Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Old Mill: A Woodland Oasis in the Humber Valley

Nestled along the thickly wooded slopes of the Humber River Valley, the historic Old Mill Inn offers a full-service spa and elegant fine dining with Executive Chef Martin Buehner at the helm. The iconic 4-star Tudor-style mill house hotel set amid beautiful gardens and just minutes from downtown Toronto, is famous for its traditional English afternoon tea which has been served since 1914 and features the customary cream, jam and scones. During the week and on Sundays there's a large buffet of roast beef, maple-glazed ham, seafood and salads, as well as regular jazz nights held at the Home Smith Jazz Bar.

Japanese Mountain Rose on each table in the Terrace Dining Room

The Terrace Dining Room

Bloody Mary

The Luncheon buffet

Chilled Mussels

Smoked Salmon with capers

Poached Shrimp

Assorted Cheeses

Lovely fresh fruit

Plum Tart with Streusel Topping

Shrimp Crêpes with Mushroom, Asparagus & Tarragon Cream Sauce 
Makes 16
Recipe courtesy of The Old Mill

Crêpe Batter:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tbsp chicken or beef broth
3 large eggs
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 tbsp salt
1/3 cup minced fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, coriander or tarragon
melted unsalted butter for brushing the pan

13-15 shrimp, peeled and deviened
1 bunch of asparagus
1/2 lb assorted mushrooms, such as cremini, oyster or Shiitaki, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pinch of nutmeg
1 oz white wine
2 oz butter
2 oz olive oil
1 lemon juiced
Salt and pepper to taste

Cream Sauce:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup 35% cream
1/2 oz olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tsp fresh tarragon 

Fresh chives and sliced orange

To make crêpes, blend the flour, broth, eggs, butter and the salt in a blender or food processor for 5 seconds. Turn off the motor, with a rubber spatula scrape down the sides of the container, and blend the batter for 20 seconds more. Transfer the batter to a bowl, stir in the herbs, and let the batter stand, covered, for 1 hour. The batter may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. Makes enough batter for about 16 crêpes.

Heat a crêpe pan or non-stick skillet measuring 6 to 7 inches across the bottom over moderate heat until it is hot. Brush the pan lightly with the butter, heat it until it is hot but not smoking, and remove it from the heat. Stir the batter, half fill a 1/4-cup measure with it, and pour the batter into the pan. Tilt and rotate the pan quickly to cover the bottom with a layer of batter and return any excess batter to bowl. Return the pan to the heat, loosen the edge of the crêpe with a spatula, and cook the crêpe for 1 minute, or until the top appears almost dry. Turn the crêpe, cook the other side lightly, and transfer the crêpe to a plate. Make crêpes with the remaining batter in the same manner, brushing the pan lightly with butter as necessary. The crêpes may be made 3 days in advance, kept stacked, wrapped in plastic wrap, and chilled.

For the filling, cut the asparagus into small spears and blanch for 2 minutes in boiling salted water. Add 1 oz of olive oil to a hot pan, add the mushrooms and sauté for 1 minute, then add the garlic, nutmeg, butter and wine. Sauté for another 2 minutes, then season with salt and pepper.

Put the lemon juice on the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Sauté in a hot pan until the shrimp are cooked through. Add the asparagus and mushrooms to the shrimp, and let the mixture cool. Place the crepes on a cutting board, fill the crepes with the mixture, then roll the crepes and set aside.

For the cream sauce, sauté the garlic in olive oil until translucent, then add the white wine and reduce by half, Add the cream and reduce by 1/3, then add fresh tarragon, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place the crepes in a 350°F oven for 8-10 minutes, then remove from the oven and pour the cream sauce over top and serve garnished with fresh chives and sliced orange.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Bisque 
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of The Old Mill

28 oz can chopped tomatoes 
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped 
3 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced 
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium cooking onions, chopped 
4 red bell Peppers, about 1 1/2 lbs
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
1 fl oz olive oil 

Cut the red peppers in half and remove the core and seeds. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place on a foil lined cookie sheet. Roast in a 400°F oven skin side down until nicely browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Once roasted, remove from the oven and place in a large zip-lock bag. Seal and set aside and allow to cool. Once cooled remove the skins from the peppers.

