Garlic-scape fergazza bread.

fergazza bread

My last memory of a proper loaf of fergazza bread is hazy – I was with my parents, on Granville Island, and I can’t remember the circumstances or anything else about the day, but we bought a loaf from one of the bakeries there and they put it in a bag and for some reason the bag was handed to me and I ate the entire loaf while we were wandering around and then I didn’t poop for four days. It’s weird what lives on in the mind.

Fergazza bread seems to be a local thing, or a Canadian thing, and not particularly common – you see it in the occasional bakery, but I’ve never seen a recipe for it and to be honest, I’m just guessing at the spelling. It’s not fougasse, though there are similarities. It’s a loaf of bread that’s crammed full of Cheddar cheese and green onions, with a herbs and a whisper of hot sauce. It’s wonderful toasted with a bit of butter, and you really could just mindlessly eat a whole loaf. Don’t do that, unless you’re prepared to have a lot more free time and a heavy abdominal sadness for a few days after.

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It’s pretty wonderful with green onions, and you could certainly use those if that’s what you have or if it’s not garlic scape season, but it’s garlic scape season right now so I’m just garlicking everything even more than usual – this might be my favourite application of garlic scapes yet.

I’ve found that by adding just a bit of beer to the dough, the result is a bread that’s just breadier. You can omit it if you prefer – just replace with water, and put the full amount of liquid in with the yeast at the beginning.

Fergazza Bread with Garlic Scapes

(Makes one 9″x5″ loaf)

  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour as needed for kneading
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lb. cubed aged Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup garlic scapes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. sambal oelek or sriracha (or other chili paste or hot sauce)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Additional coarse salt, to top loaf

Combine water with sugar and yeast in a bowl and let rest for five minutes, until yeast is foamy.

Add yeast mixture to flour, with beer, one tablespoon of olive oil, salt, oregano, and pepper. Mix until a shaggy dough forms, then knead for eight minutes or until the dough is smooth and stretches when pulled. Form the dough into a ball. Place it into a greased bowl, cover with greased plastic wrap and a dishtowel, and let rest in a warm, draft-free space until doubled in size, about two hours.

Mix two tablespoons of olive oil with sambal oelek and garlic.

Once the dough has risen, spread it out over a clean, floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll it to about 10″x14″. Paint the oil-sambal mixture over top, leaving about a half inch border all the way around. Sprinkle with garlic scapes, and scatter with cheese cubes. Form as tight and firm a roll as you can.

Fold the edges of the roll under, then place into a greased 9″x5″ loaf pan. Cover again, and let rise another hour to hour and a half.

Using a sharp knife, cut slits into the top of the loaf. Paint the top of the loaf with the remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with additional coarse salt. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes at 350°F. Check the bread halfway through baking – turn the pan, and if the loaf is browning too quickly cover it with foil for the remainder of your cooking time.

Remove the loaf from the pan and cool on a rack for at least an hour before serving.

bread

Roasted cauliflower soup.

Gloom.

This is the hardest part of the year to get through. I have no patience left – please, no more squash! I’m done with potatoes. And I have no kindness left in my heart for kale. Let’s have some asparagus, already!

Tossed.

Spring gave us a sneak preview last weekend, a single day of sunshine and warmth where I ran around with bare arms and ate a bahn mi sandwich in a park while the baby learned the pleasures of sliding and swing-sets. And then things went back to normal, and the sky turned grey, and it has been that way ever since.

This time of year feels like purgatory. Molly Waffles has been pacing the apartment and pressing her paws to the window, scratching at the glass. She is desperate to go outside, but there is a family of raccoons out there, and city raccoons are the size of adolescent black bears and she would be little more than an appetizer. I am similarly desperate for something new and different. Maybe that’s strawberries and pink wine in the sunshine, or maybe it’s something bigger? I will be 30 in 30 days, and I am starting to feel like I’ve been pacing around and scratching at windows, like it’s time to make a mad dash for whatever’s beyond here, whether that means outrunning city raccoons or something even scarier.

Roasted.

Or maybe the wet that seeps in through the holes in my boots has found its way into my bones and now there’s mildew in my bloodstream. Maybe this itch for something fresh is just impatience, because something really good – like peach season – is on its way. And maybe what I need isn’t so much an escape as a way to bide time. If that’s the case, then soup will drag us all through these last dark days before the sun brings back all the green things that make us feel alive.

