Insalata Formula 1

We had a lovely dinner a few nights ago at Ascari Enoteca 26, an Italian wine bar in our neighbourhood. The restaurant takes its name from 1950s Italian Formula 1 racing great Alberto Ascari, whose appetite for food and wine was legendary. The highlight of the meal was a simple salad of shaved celery, bocconcini di bufala, and white anchovies. It was a brilliant blend of contrasting flavours and textures: crunchy celery, barely dressed with a bit of lemon juice, cheese with a delicately rubbery rind yielding to a creamy interior, and brightly acidic, salty anchovies on top. Unexpected, and delicious.

This recipe depends on very specific ingredients; buying regular supermarket bocconcini and oil- or salt-packed anchovies will not get you even halfway there. The cheese must be fresh mozzarella made from buffalo milk: this has a delicacy, textural interest, and rich flavour that is miles away from standard bocconcini. In Toronto, products from fattorie garofalo are relatively easy to find, and very, very good.

The anchovies are a bit tricky to find. They are sometimes called “white anchovies”, or boquerones in Spanish. We found them yesterday hiding behind the prosaic title “fish salad” at Scheffler’s in St. Lawrence Market. Basically, these are filleted anchovies that have been marinated in vinegar and spices.

We decided to riff on the Ascari salad, adding super-thin shavings of fresh artichoke along with the celery. We dressed these with a generous lashing of lemon juice, some fleur de sel, and a scant drizzle of lemon olive oil.

With some of MC Warm Spice’s fresh pain a l’ancienne alongside…

… this was a great way to start dinner on a spring weekend evening.

Cheese Plate

For the cheese course on New Year’s Eve, we went with the auld-school / new school concept again. (Auld? Like Auld Lang…? oh, forget it.)

For the avant-garde contribution, we turned once again to Alinea for “Transparency of Manchego Cheese”.

Chef C did a great job at prepping several of the non-cheesy elements of the dish, namely: diced white (i.e., pickled, not oil- or salt-preserved) anchovies, diced roasted red and yellow pepper, roasted garlic cloves, precision-crafted mini-croutons, and… what everyone who has this dish raves about… Olive Oil Pudding!

It really is pretty great – sweet but not too sweet, and you get to enjoy the flavour of olive oil without, you know, ingesting an oil slick. Since I don’t have any prep pics, and Carol of Alinea At Home does, I’ll just hit the highlights: you heat up some milk, mix egg yolks with cornstarch and sugar, and gradually whisk the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Finally, whisk in the olive oil. I’d definitely recommend making this. It’s tasty, surprising, and totally easy for home cooks. I can picture it with a spicy tomato / black bean soup, or little open-faced serrano ham sandwiches, for example.

Bluebarry only prepped a couple of plate elements: the dehydrated black olives, and some very thin slices of manchego cheese. (For some reason, others who’ve made the dish seem to have been stymied by this task, which is sort of an essential if you’re going to end up with a transparency of the cheese as opposed to a shingle of cheese crushing some invisible stuff underneath it. Pro-tip: get a wedge of cheese, and a cheese plane – the wider the better.)

So, here’s the plate with all of the garnishes:

And with the thinly sliced manchego:

Apologies for the lack of an action shot with the kitchen torch (this is the one your Nomnivores own). Suffice it to say it was a pretty uneventful cheese-melting experience, even with 7 plates to torch, and 11 courses – and a considerable amount of wine – behind us.

It may have been the late hour and the sheer amount of food and wine, but the diners seemed “meh” about this one. It was… okay. The olive oil pudding was great. The dehydrated olives were not – the texture was dry, crunchy and “New!”, but instead of being more intensely olive-y, they were actually a little bland. A slice of dry-cured olive would’ve been better. The other elements made sense at an intellectual level (jarring but contextually appropriate contrasts of flavour and texture, smoothly complementary flavours and textures, pretty colours shining through the transparent cheese, yadda yadda). But they seem to have come at a cost. I’d rather have had some slices of olive-oil toasted bread, with anchovy, tapenade, and rouille alongside. And a chunk of manchego.

Speaking of which, here’s the old-school half of the cheese course: Stilton, quince jam, and Carr’s water crackers.

Cooking with Dexter

Cooking with Dexter

Bluebarry went to the St. Lawrence market today, and came home with a 15″ paellera. This was, of course, overkill for two nomnivores, however keen their appetites. So, the tiny paella – paradoxically featuring huge homegrown tomatoes and monster shrimp – was cooked in a tiny vessel. No recipe to speak of – just good calasparra rice, a 3 to 1 ratio of liquid (water, wine and pureed tomatoes) to rice, started on the stovetop and finished in a 350’F oven for about 30 minutes. Here it is, fresh out of the oven and coyly pulling itself back from the sides of the pan:

(We’re playing with the Hipstamatic iPhone app, and enjoying the menacing, Dexter-esque effects it gives to otherwise cheerful foodscapes.)

The texture was great, although it did lack the prized crunchy underside. We were also too light-handed with the saffron and piment d’espelette.

Working backwards, the paella was preceded by two long-time favourite tapas from a  NY Times New Year’s Eve issue (2004!)

Here, lovely anchovies rest atop sliced piquillo peppers, unaware of the approaching (shriek!) toothpick.

On the right, thickly slice Spanish chorizo, braised with white wine, sherry and fresh rosemary, finished with a sherry glaze. Together: salty, sweet, fatty, mouth-filling goodness.