In a medium sized sauce pan add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 3 minutes.

Add the canned tomatoes, roasted pepper halves and stock, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, place a lid on the pot and simmer for 10 -12  minutes or until the carrots and celery are softened through.

Remove the pan from the heat and using a hand emersion blender blend the soup until smooth. Adjust the thickness of the soup by boiling it down to your preferred consistency prior to adjusting the seasoning, or add additional water or stock for a looser consistency.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Focaccia Barese: Traditional Pugliese "Fcazz"

A specialty of southern Italy, Focaccia Barese is a typical dish characteristic of the Bari region of Puglia. Its secret is in the dough, which includes boiled potatoes and gives the "fcazz" a unique soft, springy texture and a beautiful aroma. Inspired by the delicious focaccia we enjoyed at our recent Massimo Bruno supper club dinner featuring his Mamma's traditional Pugliese cuisine, we decided to try our hand at this Barese original, with impressive results. 

00-type flour, mashed potato, yeast and water rises after 2-3 hours

The dough is stretched into a greased baking sheet with halved cherry tomatoes, 
dried oregano, sea salt and drizzled with olive oil

Baked at 475°F for 20-25 minutes until the surface has browned 
and the tomatoes have caramelized

Focaccia Barese
Serves 8-10

2 cups 00-type flour
2 large potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 oz brewer's yeast
1 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
1 cup lukewarm water
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp dried oregano
Extra virgin olive oil

Let the boiled potatoes cool before peeling, and set them aside. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, and using a ricer, add the potatoes.

Dissolve brewer's yeast in the lukewarm water and add that to the mix as well. Fold in a small pinch of sea salt and begin kneading to obtain a sticky, firm ball.
Wrap in cling film and leave the dough to rise for 2 hours in a warm, dry place.

Preheat the oven at 475°F. Use some olive oil to generously grease a large baking pan and stretch the dough to fill it evenly. Press the halved tomatoes into the dough, cut side down, add a good dusting of oregano and lashings of sea salt. Drizzle the surface with more olive oil and bake in the hot oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the surface appears evenly browned and tomatoes are caramelized.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tagliatelle al Limone e Parmigiano con Gamberetti

Why is it that the best pasta sauces have the simplest ingredients? This is one of them. It's absolutely delicious and couldn't be easier. Lovely, light, luscious, and creamy, it's an addictive lemony treat. A quintessential summer dish from the Amalfi coast in the Campania region of southern Italy where they grow exquisite lemons, creamy Tagliatelle al Limone with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is like sunshine on a plate. Perfect on it's own, or with grilled or quickly sautéed seafood, this is one of my absolute favourite pastas.

Egg Tagliatelle in Parmigiano & Lemon Buttercream Sauce with Shrimp
Serves 4-6

1 lb Tagliatelle egg pasta
8 tbsp butter, divided
1/4 cup fresh lemon zest plus juice of one lemon
1 cup fresh cream
1/2 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
1 lb wild Florida shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for sprinkling
Fresh ground white pepper
1 bunch chives, finely chopped for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to boil. In a large sauté pan, bring the butter, cream and sour cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the lemon juice, white pepper and lemon zest, and reduce by about half. Then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of butter to a frying pan over medium-high and sauté until almost cooked through, about 3-4 minutes, then turn off the heat and let rest in their natural juices. Add the pasta to the water and cook al dente. Drain the pasta, add to the lemon butter, and toss to coat over medium heat. Add the cheese and toss a few more seconds. Pour into heated bowls, garnish with some lemon curls and a grinding of black pepper and top with the sautéd shrimp and garnish with fresh chives.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Massimo Bruno Special Supper Club with 'Mamma'

A popular Italian chef, teacher and media personality who was raised in the southern Italian region of Puglia before emigrating to Toronto in 2001, Massimo Bruno learned the art of Italian cooking from some its finest practitioners, like his mother, Francesca Bruno, his aunt Rosa and any of the other mothers in his hometown Bitritto who would let him into their kitchens. Each month, Massimo holds a series of 'family style' supper clubs with a particular theme, such as the special supper club we attended recently featuring Bruno's own mamma, with an extensive Pugliese menu of six antipasti, including Massimo's wildly addictive Focaccia Barese, Insalata di Polpo, Riso, Patate e Cozze, a typical Pugliese dish with mussels, rice and potato, platters of Salumi e Pecorino, creamy Cuore di Burrata and Mamma Francesca's delicious Parmigiana di Melanzane. And that's just to start.