Soup.

Fingers crossed, anyway. We’ll know better what’s out there for us once the sky clears.

Roasted cauliflower soup

(Serves 4.)

  • 1 small head of cauliflower (1 1/2 lbs)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup shredded aged white cheddar cheese (between 1/4 and 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Chop cauliflower and onion, and place in a large bowl with garlic cloves. Pour olive oil over top, mixing thoroughly with your hands so that all the pieces and bits are coated. Sprinkle with salt, and pour into an oven-safe pot – ideally one that will transfer from your oven to your stove-top.

Roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Stir halfway through cooking for even browning.

Remove from the oven to the stove-top, and add almonds, stock, lemon zest and juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer over medium heat for ten to 15 minutes, until the almonds have softened. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender or regular blender, then return to heat. Add cheese, stir, then add milk. Taste, adjusting seasoning as needed and thinning to your desired consistency with more stock or water.

 

Crafty macaroni and cheese

Crafty macaroni and cheese.

Sometimes you just want to eat the food you grew up with, the kind of stuff that hearkens back to a time when cheese was powdered and that was okay. Remember when Parmesan cheese came in its own plastic shaker and was shelf-stable? I think it was made of nylon.

I have always loved macaroni and cheese, and for most of my life macaroni and cheese was something that came in a box. It never would have occurred to me to make it from scratch until a few years ago. When I moved out of my parents’ house and into my first “apartment” (translation: dank basement suite with limited natural light and a permanent damp smell), I was broke all the time and would maximize my calorie intake in the days before payday by cooking up a box of macaroni and cheese (remember when it cost less than a dollar?) and eating the whole thing super fast, then laying face-down on the couch, uncomfortable, to digest for the rest of the evening as though I were a snake that had just swallowed an antelope.

It was an attractive time.

It felt horrible, but it was oddly comforting. When I was a kid, even though we always had Costco cases of macaroni and cheese in the cupboard, it was a total treat, especially if you got it for dinner which almost never happened. I loved macaroni. And in my formative years, macaroni and cheese was always, ALWAYS orange.

Orange sauce.

When you make macaroni and cheese from scratch, it is mostly not orange, even when you use orange cheese. And while grown-up, from-scratch homemade white mac-and-cheese is extremely delicious, it is more like comfort food to me when it’s orange. But macaroni out of a box is the opposite of comfort food these days; when I eat it now, I feel … gross. But you know what’s orange? Carrots are! Also they are healthy, so you can pretend that’s why you’re using them.

Veggies.

This is a very simple dish, and I make it quite saucy so that I can add stuff if I feel like it – adding a 28 oz. can of hominy (drained and rinsed!) makes this kind of amazing – or so that I can plan ahead and have leftovers that reheat well. Add whatever you want – even chopped up hot dogs, if that’s what you like. I won’t judge. (How could I?)

Big pot of cheesy noodles.

Macaroni and cheese

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded aged white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Salt

Over high heat, bring carrots, onion and garlic to a boil in about two cups of water with a bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until carrots are soft, 15 to 2o minutes. Remove bay leaf, pour contents of pot into a blender, and blend. Set aside.

Cook macaroni in salted boiling water according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Add mustard, whisking again, then add the carrot mixture. Add Worcestershire sauce, paprika and pepper and simmer – whisking occasionally – until thickened, four to six minutes. Add cheese, stirring to melt. Add cream, if you feel like it – not mandatory, but it gives the sauce a richer, silkier taste. Add any additions – such as hominy, cooked sausage, roasted veggies, or whatever. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Add cooked macaroni, stir well to coat, and serve.

Also, if you live anywhere between West Van and Langley, enter this week’s giveaway! Not a ton of entrants, so your odds are good.

Slow-cooker ham and white bean stew

Stew.

Patience is a virtue, but it isn’t one of mine. And so I am pacing, expectant, as a friend of mine is days, maybe even hours away from having a baby I feel like she’s been gestating for years. I keep wishing things would hurry along, because while I know people with babies, very few of those people live nearby. And when you have babies, you need other people around you to have them. People with babies need other people with babies because what we really need is a support group with wine.

The longer you have babies, the more you need wine. Mine is an accidental hurricane, a destructive force of nature seemingly bent on exploring and subsequently breaking all my things. That this is going to happen to someone I know is very comforting.

