Europe

Polenta 'Cake' with Black Olive Pesto Filling and 'Nduja Ricotta 'Frosting'

When Joana from Yummy Food Blog emailed me and asked me if I'd like to enter her Mediterranean-inspired recipe contest I was excited, however, as you may know, I don't usually do things the 'traditional' way. 

From Joana - 'I’m asking a small set of bloggers including yourself to write a blog post or recipe all about your favourite dish that’s inspired by Mediterranean style cooking. For example, I’m originally from Portugal and love seafood and veggie dishes that are packed full of fresh herbs and spices such as Chorizo & Pancetta Bake and Bacalhau Com Natas. The most creative and imaginative post will receive a Kindle Fire HD, there is also a second prize of a £25/$40 Amazon Gift Voucher.'

The recipe contest is sponsored by Spanish travel agency, Canarias -

'Canarias.com - experts for all things travel in and around Spain and the Canary Islands. What once was a car rental company with a small fleet of 40 vehicles has become a major tourism company dedicated to the areas of Spanish tourism, car rental, leisure, health and food. We do everything in our power to offer our visitors the best experience by offering the widest range of products and services - everything the client needs to make their vacation unforgettable.'

I've not had the pleasure of visiting Spain, but Sean has, and despite three separate visits to Italy, Spain is still his #1. Now that we know about Canarias.com, perhaps a trip to the Canary Islands is in order?

I came up with a fun Mediterranean-inspired appetizer that's assembled in an round cake tin. It would be neat to present the 'cake' on a beautiful stand at a dinner party!

Polenta 'Cake' with Black Olive Pesto Filling and 'Nduja Ricotta 'Frosting'

6-8-inch round cake tin - greased lightly with olive oil or butter

1/2 C pinenuts

1 C Kalamata olives, pits removed (I buy Kalamatas that are already pitted and sliced)

1 clove garlic, rough chopped

1/4 C Manchego cheese, grated

1 500g tub Ricotta

1 C 'Nduja**

2 C water

1 1/3 C milk

1 C cornmeal

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp butter

1/4 C Grana Padano

- Toast pinenuts in a dry pan until golden - combine toasted pinenuts in a food processor with Kalamata olives, garlic clove and Manchego cheese - pulse until 50/50 chunky/smooth - mix with 250g of Ricotta and set aside

- In a small bowl, with a spoon, mix 'Nduja and remaining 250g Ricotta until smooth

- In a large microwave safe bowl, whisk water, milk, cornmeal and salt - microwave in 1-minute intervals, whisking between each minute until thick - about 6 minutes - add butter and Grana Padano - stir to combine - voila! Microwaved polenta!

- spread a thin layer of polenta in greased cake tin - top with olive pesto/Ricotta mix - top with another layer of polenta - top with 'Nduja/Ricotta Mix - top with another layer of polenta - leave yourself enough 'Nduja/Ricotta mix to 'frost' the outside of the cake

- place cake tin in fridge to cool/set one hour - flip cake onto plate and 'frost' with remaining 'Nduja/Ricotta - can be served warm or cold

***'Nduja is a SPICY spreadable salami made in Calabria, Italy. I ordered mine from Bottega Nicastro in Ottawa!

Romesco Part Two : Ling Shrimp and il Mercato Spring Garden

I found my love for Italy at il Mercato Spring Garden.

You see, I worked there for five years - three as a waiter, two as the Assistant Manager.

My first shift was opening night of the 'new' location across the street from Park Lane - March 29, 2004. Until that point in my life, I had never seen such madness, and to top it off, had never heard of things like Short Ribs, Tallegio or Primitivo.

I was scared and excited as hell to be there.

Almost ten years later the restaurant is gone but it left me so much:

Sean, my wonderful husband. We met at il Mercato. He was my boss.

Cathy and Susan, two of my bffs, as well as many other friendships that I cherish.

An incredibly fierce devotion to, and desire to learn about, Italian ingredients, cooking and wine.

The interesting thing about this blog post is that the recipe I'm posting isn't Italian. It's Spanish.

That's something else I learned at il Mercato. Italian cooking varies from region to region within 'the boot', and oftentimes, ingredients, recipes and methods from surrounding countries - Austria, France, Croatia, Spain (and others) - are used.

Romesco is an example of that.

At one point we had a dish on the menu called 'Ling Shrimp' (although, if we're being honest - every seasonal change of the menu had some variation of a Ling Shrimp. THIS Ling Shrimp was linguine tossed with Romesco and sautéed shrimp). It was one of my favourite pastas during my time at il Mercato and so, yesterday, I decided to try and recreate it from memory.

If I told you I nailed it would you think I was bragging?

'Cause I did.

Nail it that is.

Romesco is garlicky and crunchy with a hint of vinegary tang. You can use it with shrimp, chicken, on top of a steak, on a crostini topped with feta or goat cheese, or anywhere else you want a hit of super jacked up flavour.

