Rapini and sausage with white beans and orecchiette

When we found out that Nick has diabetes, we were  lucky in that we were already eating mostly pretty well, most of the time, cheese and butter and cream aside, and that we didn’t have to make significant dietary changes. I threw out one stale half-bag of poor-quality elbow macaroni that I might have bought at Walmart that dark year I was an intern and had to have three roommates in a basement suite where the front door only kind of locked and where when it rained the water ran into the suite right over the electrical panel. We weren’t going to eat it anyway.

The only thing I really miss now that Nick is restricted is having pasta as a default – not being able to serve up a big plate of refined white carbs when I don’t feel like putting in a real effort, which can happen a couple of times a week, means adapting to a new kind of laziness. And the difference between pasta and something like, say risotto or sushi, which is also white and low on the glycemic index, is that pasta tends to last a couple of meals so you get that good blood-sugar spike a couple of days in a row. Fine for me, shakes and comas for him.

He can still have a small amount of pasta, of course. What he can have is likely what would be considered a normal portion size. And when you get down to comparing labels and noting the varying levels of carbohydrates, the rice pastas and whole-wheat pastas and gluten-free pastas are all similarly bad news carbohydrate-wise; a plate of the whole-wheat stuff is going to affect Captain Diabetes the same way that a plate of the delicious semolina stuff will.

So we adapted. Instead of a big plate of pasta, we have a big plate of stuff with pasta in it if there isn’t enough time to devise a huge and clever feast, or if the idea of opening a cupboard is too daunting to even consider. Here is one of those meals. It calls for blanching, which may qualify as a step that’s too daunting, but it’s really nothing. I promise.

Rapini and sausage with white beans and orecchiette

(Serves four.)

  • 1 lb. rapini, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked orecchiette pasta
  • 1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 19 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop chopped rapini in, and boil for two to three minutes until wilted and brightened in colour. Remove rapini from water, reserving liquid, and plunge into a large bowl of icy water. Set aside.

Return the pot to the heat and bring water back up to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook onions until translucent. Add garlic, then crumble sausage into the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon, breaking the meat up as you go. Add red pepper flakes and tomato paste and continue moving the meat around the pan.

When the water has come to a boil, add pasta and boil until al denté, about eight minutes.

Drain and then add rapini to the pan, stirring to coat in pan juices. As pasta finishes cooking, add beans and lemon zest and juice, then add pasta. Reserve some of the pasta water in case the pan becomes too dry.

Add parsley and cheese. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve with additional cheese.

Something like mujadara, only French, kind of.

Oh, Meatless Monday. If you fell on any other day, I would have a much easier time. Around 2:00 this afternoon, I was pretty sure we were pretty much going to have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. But the thing about having a food blog is that at least a couple of times each week one must make an effort to eat something interesting, or, at the very least, to pretend that she hasn’t been eating an inordinate number of sandwiches, because eating only sandwiches won’t help anyone out of any rut.

And I am in a rut.

This happens every so often, usually during the longest-feeling part of a season when I really just don’t feel like eating whatever’s in season any longer. At the start of winter I cannot get enough root vegetables; by the end of February, the rose in my cheeks isn’t the brisk arctic air but too goddamn many beets. There will be radishes soon, and asparagus, and pea shoots, and peppery little leaves of watercress. I have never been particularly patient.Also I don’t like the cold, and I am bored with my puffy jacket, and all my boots need to be resoled. Whine, whine, whine. It’s possible that I am laying blame for my rut on the weather and the root vegetables when the problem is me. Nick has indicated that’s likely the case, and that I am a malcontent at my worst, and contrary much of the time. I maintain that I’m charming and delightful, but he did not nod in agreement.

So because we cannot live off of grilled cheese alone, winter vegetables will have to do for now. And why not coax the best out of them?