And so my friend is almost there, and because one only needs so many onesies, I had said I would make her freezer meals in lieu of a shower gift. So I have been plodding along, making a container of something here, and a pot of something there. Tonight I added one more to the freezer, a pot of ham and white bean stew, a creamy, savoury combination of leftovers and slow-cookery.

I left the stew in the Crock Pot to cook for ten hours today, and when I came home this place smelled like salty meat and garlic and herbs; using just a few bits and pieces, there was enough hearty stew for at least eight people, I’m sure of it. It’s not beautiful, but it’s delicious, and plenty soothing for someone with a newborn and the imminent danger of having all her favourite stuff smashed by a happy little Hulk.

Crock pot full of stew.

Ham and white bean stew

(Serves 6 to 8.)

  • 1 lb. small white beans, such as Great Northern or navy beans
  • 1 lb. cubed ham
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 6 cups stock (ideally homemade ham stock, but store-bought chicken stock will work too)
  • 1 tbsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • Juice of half a lemon, if needed
  • Salt to taste

The night before you plan to eat, cover one pound of white beans with an inch of water.

In the morning, drain and rinse your beans. Put them into a slow cooker, along with ham, onion, celery, pearl barley, stock, mustard, rosemary, and bay leaves. Stir, cover, set slow cooker to low, and cook for 10 hours.

Go to work, or about your day, or back to bed.

When you get home, stir in pepper, Parmesan, and parsley. Taste, and add lemon juice and salt as needed. Serve with bread. Feel virtuous.

Stew and toast.

Toad in the Hole.

We’re moving next week, and we’re hiring movers, which we have never done before. We can’t really afford them, but I figure it’s the cost of saving our marriage and friendships, because while our new building has an elevator, our current one doesn’t and we’re on the third floor. This, and the fact that it’s Buy Nothing Day, have reminded me that we have too much stuff – so much stuff, and I wonder how much of it we would even miss if it was gone. You’d be surprised at how many chicken figurines and plastic dinosaurs two people can cram into fewer than 1,000 square feet.

Or maybe you wouldn’t?

One of the things we don’t need to spend so much on is take-out, which we’ve been eating too much of because my job is less a job and more a way of life, and because the dishes are dirty and one of us has to clean them and it isn’t going to be me. But those are excuses, and I know that. I am never so busy that I can’t just take half an hour and make dinner; that I’m doing so little of that is laziness. During the Depression, no one got to say “Uggggh, work sucked today, let’s just get wine and Thai food and watch dumb crap on TV with our pants off.” They might have wanted to, but they turned their powdered milk and canned tomatoes and elbow macaroni into a dish that would span four meals because that’s just what you did.

We need a little more “that’s just what you do” and less “eff, I just don’t feel like it.” I need to stop using fatigue and ennui as an excuse.

It’s Friday, and I probably could have gotten away with just calling in for sushi, but I wanted something homemade, something made out of stuff I have in the cupboards and fridge. So here’s a dish I’ve made a million times, one that won over Nick in the very beginning when he was just a fetus of a husband, back when we were young and never watched TV because we had too many roommates hogging the remote and no cable anyway. It’s something I made here a few years ago, but that has evolved and grown into a better dish – why did I never think to add cheese before?! Anyway, here’s Toad in the Hole: Version 2012. It’s an eggy, pancakey thing – basically Yorkshire pudding with stuff baked in – and it’s good with salad, but it’s better if you serve it with onions and cabbage fried with bacon. Because what isn’t?

Make it vegetarian by folding mushrooms and shallots fried in butter into the batter. Use what you have, but don’t make a special trip to the store. It’s best if your milk and eggs are at room temperature, but it’s not the end of the world if they aren’t.

Toad in the Hole

  • 2 tbsp. butter or two strips of bacon, chopped
  • 2 to 4 sausages
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk or buttermilk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Pinch salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, milk or buttermilk, eggs, mustard, and salt and pepper until smooth. Set aside.

In a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, melt butter or cook bacon. If you don’t have a cast iron pan, stick a pie plate in the oven as it preheats.

Melt butter or cook bacon. If cooking bacon, scoop out of the pan and drain it on paper towel. Brown sausages in melted butter or bacon grease – it doesn’t matter if they are cooked through, but you want them brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and slice into bite-sized pieces.