 

Romesco Sauce (yields about 2 Cups - takes about 4 hours ---> 3 of those hours to roast tomatoes and red pepper)

4 fresh tomatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch discs

1 red pepper, seeds and pith removed, cut into pieces

10 cloves roasted garlic

5 cloves raw garlic, rough chopped

1/2 C Parmigiano, grated

1/8-1/4 tsp chili flakes (depends on your preference for heat - add more if you like)

1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt (add 1/4 tsp, taste and add more if you want)

1/4 C olive oil

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

A 2-inch wide slice of stale baguette, torn into small pieces

50g hazelnuts, skinned, toasted, rough chopped

50g blanched almonds, toasted, rough chopped

- Preheat oven 225° - lay tomatoes and red pepper pieces in a single layer on two parchment lined baking sheets - drizzle with olive oil and roast in oven for three hours, flipping tomato slices and pepper pieces after 90 minutes - after three hours, remove skin from roasted red pepper pieces

- in food processor, pulse roasted tomatoes, roasted red pepper, roasted garlic, raw garlic, Parmigiano, chili flakes, salt, olive oil and red wine vinegar until just combined

- add crumbled bread and pulse until mixed in - if Romesco is too thick add more olive oil by the teaspoon and red wine vinegar by the 1/2 teaspoon and taste

- add hazenuts and almonds - pulse until nuts are processed but still chunky

 

Ling Shrimp for Two

1/2 pound linguine

1 Tbsp butter

10 jumbo shrimp, shelled, de-veined

1 C Romesco

1/2 C pasta water

grated Parmigiano

- bring a large pot of salted water to a boil - cook linguine according to package instructions until al dente

- when pasta has 5 minutes left to cook, heat butter in a sautée pan over medium heat - cook shrimp (about 2 minutes on each side)

- scoop out 1/2 C pasta water before draining pasta - put hot drained pasta back in pot and add the 1/2 C pasta water, Romesco sauce and cooked shrimp - toss with tongs until Romesco 'melts' through and coats linguine and shrimp (this is not a saucy pasta - the Romesco is going to cling to the noodles and shrimp - see photo above)

- garnish with grated Parmigiano 'se ti fa piacere' - if it pleases you

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Traditional Cornish Pasties (or as close as you can get in Nova Scotia)

One day, not too long ago, I texted Kris, one of my oldest friends, a photo of a cheese and onion pasty I had picked up at a cute little food shop near my house.

'Look!', I typed, excitedly. 'A delicious Cornish Pasty!'.

'That's not a Cornish Pasty', came the reply.

'Oh', I wrote, rather dejected. 'Then what am I eating?!?'

And here began Kris and my eventual foray into pasty making together.

You see, my friend Kris is from Cornwall, England where the Cornish Pasty is the region's fiercely loved official dish. The story goes, that the pasty was invented for the local tin miners because they could eat them, using the crust as a handle, without having to wash their hands. Kris told me that sometimes the pasties would be filled with meat in one half and jam in the other so the miners could have lunch and dessert all in one neat little edible package.

According to Wikipedia, the Cornish Pasty accounts for 6% of the Cornish food economy, is the food most associated with Cornwall by the rest of the UK, and, in 2011 was awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the European Union. 'In order to receive the PGI status, the entire product must be traditionally and at least partially manufactured (prepared, processed OR produced) within the specific region and thus acquire unique properties'.

In other words, the people of Cornwall take their pasties VERY seriously.

Kris says that a traditional Cornish Pasty can be made with either a flaky crust or a shortcrust - it doesn't really matter because the pastry is not the main debate. Most discussion focuses on what should go inside the pasty - skirt/chuck/flank steak, potato, swede, onion, salt and pepper and that's it - and as Kris told me 'everyone's got an opinion'. When I ask about sauce he says, 'I usually put a bit of butter inside because who doesn't love a bit of butter?'.

'What about carrot?' I ask, thinking about my mum's delicious meat pies.

'It's wrong to put carrot in' says Kris.

'Why?', I ask. 

'It's not traditional', he says.

Now, of couse, living in Nova Scotia means we can't actually make a TRUE Cornish Pasty, but we came damn close.

Kris and I drove to the Halifax Seaport Market on a sunny Saturday morning to pick up the ingredients for our pasties - potatoes, onions and turnip from Taproot Farms and a beautiful 1 pound skirt steak from Getaway Meat Mongers.

We used this recipe for the pastry except instead of 75g of shortening, we used 50g of shortening and 25g of butter. 

We eyeballed the amount of steak, potato, onion and turnip. We diced each ingredient and mixed it all together with lots of salt and pepper.

Then we rolled out our pastry.

We cut the dough into large circles and filled them with the steak mixture. We topped our steak mix with a few knobs of butter and a sprinkle of flour for thickening.

We then sealed the edges of the pastry with a little water and tried to crimp the edges like we knew what we were doing. The one on the left is my attempt, the one on the right is Kris'. Hmmm...

Brush the top of each pasty with some beaten egg and then bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes, until deep golden brown all over.

No photograph will ever do justice to the moment when Kris and I sat down in his living room, him on the couch, me on the floor, both of us ooohing and aaaahing over each and every bite of our crisp, flaky, golden pasties.

I think the thing I love most is that, not only do I now have an amazing recipe to add to my collection, but, every time I make it for the rest of my life, I will think of my friend.

The Hugo

I am caught in a current of obsession.

On the one hand - vintage cocktail glassware.

On the other - teaching myself how to photograph drinks.

This is The Hugo - my new favourite. It's light and refreshing, with muddled mint and lime, Prosecco, elderflower cordial and mineral water. It will be absolutely perfect when I am sitting on my deck this summer.

For the recipe, click here.

I got my elderflower cordial at Pete's!