I first heard about mujadara from Orangette. For the uninitiated, mujadara is a simple dish of rice and lentils bound by the rich sweetness of deeply caramelized onions. Made from pantry staples, it’s comfort food for a dark grey day, and the constant sizzle of onions for close to an hour is soothing, and you can eat it with a side of greens dressed in a squish of lemon and it’s really very nice.

But why stop there? Why not pull out that celery and those carrots that have been languishing in the crisper? Why not add a touch of smoke, a pinch of vigour? Yes. Pinçage. Let’s do that. Here’s a variation on the mujadara theme, a twist that will placate those dull feelings until the first tips of asparagus finally grace your plate.

Rice and lentils with pinçage

(Serves four, or six as a side dish.)

  • 1 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium pot, combine rice, lentils, bay leaf, one tablespoon of olive oil, and one teaspoon of salt with four cups cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered.

Meanwhile, heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and apple, and cook until onions turn translucent. Turn heat down to medium, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes to an hour, however long it takes your ingredients to turn golden and soft. Add salt once veggies begin to brown. I let mine go until they’re barely recognizable as their former selves, until they are dark and black in bits and they smell sweet and faintly smokey.

Add the garlic and the tomato paste, allowing it to dry to the bottom of the pan but not to burn. Keep it moving, tossing the veggies to coat in the sauce. When you’ve reached this point, you’ve got a pinçage (although technically a real pinçage wouldn’t have apples in it … technically, shmechnically).

When the bottom of the pan looks pretty dry, add rice and lentil mixture (removing bay leaf). Pour about a cup of water into the pan to deglaze. Doing this will release the flavour of your pinçage into the rice, coating it saucily.

Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

Yogurt cheese, smoked salmon, and canneloni.

Oh, this week! I don’t know where it’s gone, and I have two modes and two modes only these past seven days: frantic disorganization and head-bobbing lethargy, neither of which has proven to be particularly sustainable. My arthritis is flaring up again, this time with insistence, and Nick’s always talking about his diabetes, and I’m always telling him how much fibre is in things and we both feel 800-years-old.

Also, if the weird loop of incongruous music in my head is any indication, my internal DJ is totally high (when did that song from Aladdin get mashed up with The Beach Boys and why has either crossed my mind?), and I know we must have eaten something Monday and Tuesday, but I can’t figure out what it was. And the mountains are dark behind a scattered mist and the temperature has dropped and there are rumours of snow, even after I snapped photos of little white buds in a patch of dirt in front of a building around the corner just this past Saturday when we were running around having adventures in light jackets.


Anyway. I made yogurt cheese because the yogurt I like was on sale. (Given my current state of mind, that’s as good a transition as any.) I told you about yogurt cheese a long while back – it comes from this wonderful blog. At first it was a perfectly good spread for bagels, but now is so much more.

This would be best if you made it with hand-rolled sheets of fresh pasta. Second best is store-bought sheets of fresh pasta, which is what I used. Third would be those hard canneloni tubes you get in a box in the dry pasta aisle, but I have never been able to handle those without crushing them like so many taco shells. It’ll take about five sheets, each one cut in half so that it is roughly 4″x3″ (those Olivieri ones will work just fine).

And don’t just cheat and use ricotta. With the yogurt and the lemon and the salmon together, the filling is bright and flavourful. The night before you plan to make this, empty a large container of yogurt (750mL) into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Tie up the edges, and hang it over the sink overnight (with a bowl underneath to catch  the whey, which is a fantastic addition to soups and bread). Instructions with photos are here. You’ll end up with a little over a cup, maybe a cup and a half, and it should be the consistency of crumbly cream cheese. Refrigerate the stuff until you’re ready to use it.

Smoked salmon canneloni with yogurt cheese

(Serves four.)

