until golden brown. Set aside and keep warm.

Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper, and grill for 3 minutes on each side for medium and still pink inside. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the chops, sprinkle with some sea salt and finish with some dried Greek oregano.

To serve, spoon a swath of tzatziki on each serving plate and centre the lamb chops, standing upright with the bone ends linking if you can, and garnish with sliced lemon and sprigs of rosemary. One one side of the lamb, arrange a portion of pan-roasted potatoes and on the other side, a spoonful of sautéed dandelion greens, and serve immediately.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Curried Apple Zucchini Soup: Healthy & Delicious

Healthy, low fat and delicious, this recipe for Curried Apple Zucchini Soup is an absolute winner. The fragrant combination of sautéed onions, apples and zucchini with a bright aromatic backdrop of curry, makes this soup so rich, colourful and enticing, it's hard to believe it's good for you too! No cream is used, just a little milk, and very cleverly rice is used to thicken the soup so that once puréed, it becomes lusciously silky and smooth. The soup also freezes beautifully, so I often double or triple the recipe to have it on hand when I need a light and delicious starter, or soul satisfying respite from the chilly autumn and winter months. 

Curried Apple Zucchini Soup
Serves 24

8 tbsp butter
4 large onion, peeled and chopped
5 red apple, peeled, cored and chopped
8 tsp curry powder
16 cups chicken stock
1 cup Basmati rice, uncooked
8 cups zucchini, unpeeled and diced
2 tsp salt
4 cup milk

In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the onion and apple until soft, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with curry powder and cook, stirring for a few seconds to meld the flavours. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then add the rice, chopped zucchini and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low then cover and cook until rice and zucchini are tender, about 30 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly, then using a hand blender or food processor, blend until smooth. Return the soup to the pan and add milk. Heat through again and serve hot. Garnish with a swirl of cream for an extra flourish.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mamakas: Authentic Greek Taverna Fare on Ossington

Bringing a fresh, new sophisticated approach to Aegean cuisine in Toronto is Mamakas, one of the most delightful and charming restaurants to hit the Ossington restaurant scene this summer. A term of endearment for 'mama', Mamakas serves traditional mezze and grilled meats inspired by the authentic coastal Greek and Turkish cuisine that owner Thanos Vrettakos Tripi grew up with at home, including flaky spanakopita and whipped taramosalata topped with salmon roe. In fact, Tripi’s entire menu is a reflection of his mother's recipes. Although Tripi acquired the Osssington property almost two years ago, it wasn’t until this year that construction actually began with the help of interior designer Anwar Mekhayech, who helped him convert the small space into a warm and inviting 85-seat taverna with open-concept kitchen and 8-seater bar of white marble dubbed the kitchen counter. A wall of windows give the narrow, whitewashed room a bright sunny feel, strings of bare bulbs blanket the ceiling like stars and a long back-lit mural of 'karagiozis', traditional Greek shadow puppets dressed up in ballerina tutus and chef hats, add a touch of whimsy. Typically the taverna is full to bursting every night with a loud and spirited young crowd that makes the Mamakas experience fun and lively, but not the place to engage in quiet conversation — better to just throw up your arms and join in the spontaneous rounds of clapping to music from Zorba the Greek. Opa!

Mamakas owner Thanos Tripi graciously agrees to pose for me in front of his restaurant last night

The menu, made up of mostly Greek ingredients, opens with mezzo which are meant to be ordered a few at a time and shared around the table. Fish is ordered daily and subject to change even more frequently than chefs Pierre Restivo and Seb Yacoubidian's Medditerranean-inspired menu, which features classic dishes such as Imam Baildi with eggplant, tomato confit, caramelized onion, fresh thyme, Larvaki Carpaccio, a Mediterranean sea bass with shaved fennel, pomegranate seeds, parsley mint oil and kataifi, and Karpouzi Salad with watermelon, Dodonis feta, fresh mint and crumbled pistachio, as well as Whole Grilled Fish brushed with latholemono, a classic Greek blend of lemon, olive oil and garlic, and grilled over a hot flame, and Padiakia, lamb-chops served a wooden board flavoured with oregano and served with garlicky tzatziki. With bright, delicate and deliciously authentic flavours like this, it's a wonder Thanos ever left his mother's side, but we're ever so thankful he did.

The bustling interior of Mamakas on a Tuesday night

Mamakas Chef Pierre Restivo 

The seasonally changing menu features a delicious selection of mezzo, grilled dishes, 
sides and sweets

Our lovely server recommended a selection of Greek white and red wines to enjoy during our meal, including a white 2012 Gerovassiliou Assyrtiko and 2010 Kir Yianni Estate Merlot

Light, dry and delightfully rich wine was delicious on its own 
as well as pairing nicely with our selection of Greek mezzo

The long back-lit mural of 'karagiozis', 
traditional Greek shadow puppets dressed up in ballerina tutus and chef hats

Horiatiki Salad with Ontario hot house tomatoes, Dodonis feta, cucumber and shallots

Platters or fresh warm pita brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and garnished with fresh oregano

Taramosalata, a thick, creamy, sharp flavour Greek dip made fish roe, olive oil, 
bread and fresh lemon juice

Melitzanosalata, a traditional dip mage with eggplant, olive oil and lemon juice 
and similar to baba ghanoush


Kopanisti, a whipped feta and roast red pepper dip served with pita

Batzaria and Skordilia: Beets and garlic-potato spread with olive oil and Greek sea salt

Shrimp Saganaki with jumbo prawns, house tomato sauce, Dodonai feta and grilled bread

Kotopoulo: Organic free range chicken with latholemono and roasted garlic yogurt

Saganaki: Kefalotiri with thyme honey drizzle

Kalamakia: Ontario lamb on fresh baked pita with cherry tomatoes, tzatziki, fresh mint, 
french shallots and olive oil

Patates Tiganites: Hand cut fries topped with kafalotiri, oregano, rosemary and garlic aioli

Whole Grilled Sea Bass with a bowl of latholemono

Octopus with summer sweet pea salsa, olive oil and flour de sel

Horta: Baby organic dandelion salad

Imam Baildi: eggplant, tomato confit, caramelized onion and fresh thyme with a slice of grilled bread

Feta Cheesecake topped with fig, caramel sauce and fresh mint

As a final flourish we ordered a small bottle of ouzo, which served over ice, 
was a grand finale to a wonderful evening...Opa!