Add bacon, if using, and sausages back to the pan, or to the heated pie plate (if using), pour batter over top, sprinkle with cheese and stick in the oven for 25 minutes, until batter has puffed and turned golden. Slice and serve immediately with mustard or sour cream.

 

Mushroom and butter bean ragù

By mid-morning, there was chaos. The baby has been sick and only seems able to comfort himself by wailing, though he will pause briefly for food – but only briefly.

The cat needs her nails done but won’t sit still for it, and if she’s not hanging off the seat of my pants by her claws she’s attempting to bury her wet food under the mat in the hall or scratch holes into the garbage bag that’s waiting to go out to the bin. When I finally got the baby down for a nap I came out to find the cat licking my sandwich.

“You’re all a bunch of jerks!” I yelled at no one in particular, and foraged a lunch of stale Bugles and a glass of white wine that may have been sitting out on the coffee table since last night. I glared at the cat but she has made it clear that apologizing to me is beneath her.

Six weeks ago I joined the Learn to Run clinic at the local Running Room, partly to get back into shape. It was not a great idea because I don’t enjoy running – what’s the point unless you’re being chased? It means rushing out of the house on Monday evenings after Nick gets home from work, and we end up eating dinner late while having to juggle laundry and any mess left over from the weekend. I usually dread it but tonight I couldn’t wait to go. These past few days I have come to understand why someone might go out for a pack of cigarettes and just not come back.

So, you know. There are highs and lows. And sometimes there is enough time in the day to linger over the stove, and some days dinner comes together in a few hasty minutes after the kid goes down for the night. Tonight was one of those hasty nights, and I’m calling the result a ragù even though it contains no meat and did not simmer for very long at all – I loaded it up with the kind of things that make it feel like it simmered long (oaky wine, soy sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese), but it was only 15 minutes, while the pasta cooked. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with me today.

If you can’t find canned butter beans, use one cup fresh or frozen lima beans or any other canned white bean.

Mushroom and butter bean ragù

(Serves 4.)

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup oaked white wine, such as Chardonnay
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14 oz./398 mL can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 14 oz./398 mL butter beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 lb. fettucine

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, sauté shallot, carrot, celery, and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until vegetables have begun to sweat. Add rosemary, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, black pepper, and mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms have released their moisture, about two minutes.

Add wine and bay leaf, scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure no bits have stuck to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until liquid has reduced by half, one to two minutes.

Add tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, Parmesan cheese, and soy sauce. Simmer another five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add fettucine, and cook according to package directions – five to seven minutes – until al denté (or cooked to taste).

Add butter beans to the ragù, and continue to simmer until fetuccine is cooked. Drain pasta, and add to the ragù. Stir well. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Add parsley, and serve.

Sweet potato and pear barlotto.

Around here, risotto is a favoured comfort food. I like its toothsome porridginess (can that be a thing? Or is that redundant? Can porridge be toothsome?), and the way it lends itself to infinite variations. Nick likes carbs and wine and cheese. Who doesn’t, really?

It’s been cold lately, and we’re tired. We’re in need of comfort, especially after spending so much time comforting this ten-pound pork chop at the expense of uninterrupted sleep and personal hygiene.

Too often we seek solace in take-out. So while I crave risotto, it would be wise to make a healthier choice in light of the tempura and pulled pork and fast-food cheeseburgers we’ve consumed this past week. Pearl barley stands in nicely for arborio rice, and loaded with veggies this barlotto makes a meal that’s equal parts soothing and nutrient-rich. Make it as a main course for Meatless Monday, or serve it as a hearty, autumnal side dish with roasted pork or chicken.

Sweet potato and pear barlotto

  • 1 lb. sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 lb. firm-fleshed pears, diced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus additional for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Toss sweet potato and pears in oil, and sprinkle with half of one teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pour mixture into a 9″x13″ baking pan, and roast 35 to 40 minutes until golden, turning mixture halfway through cooking.

Heat stock in a pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to low.

Heat two tablespoons butter and one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sauté for one minute. Add pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Add barley, stirring to coat in butter and oil, then add bay leaf and wine. Stir frequently until liquid dissipates.

Add stock one cup at a time until absorbed, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add cheese, then taste. If you use store-bought stock, you likely won’t need to add salt. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Stir in an additional tablespoon of butter, then toss with fresh parsley. Serve immediately, with additional parsley for garnish.