Pasta

  • 5 sheets fresh pasta, 8″x6″ (approximately)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 leek, 1″ thick, white and light-green part only, chopped
  • 1 batch yogurt cheese (about 1 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup smoked salmon, flaked and packed
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

Sauce

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. When bubbling, add leek and garlic. Cook for one minute, until garlic is fragrant and leek has brightened in colour. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, mush together yogurt cheese, smoked salmon, and lemon zest and juice. Use a fork – the best mushing is usually done with a fork. Pour buttery garlicky leeks into the bowl, and add parsley, salt, and pepper, stir, and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed. When you like what you’re tasting, stir in the egg. Set aside.

Ready pasta for rolling according to package instructions. For store-bought fresh pasta, you may need to soak it for a couple of minutes in cold water. Trim to about 4″x3″.

Bring light cream to just a simmer. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook until translucent. Add crushed tomatoes. Once the tomatoes begin to burble and steam, reduce heat to medium and carefully stir in cream, slowly and in a steady stream, stirring until fully incorporated. Remove from heat.

Coat the bottom of a glass or enameled 9″x13″ baking dish with a thin layer of sauce.

Scoop 1/4 cup filling into the centre of each piece of pasta. Roll into loose cylinders, and place side by side into the pan. Once you have run out of room on the first layer, coat the tops with sauce, and continue laying rolls in a second layer. Coat the whole thing with remaining sauce, then cover with aluminum foil.

Bake covered for 35 minutes, then remove foil and cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

I served the pasta over a bed of wilted chard, which turned out to be a nice way to balance the flavours of the dish, the earthiness of the greens tempering the acidity and smoke of the pasta. It would also go nicely with salad.

Butternut squash and chickpea curry.

At 8:15 every morning when I walk down Granville Street to Broadway to take the bus to work, the ladies in the kitchen at Vij’s have already been at work for awhile, and the neighbourhood smells like onions frying in butter, and garlic and ginger, and slow-simmering curries warmed with cumin and cinnamon and pepper that make me want to quit my job and my apartment to spend my days hovering over their shoulders, taking deep breaths and sneaking tastes right from the pan. The aroma hangs in the air over three blocks, and is only stopped by the grease stink from the McDonalds on Broadway; if no one there was frying fries (or, at that hour, Egg McMuffins), I think the smell from Vij’s would go on forever.

But this is not a love letter to Vij’s, because Vij does not need that sort of thing, especially not from me. And besides, I can’t afford to eat there all that often, and I have reached the age where don’t care how good something is, I’d mostly prefer to not have to wait in lines. And for Indian food the way (and price) I think it should be, there are very few places in the city that meet my expectations; I know to go to the suburbs for the good stuff.

More often than not, though, it’s not a special dish I’m after. The thing about those spices and that smell in the air is that they are suggestive of a whole range of flavours. The smell of garam masala is not specific to a dish, at least to me, but is suggestive more of a feeling, which is perhaps why I crave it so strongly during these long dark months. I like the warmth a warm bowl of curry brings; I like the smell of it in my apartment, the way the aroma assembles itself in layers, beginning with garlic and ginger and finishing with coconut, cilantro, or a squeeze of fresh lime. I like the way that turmeric turns a pot of onions golden, the way that tomato colours it orange, and the way herbs at the very end brighten as they touch the heat of the dish.

Curry makes me happy. And so, after crossing 11th Avenue this morning and smelling Vij’s ginger and onions and garlic and feeling so very tired for a Thursday, I resolved to come home and throw together something equal parts nourishing and delicious. That I spent the day teetering and clomping around in too-high heels and encased in control-top pantyhose and a dress with no stretch fibres made the satisfaction of sitting down to a hot, saucy dinner all the greater.

What follows is a recipe for a curry that makes the most of your pantry staples and any butternut squash you might have been hording for however long. It’s spicy but also sweet, and a glorious colour that’s sure to liven up a dull grey day.

Butternut squash and chickpea curry

(Serves four.)