All the while, mamma is busy making homemade pasta for the following two courses: Spaghetti con Pomodori al Forno - Massimo's favourite pasta growing up - and Cavatelli colle Rape, one of Puglia’s most famous dish. Cotolette di Vitello con fungi e peperoni, veal cutlet with mushroom, peppers and white wine follow with Asparagi alla griglia e zucchini, lovely platters of grilled asparagus and sliced zucchini. After ten courses, the homemade dolci are served: Pizza di Ricotta, Francesca's flourless Ricotta Lemon Cake and Sporcamuss, warm puff pastry with Chantilly cream dusted with icing sugar - the name means 'dirty chin' because it's impossible to eat it without getting sugar all over! The evening was great fun enjoying Mamma's traditional Pugliese cuisine and chatting with fellow diners, many of whom come to most of Massimo's regionally-inspired dinners which generally sell out as soon as they're posted online.

Massimo's Mamma, Francesca Bruno, rolling out pasta for the evening's Cavatelli con Rape

Mamma rolling out the pasta for cavatelli

Massimo's Focaccia Barese with all the flavours of Puglia

The supper club evenings are BYOB, so we brought a 
Papale Linea Oro Primitivo di Mandria 2013 from Puglia

Cuore di burrata, creamy homemade burrata - more like stracciatella - with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil pesto 

Insalata di polio - old-style octopus salad with lemon and olive oil

Riso, patate e cozen, a typical Pugliese dish with mussels, rice and potato

Our end of the table at the dinner with friendly fellow foodies

Salami e Pecorino

Fig Jam to accompany the pecorino 

Francesca Bruno’s outstanding parmigiana di melanzane

Massimo wandered around the table to chat with everyone during the dinner, sharing stories about his mamma and the cuisine of Puglia

Spaghetti con pomodori al forno, Bruno's favourite pasta growing up, simple and rustic

Peperoncini Piccanti

Grated Pecorino

All the dishes are served family-style — one big dish is shared between groups of about four

Francesca Bruno’s Cavatelli with Rapini and Anchovies, her version of Puglia’s most famous dish

Domenic Pede assists in the kitchen

Verdure of grilled Asparagus and Zucchini with Balsamic drizzle

Guests sit together at a long harvest table for 30-40 people and everyone brings a bottle of their favourite vino 

Cotolette di vitello con funghi, pepperoni  - veal cutlet with mushroom, peppers and white wine

Sporcamuss, warm puff pastry with Chantilly cream dusted with icing sugar - the name means 'dirty chin' because it's impossible to eat it without getting sugar all over!

Torta di Ricotta (Ricotta Lemon Cake)
Serves 12
Recipe courtesy of Massimo Bruno

2 1/4 lb fresh ricotta cheese
12 large eggs
10 oz of sugar
2 small packs of vanillina, an Italian vanilla powder yeast*
Grated zest of 1 lemon
A pinch of cinnamon
4 tbsp Limoncello

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a deep, round 12-inch aluminum pan with parchment paper. Add the eggs, vanillina, lemon zest, cinnamon and sugar to a standing mixer and mix well to combine. Add the fresh ricotta and 1 tablespoon or so of limoncello. Keep mixing until you have a creamy consistency. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and lightly sprinkle the top with more sugar. Bake until the top is lightly golden, about 60-75 mins, depending on the oven. Remove from heat and gently sprinkle the limoncello over top of the cake. Let sit and cool completely before serving.

* Massimo uses Pane degli angeli or Bertolini brand, although it can be substituted with 2 tsp baking powder and a  touch of vanilla extract.

