an Italian menu

19 Sep
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Italian food is known and loved all around the globe and there is hardly a city in the world that does not have an Italian restaurant or two. Supermarkets are full of italian ingredients from fresh cheeses and meats to pasta, tomato sauces, passata and pizza. Endless cookery books in many different languages are devoted solely to Italian cooking.

True Italian food is actually very simple and made only from fresh ingredients that are in season. Rarely do meals have heavy sauces or spices to mask the taste of the fresh produce. A typical Italian meal is fairly rigid in construction and the four courses are what you would expect to get in any local restaurant.
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(coppa with house pickles)

Antipasto:
The meal starts with ‘antipasto’ which usually consists of local meats and cheeses but on special occasions will be an endless stream of tasty little dishes made mainly from vegetables and sometimes fish. In addition to sun dried tomatoes, olives and grilled aubergines vegetables are stuffed and baked, courgette flowers are stuffed and fried and frittata, bruschetta, and small tarts come in varying sizes and combinations. This is all eaten with freshly baked, crusty homemade bread.

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(smoked makeral ravioli in putanesca sauce with pine nuts)

Primo:
Then comes the ‘primo’ or pasta course which is also eaten with bread. All the carbohydrates are consumed first leaving the protein to be eaten on its own in the next course.

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(chicken with hazlenut romesco and purple kale)

Secondo:
The ‘secondo’ is a piece of fresh meat or fish which will have been simply grilled and is served with lemon. This will be accompanied with either cold, grilled vegetables dribbled with olive oil or a simple salad with olive oil and salt. In some parts of Italy there may also be fried potatoes.

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(caffe e zeppole with eggplant mousse and espresso budino)

Dolce:

The fourth course is ‘dolce’ which means sweet. Alternatively, there’s a selection of fresh fruits in season but for special events or large gatherings plates of little cakes from the local bakers will be eaten too.

All of this is washed down with jugs of local wine and plenty of water.

The meal finishes with a cup of good, strong, Italian coffee followed by a glass of grappa (usually only the men) or another digestivo such as limoncello, ameretto, mirto or a liquer which is a speciality of the region.

This may all seem like rather a lot of food but you need to remember that meals of this type last for around four hours. There are long gaps inbetween the courses with lots of chatting, playing with children and generally just enjoying the event. No one is in a hurry and the food is simple to prepare leaving everyone free to join in.

In Italy, things are changing, particularly in the north, but traditionally, food and the eating of it is a family affair. Entertaining friends at home is not the normal way of life and daily meals are for the immediate family with Sunday being reserved for larger family gatherings. In the south, little has changed and the meal structure and the food itself remain untouched. The long lunch hour, often up to four hours, still exists and the main meal of the day is eaten at this time. During the week it is usual to only have two courses but on Sunday or other special occasions the full four courses will be enjoyed by an extended family.

Due to the fact that Italy is a relatively new country and the individual regions had little contact with each other before this the food is very different from one region to the next. Added to this there is the geography, Italy is a long, narrow country with vast areas being very mountainous. The northern regions share a border with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, all of which greatly affect the cuisine. In the south, particularly in Sicily, the proximity of Africa and the warmer climate means that more exotic products can be grown and the local foods are spicier than elsewhere in Italy.

All along the coast fish is the main diet, but inland, particularly in the mountains, meat is the staple diet, particularly pork, lamb and goat. It is also very general for Italians to only eat and cook with what can be grown locally which also adds to the diversity of the recipes. In each region there is a local pride in their own products, mixed with quite a lot of reluctance to try food from any of the other regions, even if it is only a few kilometres across the border. Italians like to eat what they are used to and that is that, nothing will make them try anything different. Anyone who watched the excellent Jamie Oliver series ‘Jamie’s Great Italian Escape’ will be very aware of this.

Bartender Bas this coming Monday

19 Sep

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Don’t know what you’re up to this coming monday during happy hour. Come check out Bas as he slings cocktails at the DRAKE 150 during MAGIC HOUR 5pm – 7pm. We don’t normally get to the city core very often, but this should be a nice change of pace and it gets daddy out of the restaurant for a few hours.

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If anything, make a night of it…. cocktail there and come back west for our monday night fixe 3 for $30 and finish off with a 1/2 priced bottle of wine. #keepitparkdale #oursideofthebridge Hope to see your face soon!!

Best Open Kitchens in Toronto – View the Vibe

17 Sep

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Thank you Yvonne for the shout out!!!!!!!