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 lb. butternut squash, diced
  • 1 19 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lime, zested plus 1 tbsp. juice
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pan over medium-high heat, warm oil and add onion, jalapeño pepper, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until onions are translucent and jalapeño pepper has brightened in colour. Add garam masala, red pepper flakes, fenugreek, turmeric, and pepper. Stir to coat onion mixture thoroughly, and cook for two minutes.

Add diced squash and chickpeas, stir, then add coconut milk, tomatoes, and lime zest and juice. Stir to coat squash in curry mixture, then reduce to medium heat, cover, and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until squash has softenened. Stir occasionally.

Once squash has softened, taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add scallions and cilantro, and serve over rice with an additional sprinkling of cilantro for colour.

I apologize again for the unusually poor photos; Mom and Dad have come to the rescue with a belated Christmas present in camera form, but it doesn’t arrive until tomorrow. After then, prepare to be amazed. Also, don’t forget to vote for Well fed, flat broke in the Canadian Food Blog Awards!

Tamale pie with black beans and red peppers.

Nick’s birthday was last week, and to celebrate we went out to the Tiki Bar at the newly renovated Waldorf Hotel. It was snowing, so I drove so I could still wear cute shoes and eschew a warmer, frumpier coat in favour of something that went better with my outfit. For awhile, the outfit was perfectly acceptable, because on a night like that there’d have been no reason to go outside.

I don’t know what happened.

Somehow, Nick’s friends decided that The Waldorf wasn’t fun anymore, and because it was Nick’s birthday and I drove them, I went along with their new plan to go to some house party on Commercial Drive. We parked the car at his friends’ house, because they said the party was within walking distance – closer than possibly having to park somewhere out of the way, I was assured – and on a warmer night, it might have been. First we walked several blocks to Commercial Drive, and then we headed south. I wasn’t wearing socks inside my stilettos, and my coat only buttoned halfway.

It was a 25-minute walk, and the snow was already several inches thick on the ground. And while Nick’s veins had been warmed by tequila before we left the bar, mine had not. This caused a variety of predictable problems for us as we plodded along.

I remember telling Nick I was going to stab him in the face and leave him to bleed or freeze to death in the snow. A few minutes later, we got to where we were going.

There was a $10 cover for each person, and as we climbed the stairs to the house, I realized that I am far less open-minded than I thought I was. The unmistakable stink of incense wafted down from the front door to the first landing on the stairs up, and when we got inside, we were instructed to remove our shoes. A sign informed guests that there would be no alcohol permitted in the house or outside of it.

This was the sort of place where I would be inclined to drink heavily. In a room with a beaded doorway, a woman warbled poetry and played what I think was a sitar, but it might have been that someone was stepping repeatedly on a cat, or a herd of cats – there was no way to be certain without going into the room, and I am uncomfortable sharing my personal space with a lot of strangers. On the back porch, an erotic cuddle puddle seemed to be forming, and downstairs, there was a performance I’m pretty sure included interpretive dance. I was in hell.

So we left. And we walked, again, in the snow until I was sure my toes would blacken with frostbite and fall right off. When we finally got home, I crawled into my fleece footie pajamas and drank tea so hot it was still boiling in the mug. When I woke up the next morning, I noticed a scratch in my throat, and by Monday, the cold was going full-bore.

This week is for very thick socks, sensible outerwear, and comfort food. Tonight I made a big pan of tamale pie, which is essentially Shepherd’s Pie with cornmeal instead of potatoes. I used a base I adapted from Homesick Texan’s Mexican Chorizo recipe; what resulted was a huge dish of food, one that will last as long as I need soothing, which, given the chill still haunting my toes and the cold fogging up my brain, might be a long time.

Tamale pie

(Serves six.)

  • 1 onion, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 7 oz. can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 19 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Chop one half of the onion, and place in a food processor or blender with garlic, chipotle peppers, vinegar, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and salt. Blend until smooth.

Place pork in a bowl, and pour the blended pepper mixture over top. Mush the meat and the liquid together with your hands until combined. Wash your hands.