Involtini di Melanzane (Eggplant Rolls)

Involtini di melanzane was one of my favourite dishes growing up in southern Italy, we had it at every family occasion. So when I get back from my culinary tour to my home region of Puglia I always include it on the menu of next my supper club – makes be feel like I'm still back home. You can make this dish up to two hours in advance of serving, or fry the eggplant the day before if that’s more convenient. The dish is also very versatile: you can have it hot or at room temperature, and can also make it as rolls or lay it flat in the pan like a classic parmigiana.

Eggplant rolls:
1 large eggplant
1/2 cup of fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese  
15 basil leaves
3 large eggs
Olive oil for frying
Fine sea salt - QB
Flour for dusting

Tomato sauce:
1 bottle of Italian passata
2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 handful of  basil leaves 1/4 cup olive oil 
Fine seasalt to taste

Peel and slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4” slices, then place in a strainer, set in a large bowl to catch the liquid as it is released, and make them “sweat” by sprinkling generously with sea salt. Allow them to sit for 30 minutes at the very minimum. 

In a medium-sized sauce pot add 1/4 cup of olive oil and lightly pan fry the whole garlic and onion together, cooking until lightly brown. Add the cherry tomatoes and add little salt to help release their juice and flavour, and let it cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the tomato passata. Rinse the empty bottle with 1 cup of water and add to the sauce. The sauce should be a little watery so feel free to add more water if it looks dense – it will thicken during the baking process. 
Add the basil, mixing it into the sauce so it’s completely submerged in liquid. Add a good pinch of fine sea salt and give it a quick stir. Allow the sauce to come to a boil with the lid slightly ajar. Once boiling has begun, stir gently and reduce heat to low simmer. It should bubble lightly for an half hour or so. 

Meanwhile, prepare a plate or dish lined with paper towel ready to receive the hot fried eggplant. Beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl. Place flour in a shallow dish and coat each piece of eggplant lightly with flour. Place 2 inches of frying oil in a frying pan and turn on to a high heat so that you will be ready to fry once coating eggplant has been completed. If the oil begins to smoke it is too high; if it sizzles when you sprinkle a little flour into it, it’s just the right temperature. Next, dip the coated eggplant slices into the beaten egg and you are ready to fry. Once oil is ready, begin to fry by gently placing several pieces of your coated eggplant into the frying pan. Do not overlap your pieces – give each its space. Fry until golden brown, turning only once. Normally you will need a couple of minutes for each side. If in doubt, taste to see if it’s cooked to your liking.  

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lay the cooled fried eggplant slices on a flat work surface. Dice the mozzarella and place evenly across the middle of each slice
Sprinkle the grated Romano cheese evenly across the middle of each slice
Tear the remaining pieces of basil into little bits and place across the middle of each slice. Prepare a shallow baking dish with 2 scoops of tomato sauce enough to cover the bottom. Roll the slices into “involtini” (rolls) and place in your baking dish next to each other. Cover the rolls with the remaining tomato sauce, don’t drown them, but generously cover and if quantity allows, save some sauce aside if needed. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly roasted on top. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Spaghetti alla Carbonara: "Coal Miner's Pasta"

Luscious and wonderfully indulgent, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is an Italian pasta dish based on eggs, pecorino romano, guanciale and black pepper. The key is to toss and thoroughly mix the cooked pasta off the heat with the cheese, eggs, pepper and pasta water, to create a creamy yet not overly thick sauce. A true carbonara has no cream, but although purists may shudder, I do sometimes add a little cream depending how I'm feeling. Like most recipes, the origins of the dish are obscure but there are many legends. As 'carbonara' literally means 'coal miner's wife', some believe that the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian coal miners. Romans use guanciale — cured pig's jowl — which is more delicate than pancetta — unsmoked Italian bacon — and also leaner. If you can find it, by all means use guanciale, otherwise pancetta or bacon work just as well. For the sheer wow-factor, I do like to drop an egg yolk into each nest of pasta, which guests stir to form an even creamier sauce. Garnished at the end with a flurry of coarsely grated Parmigiano, "Coal Miner's Spaghetti" must be one of the great pastas dishes of all time.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Serves 4

1 lb spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb guanciale or pancetta 
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup fresh coarsely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh chopped thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta and cut the pancetta into 1/2 x 1/4 inch lardons. Combine the olive oil and pancetta in a large sauté pan set over medium heat, and cook until the pancetta has rendered its fat and is crisp and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside, being careful not to drain the fat. 