It is said that if someone calls to make a dinner reservation and asks to sit in open view of the kitchen that said person is most likely a food critic, or at least that’s what I’ve read. No surprise there as why wouldn’t you want to be in the thick of the spectacle that is where all the magic happens in a restaurant? It’s like having front row seats to Jay-Z and Beyoncé, right?! So here are my picks for the best open kitchens in Toronto…

Monk Kitchen
A chef friend told me about this place, otherwise I would’ve never known about it. It’s inside the Templar Hotel on Adelaide Street West, and is a sort of space that’s kept hidden for a reason. It’s a place where you might find an ambassador or the likes of James Franco, Channing Tatum, or Al Pacino. But if you are one of the lucky ones to be able to dine in chef Roberto Fracchioni’s kitchen, you’re in for a treat. Enter through the hotel’s elevators to the basement and you may think that you’ve hit the wrong floor and ended up in someone’s apartment. That’s just how open and casual the place is. We should also mention that there is no menu… Fracchioni casually saunters over to your table while bopping to whatever hit list he has playing (from the 70s to the 90s), asks if you have any food allergies, and starts cooking. While most chefs protect their temple (a.k.a. the kitchen), Fracchioni would much prefer if you hung out with him near the kitchen, glass in hand. He may even teach you how to plate one of your own courses, though regrettably ours never looks as nice!

Monk Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Templar Hotel’s Facebook Page

Canoe
Situated on the 54th floor of the TD Tower, there really isn’t a “bad seat” in the house at Canoe. But if you are a true appreciator of food, there’s an even better view to be found than the restaurant’s sprawling windows. When you call, request a seat at the “Chef’s Rail” – if for no other reason than to aid in your decision-making as you see dishes being whisked off by servers. Who says you can’t eat with your eyes first? The various themed tasting menus are also noteworthy and usually run for a month before they change. For $100 a head or $150 with pairings, how could you not indulge?

Porzia
Porzia is located in Parkdale, where Basilio Pesce (affectionately known as Bas) churns out exceptional Italian dishes, and not the kind that your nonna made, either. The housemade pastas are definitely a must-try (I personally love the chicken liver agnolotti). For the adventurous, the carpaccio à la horse won’t disappoint, either. It’s hard to spot the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant, that is, if you don’t smell the wonderful aromas first. Your best bets are Mondays, where they offer 3 courses for $33 and half-priced bottles of wine, or make Wednesday your #cheapdatewednesday at Porzia with $10 plates until 10pm.

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Photo courtesy of Food Junkie Chronicles

Chantecler
A friend of mine always said, “There’s no such thing as fine dining,” when it comes to Chinese cuisine, unless you just wanted the same kind of take-out-style food served up on nicer dinnerware and the occasional plate swap between courses. Chantecler is clear proof that his theory is so very wrong. Sit at the bar, which is just next to the kitchen, and you can catch double the action as you watch Jonathan Poon whip up his delicious fare such as his torched scallop with ginger, scallion, sweet soy and kumquat, and you need only tilt your head to see Jacob Wharton-Shukster fixing you a night cap at the bar. We love the back-splash at the cooktop – kitchen tiles that have the restaurant’s name splashed across.

Magic Noodle
Legend has it that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy following his adventures in the Far East in the late 13th century. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the chef at Magic Noodle could have me easily convinced. Located in a plaza at Midland and McNicoll in Scarborough, you can catch the master hand-stretching noodles (known as shoulamian) or you can try the other variety, the knife-cut noodles, or sliced noodle. If you love fresh pasta and are tired of the ramen trend, the noodles here won’t disappoint. I highly recommend the sliced noodle with traditional braised pork. And if you’re still feeling hungry, you’ll have plenty of moola left to order other offerings such as their steamed buns or pancake rolls seeing as a small bowl rings in at only $6.99. If you’re feeling real generous, drop your change at the noodle station’s tip jar for the master – he really works up a sweat!

Bar Buca
Bar Buca has easily become my favourite spot on King West to get quality food without getting ripped off. It’s got the quality of Buca sans breaking the piggy bank. I love that it’s casual and approachable all the while being delicious. From the signature nodini (garlic bread knots) to the little neck clams alla carbonara, every tiny bite is like one out of heaven. Definitely come with a group, and order the entire menu. But make sure you leave some room for dessert because how could you say no to a cannoli or zeppole? Pro tip: Splurge and go for the goat’s milk substitute for your latté or cappuccino – so much more flavour!

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Photo courtesy of Renee Suen

Hiro
The Japanese are not known to be the most “social” bunch, or at least that’s what my International Relations 101 class taught me in business school. But that’s probably because my professor never had an omakase experience in his life. The word omakase means “I’ll leave it to you” – it’s where the dish selection is left to the chef. It’s hard to say just how many courses will appear before you, but the natural progression will begin with the lightest fare and end on a heavier note. And if I haven’t convinced you just how “social” an experience the omakase at Hiro is, I once witnessed the chef himself knocking on the sushi bar to grab a solo diner’s attention after she was no doubt posting a photo of her yummy experience on Instagram. Yeah, the chef demands your attention – all 100 percent of it! Reservations are naturally required.