Mince the other half of the onion, and heat it in olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add peppers, and saute until they’ve begun to sweat. Add meat, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon, and then add black beans, and both kinds of tomatoes. Simmer until liquid has reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir the mixture regularly while it simmers. Add cilantro, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, bring four cups of salted water to a boil over high heat. Whisk cornmeal in, and reduce heat to medium, whisking frequently until thickened, three to five minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir in butter, then eggs. Keep the mixture moving as you add the eggs so that they don’t scramble and ruin everything. Add cheese.

Pour meaty mixture into a 9″x13″ baking dish. Pour the cornmeal mixture over top of the meaty, beany pepper mixture.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden on top and bubbling around the sides. Let rest five to 10 minutes before serving, so that the topping can set. Serve with sour cream or thick yogurt.

Meatless Monday: Huevos Rancheros in Purgatory.

In the spirit of Meatless Monday, we had a fancy sort-of-breakfast for dinner. It’s the fresh and hearty love-child of huevos rancheros and eggs in purgatory, and it’s something you could serve for any meal, whenever. You can make the sauce ahead of time – if you call it a sauce. It’s more like a quick, loose chili, or a Mexican-inspired marinara with corn.

Either way, it happened once by accident and turned out to be awesome, so I wanted to share it with you.

One of this dish’s best features is that comes together in 30 minutes, which is all the time I have for anything on a Monday night. And the most important thing about it is that you serve it over a tortilla, which, if you’re feeling sassy, you fold over, fill with cheese, and stick in the oven so that it warms up and the cheese melts. Nick isn’t fully sold on Meatless Mondays, but is willing to go along with any of my enthusiasms if cheese is involved. Serve with a slice of lime, a bit of plain yogurt or sour cream, and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Huevos rancheros in purgatory

(Serves two to four)

  • 2 tbsp. canola or olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 cup diced red pepper
  • 1 minced jalapeño pepper
  • 2 cups pureed tomatoes (three to four tomatoes, whizzed through a food processor or blender until smoothish; if it’s off-season, use canned crushed tomatoes)
  • 1 14 oz. can black or red beans
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. chili powder (bonus points if you use chipotle powder)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (plus additional, for garnish)
  • 4 to 8 eggs
  • 1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco (or feta, or ricotta, or whatever you’ve got on hand)
  • 2 to 4 flour tortillas
  • 1/2 to 1 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Sauté onion in oil, in a large pan over medium-high heat, until translucent. Add garlic, corn, red pepper, and jalapeño, and cook until glistening, about three minutes.

Stir in tomato purée, beans, salt, chili powder, cumin, and oregano, and simmer for five minutes, until reduced and thickened slightly.

Remove from heat, and crack eggs over top. Sprinkle with queso fresco (or whathaveyou). If you’re in Vancouver, you can buy queso fresco and a variety of Mexican cheeses at Killarney Market over on 49th and Elliot.

Throw the pan into the oven, middle rack, and bake uncovered for 12 to 15 minutes, until whites are cooked and yolks are done to your liking. Serve over tortillas, sprinkled with cilantro.

If you opt to serve these over quesadillas, sprinkle 1/4 cup of grated cheese over half of each tortilla, fold over, place on a cookie sheet, and bake with your huevos for the last five or six minutes of their cooking time.

Enjoy! These are cheap, fresh, easy, fast, and really, really tasty. The corn and peppers are sweet, and the tomatoes lend a tart whoosh to things, and the beans make you forget there isn’t meat, in case the cheese wasn’t enough for you. The eggs are good because eggs are always good. And the cilantro makes it taste like Mexican Night without all the trouble and effort you always seem to have to go to on Mexican Night. Try it, and let me know how you like it!

Update: This recipe has since been posted over on the Meatless Monday website. Go check it out!

Garlic scapes and chickpeas and tomatoes. Hooray!