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta. Add the reserved pasta water to the pan with the pancetta, then toss in the pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, and add 1 cup of the Parmigiano, the egg whites, thyme, pepper to taste, and the cream, if you're using it. Toss until thoroughly mixed and serve with a little extra grated cheese on the side. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nigella's Gluten-Free Venetian Carrot Cake

Not all carrot cakes are created equal, especially where Nigella is concerned. This recipe, "originating from Venetian Jews, which sounds refreshingly medieval, made as it is from ground almonds, rather than flour, is enriched with eggs and olive oil and studded with rum-soaked sultanas." As she admits, "it's not much to look at'"– a golden disc about half the height of one layer of an ordinary cake – but it's incredibly moist and deliciously nutty, with a lovely citrus kick too. It's also gluten and lactose-free, for those who are sensitive to such things, but quite delicious in its own right. For a taller moister version, simply use a smaller 6-inch springform pan, cook it a little longer and the results are absolutely scrumptious.

Gluten-Free Venetian Carrot Cake 

Serves 8-10
Recipe courtesy of Nigella Lawson

Carrot cake:

3 tbsp pine nuts
2 medium carrots, about 8 oz
3 oz golden sultanas
2 1/4 fl oz rum
5 oz white granulated sugar
4 1/2 fl oz olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
9 oz ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste
1/2 lemon, finely grated zest and juice

Cream Cheese Frosting: 

8 oz cream cheese
3 cups icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the base of a 9-inch round springform cake pan* with baking parchment and grease the sides with olive oil. Toast the pine nuts by browning in a dry frying pan, then set aside. Grate the carrots in a food processor or with a coarse grater, then wrap in a clean kitchen towel and wrap them, to soak up excess liquid, then set aside.

Put the golden sultanas in a small saucepan with the rum, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 3 minutes. Whisk the sugar and oil until creamily and airily mixed, then add the vanilla extract and eggs and, when well whisked, fold in the ground almonds, nutmeg, grated carrots, golden sultanas with any rum that clings to them, and finally, the lemon zest and juice.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. The batter will be very shallow in the tin. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the cake and put it into the oven for 30–40 minutes, or until the top is risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out sticky but more or less clean. Remove from the oven and let the cake sit in its tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then un-spring and leave it on the rack to cool.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese in a standing mixer, until smooth, then add the sugar and vanilla, and mix until light and fluffy. To assemble the cake, place the carrot cake on a serving platter and spread with cream cheese frosting, and serve.

* NOTE: I used a 6-inch round springform pan for a taller cake and adjusted the baking time to 70 minutes, then turned off the oven and let the cake rest inside for another 10-15 minutes, so that the centre was cooked through.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage & Broccoli

A traditional dish from Italy's Puglia region, orecchiette, which means 'little ears,' Orecchiette con la Cima di Rapa e Salsiccia is often made with robust rapini and fresh Italian sausage, however this Italian-inspired recipe by Emeril Lagasse features small florets of fresh broccoli which are quickly blanched in the boiling pasta water used for cooking the orecchiette, and removed while it is still crisp-tender. A wonderfully flavoured garlic, lemon and anchovy olive oil sauce is whisked together while the pasta is cooking and added to the sautéed sausage and pasta, along with a cup of pasta water, for a light and easy pasta that is soul satisfyingly delicious. 

Orecchiette with Broccoli and Sweet Italian Sausage

Serves 4

1 lb orrechiette pasta

1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
4 anchovy fillets, minced
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1/4 cup white wine
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Parmesan or Pecorino, freshly grated, for serving
1 bunch chopped chives, for garnish

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions. In last 2 minutes of cooking, add broccoli and cook until bright green and crisp-tender. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and broccoli.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, anchovies, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add the sausage to the pot and cook over medium-high, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes, adding some white wine to prevent the sausage from sticking if necessary. Remove from the heat, return the pasta and broccoli to the pot with the cooked sausage, and add the oil mixture. Toss well to combine, adding enough pasta water to create a thin sauce that coats the pasta nicely. Serve sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino and a flurry of chopped chives.