What are some of your favourite open kitchens in the city? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.

Variety is best…. especially on a date

16 Sep

Variety is best…. especially on a date. what are you up to on wednesday? #cheapdatewednesday #pastadesign #geometryofpasta http://ow.ly/i/5wiAI

A cure for the MUNCHIES – Monday September 22nd

16 Sep

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COME CHECK OUT PORZIA’S AJA SAX AS SHE HELPS OUT WITH “A CURE FOR THE MUNCHIES” next week, be there!!

Location: Bloor Cinema 505 bloor street west
Date: Monday September 22nd 2014
Tickets: boxoffice.hotdocs.ca

In this new series, a prominent writer, artist, or personality takes over the programming of the cinema, letting their imagination run wild. For our first event, journalist and award-winning author David Sax (The Tastemakers) indulges two of his passions—food and stoner comedies.

Join David and his food obsessed pals for a discussion about movies, munchies and more, followed by a screening of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and burgers created by Chef Anthony Rose.

Special guests: David Sax (New York Times, Businessweek, Saveur), Chef Anthony Rose (Rose & Sons/Fat Pasha), food writer Corey Mintz (Toronto Star) and cocktail guru Aja Sax (Porzia).

Co-presented by AUX.

For event details and tickets visit: http://ow.ly/AS0Xg

what is polenta? and how do you cook it?

15 Sep

Once a peasant food, polenta has been celebrated in all types of cuisine, most noted for it’s versatility. While it has been likened to the term “Italian grits,” this humble, cornmeal dish can be made into lovely, eye-catching terrines or simply buttered with Parmgiano for a complementary side dish to meat or seafood. Piergiorgio Nicoletti

One of my first memories of polenta – the creamy, golden-yellow cornmeal sometimes described as “Italian grits” – is from when I was four or five years old. My aunt – zia Maria (zia means “aunt” in Italian) – was known in Cannaregio, the neighborhood in which we lived in Venice, for being an extraordinary cook – and a real pain for most of the grocers. She was incredibly precise and demanding when shopping for the family. In my opinion, the real artist in zia Maria’s household was her domestica, the housekeeper, but it was zia Maria who used to take all the credit.

My culinary awe for polenta began when zia Maria presented us with a polenta pastissada coi funghi, montasio e fontina (a baked polenta with wild mushrooms montasio and fontina cheese). After fifty years, I still remember that meal. I was her guest for the weekend and the next day that culinary marvel was followed by a grilled white polenta e baccalà mantecato – an extraordinary Venetian stockfish recipe. Both of these are real delicacies, demonstrating the renowned Venetian gastronomical creativity. This one-two polenta feast was impressed so strongly in my memory that since then just the sound of the word – pronounced poh-LEN-tah in Italian – lifts my spirits.

The word “polenta” has Hebrew, Greek and Latin (pulmentum) origins. Since the most ancient times, people have eaten some form of ground grain cereal (originally made from wheat, barley, millet, spelt (farro) or buckwheat), cooked in water or milk. In some areas of Italy polenta was prepared using course chestnut flour or flours made from dried legumes, such as fava beans, chickpeas, or cicerchia – a cereal similar to chickpeas but with a sweeter, earthier flavor still common in central and southern Italy. These different types of polenta, as alternatives to bread and pasta, have been basic to the diet of rural populations for centuries.

Polenta with Arrabbiata

Beginning in the late 16th century – after the introduction of corn inEurope from the Americas (where it was known in Peru as “mahyz”) – polenta made from corn became the main source of nourishment for farm families in northeastern Italy. The importance of polenta in the everyday diet of northern Italians – especially in Veneto and Lombardy, where the climate and soil are well suited for the cultivation of corn – cannot be overstated; historically, polenta has been as essential to the diet of northern Italians as the potato has been for the Irish and Germans. To this day, polenta is mainly associated with northern Italy and is a beloved element of the now celebrated “cucina povera” – meaning the “humble food” of Italian cuisine.

For many northern Italians – particularly those who immigrated to South and North America – polenta evokes memories of family, warmth and winters around the fireplace when polenta was cooked in the paiolo – a copper pot used exclusively for the making ofpolenta. Venetians in general, but also gourmands and people that love good regional food, still appreciate this wonderful way to accompany an infinite number of regional recipes – from Fegato alla veneziana (a delicious recipe based on veal liver and onions) toBaccalà alla vicentina (a unique stockfish recipe) to the various pasticci (a culinary term meaning a “delicious mess”).