Do you know about garlic scapes*? Everyone at work does now, because I snuck out and bought some and brought them back and the stench they created had people on the other side of the place, a wall and forty square feet away, come in asking if it was me who smelled like feet or stale kimchi or dying. It was, and it usually is because there’s a little produce market on campus where I buy cool things that sometimes turn out to, um, pong, but to be fair? Garlic scapes have a very limited season and I can’t be faulted for celebrating their arrival.

Weird how things that smell bad are always my fault, but I refuse to accept responsibility. Someone could use some therapy.

I hope I didn’t scare you off about the smell. Garlic scapes don’t stink. They have a real garlicky smell, and something else – chlorophyll or something – something green. Anything garlic or onion that you leave on the floor of your over-heating office for four hours is bound to fuss about it, you know? But they’re really quite lovely. A quick blanch or sauté is all they really need. There’s a place we go to on Main Street where you can order skewers of them wrapped in bacon and then grilled.

Last night for company they found their way into a salad. Apparently we’re into salads these days, though it’s not hot and currently outside I can see at least three shades of grey not counting the apartment buildings and alley out my window. And salad is what you have when you need a side dish for roast chicken and potatoes. Since Mark, married to Nick’s sister Jess, lives gluten-free, salad was doubly perfect.

I’m sure there will be much more garlic scapery yet – I bought four bunches in a burst of enthusiasm, and they’re living in a vase of water on my counter awaiting their garlicky destiny. But for now – a recipe for salad. Not boring salad. Garlic salad. I promise, you’ll totally love this.

Chickpea, tomato, and garlic scape salad

  • 1 19 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 to 3 cups cherry tomatoes, rinsed (sliced if they’re larger, whole if they’re bite-size and fantastic)
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped garlic scapes
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp. chopped basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a bowl, combine chickpeas, tomatoes, and lemon zest and juice.

In a pan over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add garlic scapes and red pepper flakes, and sauté until scapes turn bright green – about a minute. Pour the whole thing, oil included, over the other ingredients, tossing to coat. Chill for an hour.

Before serving, add basil, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasonings as needed.

It’s so pretty, and very bright-tasting. The oil picks up the garlicky taste of the garlic scapes, and as it chills with the lemon zest it develops a delightfully clean taste. This is a great picnic salad, and if there are leftovers you don’t have to worry about lettuce wilting or sucking the next day.

Also? PS? LOOK AT MY BABY RADISHES!

That is all. Happy Canada Day!

*These may be garlic chives. I have been operating under some confusion forever. Oh well? Garlic scapes should work the same.

Good olive oil, run-on sentences, and bread soup.

I have long felt hard done by for the lack of a large Italian grandmother in my life. My grandmothers have all been quite fantastic, of course, but we’re so Canadian that one not-too-distant relative was mentioned briefly in a Farley Mowat book, which I am pretty sure is the Canadian equivalent of boasting ancestors arriving on the Mayflower. Which is not to say that Canadian is a milquetoast heritage – it’s got more than its share of culinary ooh-la-la, and not just what Americans call Canadian Bacon (which is actually just ham). But what it doesn’t have is olive oil.

You know where does have fantastic olive oil, though? San Francisco. So maybe an Italian grandmother is not entirely what I need – maybe I need an American BFF instead.

Years ago I discovered the good olive oil, and it comes from a shop in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. It’s made from organically grown California olives, and I would do some very morally questionable things to have access to a lifetime’s supply. Unfortunately, they don’t ship to Canada. It’s like being in love with someone who doesn’t return your calls.

So when we went back recently, I had but two orders of business: get myself to City Lights Bookstore which is the kind of place I nearly fall down weeping at the entrance to which means that I chose the right major in spite of the long-term earning potential I sacrificed; and, get to the Ferry Building for the good olive oil. I misjudged the distance from Fisherman’s Warf to our oily destination, causing my party of five to have to hike nearly thirty minutes in bad footwear, but it was totally worth it. For me.

What I love about the good olive oil – Stonehouse Olive Oil, if you’re too lazy or captivated by my elegant prose to click the link above – is that it tastes how I imagine fresh olive oil in Italy would. They sell each batch the same year it’s harvested, so it’s as fresh as you can get without actually sticking your face under the olive press.

Oh, San Francisco – what scandalous, depraved, excellent things I would do to be able to live with you forever.

Anyway, I got the oil, and I’m hoarding it. Except I used some tonight, a good amount of it for someone who is unsure when they’ll be back to the States to get more. We had soup – an enormous pot of it, because it’s the week before payday and we’re just back from vacation and OMG-broke, like, so much so that I jammed the vending machine at work with foreign money this morning trying to get an orange juice. I make big pots of soup when I’d prefer to stretch a meal into three to avoid starvation, and this, made of pantry staples, will take us handsomely through lunch and all the way to dinner tomorrow. For regular households, that means eight to ten servings. It’s easily adapted to smaller feedlots, however, so fiddle with it until it’s to your liking.

Bread Soup

(Serves 8 to 10.)

  • 1/4 cup good olive oil (I don’t believe I ever specify extra-virgin, but it’s what I mean by good olive oil)
  • 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 lb. stale bread, cubed and toasted (about four thick slices)
  • 2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes, plus juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 19 oz. can cannelini or white kidney beans
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (flat-leaf is better, but the curly stuff is okay if that’s all you can get)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest
  • As much pepper as you feel you need

In a large pot over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. When olive oil is hot, add garlic, and sauté until fragrant and lightly golden, about two minutes.

Meanwhile, whizz bread cubes in a food processor or blender until you end up with coarse crumbs. You don’t want to grind the bread too finely, or you will end up with a soup with boring texture, and no one wants that.

Add bread crumbs to the oil, and stir to coat. Immediately begin squishing tomatoes into the mix, adding juice quickly and scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure nothing burns to it. Add the wine. Stir again. Add the broth.

Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

After a half-hour, add beans, cheese, parsley, lemon zest, and pepper. Simmer an additional five minutes, until parsley has wilted and the whole thing smells magnificent.

If it’s a dark and stormy night and the water runs down the window so fast your cat can’t keep up with the drops, serve piping hot, with a swirl of your favourite olive oil, a lemon wedge, and a fat hunk of crusty fresh bread. And wine. Red wine. If it’s not, this is pretty nice chilled, like a hearty gazpacho, but serve with a charming white wine, a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc instead.

It’s delicious on the first round, like a bread and bean stew, but even better the second day. The hallmark of a quality meal, if you ask me and my imaginary Italian grandmother.

Here’s that meatball recipe.

These are the meatballs that Tracy‘s vegetarian boyfriend ate, like, four of. They’re that good, they convert the herbivores. She asked me for the recipe – “they’re like my nonna’s!” she exclaimed – but I explained that there wasn’t one, you just use a little of this and a bit of that, you know?

And then Nick’s sister asked for the recipe, and Sooin did too, and they wanted to know if it was on this site, and I said no, it wasn’t, because it’s the kind of thing you just make. You need a recipe for these? I asked, and people nodded yes. I thought they were everyone’s meatballs. Apparently they are my meatballs, and they are delicious.

I’m a little bit biased though. I mentioned a little while ago that if you were bent on seducing me (and you hadn’t already fed me too much wine, which is my favourite), meatballs would get you most of the way there. I don’t know what it is about them; meatballs, in all their forms, make me sublimely happy. There are probably hundreds of ball jokes to be pulled from that statement, but I stand by it.

So anyway, some friends came for dinner tonight, and I decided that we would have spaghetti and meatballs, because it is one of my favourite things and I like to share it, and I wanted to write the recipe down at last. Really, I’m pretty sure that they’re everyone’s meatballs. There’s no secret to them. But in case they are special, or different, or if you’re looking to score, here’s the recipe.