These pastiches are often prepared with leftover polenta. In such recipes, sliced polenta – sometimes grilled – is layered with cheese, such as montasio, gorgonzola, taleggio, or asiago, and then baked in the oven. Sometimes polenta is baked in combination with wild mushrooms or delicious ragouts, or various braised meats. Whenever there is a sugo(sauce) or strongly flavored sauce that needs a mild, warm cereal balance, polenta is a great choice. Polenta’s absorption of liquid makes it the perfect complement for very soupy sauces – and an interesting alternative to potatoes, pasta or even bread.

As you probably know, an instant version of polenta is available in most supermarkets. Instant polenta is pre-cooked so that it can be made in just a few minutes. This overcomes the long and labor some task that polenta can sometimes be if you desire the creamy comfort food, but don’t have the time to spend overtop the stove.

TRADITIONAL STOVETOP POLENTA

  • It is important to know that polenta loses its flavor and becomes bitter if it’s stored for a long time in the pantry. Coarsely ground varieties make a thicker polenta; conversely, a finer ground polenta will produce a thinner one. An important tip: the finer ground polenta has more of a tendency to create lumps. A medium ground is polenta preferable for most preparations. Polenta should be cooked in water and no parmigiano should be added.
  • Polenta ideally should be cooked in a paiolo – a copper pot made with a rounded, solid bottom – but a regular, big pot with a very thick bottom can be used too. The ratio of water to flour is normally 3:1. Since polenta pops up like lava when it boils, the pot should be only half full of water (at the most) to avoid accidents – but still care must be taken!
  • To prepare, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then add the corn flour a pioggia – which literally means “like rain”, but in practice it means the polenta should be sprinkled lightly by hand over the entire pot of water. Stir with a whisk constantly, then reduce the flame and switch to a wooden spoon and continue stirring. Cook for 40–45 minutes, stirring as often as you can, then use a ladle to serve immediately. Alternatively, pour the polenta onto a large wooden, preferably round, board. This way, leftovers can be later cut in slices and used for other preparations.

How to Make Battuto: The Italian Soffritto

12 Sep

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As is sad-but-true of so many die-hard French enthusiasts in the culinary world, the chef who got me through the international portion of school seemed to have a chip on his shoulder about Italian cooks. His favorite argument was that so many Italians, particularly the old-school grandmotherly types, keep their ingredients a secret. “No, no. I didn’t use any salt,” he’d mock them. “No butter either,” he’d say. “Then the moment you you’re your back to the stove, they’re adding handfuls of the stuff at a time!”

Having an Italian grandmother myself, I laughed. It’s partially true. But isn’t the guessing game part of the reason why a meal from our grandmothers, or a chef in a good restaurant, is so much more fun to eat? Just how they infused so much flavor into a dish gets our imaginations going and makes our palates work a little harder. That is the magic of battuto.

Although you hardly hear the word anymore—it’s even hard to find in classic Italian cookbooks—battuto is basically an Italian (and much more fun to say) term for finely chopped aromatics (apparently, the words translates as “beaten”). Usually it’s a combo of onions, celery, carrots, garlic and parsley cooked in fat such as lard or, more recently, butter or olive oil, and it can sometimes includes a meat like pancetta, bacon or prosciutto. But almost always it’s the first element of a dish to hit the pan, and the one that makes you close your eyes and hum after taking the first bite later on.

It usually it starts with double the amount of onions to every other ingredient.

Almost without fail, every dish my mother and grandmother makes starts off with a battuto, though until hearing the word in school, I never realized it.There is no measuring or perfect dicing—sometimes a mezzaluna is used, but usually just a sharp knife—and usually it starts with double the amount of onions to every other ingredient. There seem to be no rules on this: You can find your own path to the combination you like.

How to Make Battuto

First just heat the oil or butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. When it’s warmed, toss in the onions and saute them over medium heat until they’ve softened and browned in places. I like to add the garlic now, too, as it’s sweeter when soft and cooked for longer times. Just make sure not to give it too much color. Then add the rest of the veggies and, lastly, a combination of herbs you like, and let it cook slowly into the desired consistency.

Just how mushy you go can depend on what you’re using the battuto for. When cooked long and slow, and used to start a soup, stew, pasta sauce or braising liquid, the mixture can cook until the vegetables practically disappear, just leaving behind a ton of flavor and a thickened texture.

If using to accompany a vegetable side like cauliflower or peas, spoon onto a sandwich (browned sausages would be out of this world here), or fill an omelette or frittata, softened but not melted could be the way to go.

And if you’re simply adding battuto to a roasting pan with meat or fish, al dente or even raw should be sufficient. Keep in mind that battuto cooks down significantly once the vegetables release their water, so overestimate when first adding to the pan. To get it good and melted could take between 30 minutes to an hour, so it may take some planning. When you hear the “Mmm, what’s in this?” from your dinner guests, you’ll be glad you did.

What you answer, now that’s up to you.

Repost by Sue Veed from : http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/04/how-to-make-battuto-italian-cooking-aromatics-carrots-celery-garlic.html

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