The meatballs

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (not extra-lean – please, not extra-lean)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. (rounded) fat (butter or bacon fat, or olive oil if you want)
  • 1 tbsp. (rounded) tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Combine all of your ingredients in a large bowl. Squish it all together with your hands to ensure that crumbs and eggs are thoroughly combined. Don’t worry if the meat looks like it isn’t – it’s better to have the meat sort of separate, so that you can taste pork and beef distinctly. And you must use your hands. There is no other way.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Roll meat mixture into balls roughly an inch and a half in diameter. This recipe makes about two dozen – if you have many more, your balls are too small. (Snicker.) And the reverse is true too. Place balls on baking sheet.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

If you’re just feeding you and another person, or maybe two smaller, miniature persons, then use a dozen, or fewer, and freeze the rest.

If you’re insane and for some reason always end up feeding tons of people even though you’re poor and hardly anyone ever invites you to their homes for dinner even though you’re very nice and don’t always guzzle the wine or step on the cat, cook them all, but double your sauce recipe and use the two-pound bag of spaghetti.

Because these are deceptively large, I would bet that no one will be able to eat more than three. Four is pushing it.

For sauce, there are lots of options. A sauce I am loving right now is tomato sauce with onion and butter from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. In the summer, I use my special slow-cooked tomato sauce, and it’s very nice then too. Tonight, I made a simple sauce of one onion and three cloves of garlic sweated in olive oil, two 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, simmered for forty minutes, then salt, pepper, and basil stirred in right at the end. Keep it simple with the sauce – these are hearty meatballs, and they will be the star of the dish. Stew the meatballs in the sauce for about twenty minutes before serving; they’ll cut the acidity of the tomatoes, and they’ll warm up nicely all on their own.

There it is. See how easy? So easy. Really inexpensive. No reason not to make them for me. I’ll bring dessert. And wine. And soft slippers, because of the cat.

Curry in a hurry?

Curry pot.There’s quite a lot to be said for pantry staples, and meals that come together in a half-hour while you drink the last beer and contemplate hibernation.

While I am not one to advocate one product over another, and would certainly never deliberately push a brand at you, I think that everyone ought to own a few key things to help themselves along on nights when it’s been dark all day and you’re cold and even your skin under your clothes is damp and your lips are chapping like snakeskin. For times like those, you ought to own a jar of madras curry paste. If you get yours in one of those little Indian shops, even better, and probably cheaper too.

Sure, you could make your own curry paste, but the point sometimes is not artistry or chemistry – it’s eating, fast. And because life’s too short to eat bad food, it’s got to be convenience food that tastes like slow-cookery, because it’s also got to soothe. So, on nights like these, a warm tomato curry is what you need. You can use madras, or any other curry paste that pleases you – I recommend an Indian-style curry paste, like madras or tandoori, because it goes so nicely with tomatoes. All that cumin and coriander. Use a hot paste if you like – I keep this pretty mild though.

Easy tomato curry

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lb. cubed boneless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp. madras curry paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 398 mL/14 oz. can of tomato sauce (make sure it’s pure – no spices, garlic, or onion powder … read the back of the can!)
  • 1 398 mL/14 oz. can of coconut milk (not the low-fat kind – it’s too watery)
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp. red chili flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups whole spinach leaves

In a large pot over medium-high heat, melt butter and sauté onions until translucent. Add chicken, curry paste, and garlic. Brown chicken lightly.

Add your tomato sauce and coconut milk, scraping the bottom of the pan for any delicious brown bits as you do. Stir in the tomatoes and chili flakes, and reduce to medium. Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Season to taste, and then, just before serving, stir in the spinach leaves. Serve over rice, preferably rice that’s flecked with a little bit of toasted coconut, and maybe tossed with a handful of peas. The curry will cook in the same amount of time as the rice. Easy, simple, nourishing, and delicious. Which is what you want on a Thursday in October, you know?

Tomato curry plate.