Category Archives: Italian

Pick-Me-Up Spinach, Egg Drop & Parmesan Toast Soup Recipe

How should I explain better my appreciation of this soup in a few words? Umm, remember when Chef Sean Brock is reminiscing about his favorite mom’s chicken soup dumplings ‘In the Mind of a Chef ’ saying it’s the best dumpling dish he ever had? This dish is better, period. A bowl of it will make you feel as good as gold…
I make this vivid green soup at least four times a year, mostly around mid-seasons: summer and winter solstice; spring and autumn equinox. It is one of my favorite complete meals which never fail to surprise with the taste, texture and color. The consistency and color of it can vary depending on the amount of ingredients (which you can modify according to your taste – more/less spinach, greens, eggs, stock or Parmesan bread). This soup is very forgiving: the different stages of the eggs’ coagulation depending on a temperature or cooking method would deliver smooth, ragged or clouded broth. Nevertheless, all forms of it deliver a fine bowl of comforting, homey goodness: full-bodied yet very light. If you like the Greek soup Avgolemono , this egg drop soup might be your next favorite. If the Avgolemono’s color is pure yellow, this one is bright green and always reminds of the nature’s renewal. Which we are still some ten weeks (hopefully less) away from…
This soup is an immune system booster and will pick you up fast whenever you need. We felt we badly needed it last Sunday upon coming back from St-Paddy’s parade in a form of half-humans/half-icicles who haven’t felt their toes up until dinner. It brought us back to life fast.  
I can’t exactly state the origin of this soup other than disclose that this recipe is coming from the magazine clips of the cooking journal of my dear French Canadian mother-in-law. It is very close to Italian egg drop soup called Stracciatella and may be it is, by virtue of its ingredients including Parmesan, although most of the Italian versions have some pasta and/or herb in it instead of the Parmesan toast and spinach. I tentatively tag it as an Italian dish, but if you happen know the exact origin of it, I am all ears.  
I couldn’t resist messing with the egg’s chemical formula having studied its molecular magic as an ingredient. Few times, instead of following the recipe (below) method, I would mix fresh, spinach, herbs and eggs with a bit, or a lot of warm stock in the blender. It makes some white foam on top, which I discarded carefully. Other wise, it makes absolutely stunning emerald-colored mix, which when warmed through under the boiling point, would granulate into tiny green egg drop microspheres giving luxurious velvety texture and feel to the dish. I warm it through whisking carefully, without reaching the boiling point; then place it in the 400F oven for 15-20 minutes topped with Parmesan toasts. Voila – viva the cooking experiments!
This method delivers bright green, grainy texture that is really worth showcasing. Not bringing the soup to the boiling point also helps to preserve a lot of healthy enzymes in the dish, which you will find packed with flavors. Equally, I sometimes swap spinach for kale, Swiss chard or arugula, add a bit of garlic and sometimes, during the flu season, a dash of minced ginger. Spinach version is my favorite however because it doesn’t overpower the delicate taste of eggs and stock. You may wish to follow or not these leads, the results will be great anyways.
Complex in taste and highly invigorating, it is yet very simple and fast to pull off. Eggs, fresh spinach, home-made broth, sliced baguette (or other kind of stale bread of your preference) and Parmesan are five core ingredients to it. I like to also add a big bunch of parsley to bring the nutritional and detox value of it to even higher level.
Sometimes I use this simple trick to cut the rounds of the stale bread with the shot glass to have a better appeal and coverage especially if you are serving the soup to the guests.

Parsley is a known kidney tonic and the powerful antioxidant along with spinach, which also boosts the iron stores in the body, they help strengthen bones, detoxify and heal. The eggs nourish liver, heart and kidneys, while the home-made stock comforts and supports the stomach and digestive tract with minerals, glucosamine (in case of chicken stock), iodine, etc. 

Should you wish to make this soup a real taste bomb, try to assemble it with the ingredients of possibly highest quality, including: free range eggs, spinach and parsley from your own garden, stock made with organic chicken/veggies and so on. Ahhh, I can’t wait to welcome spring to our territory…
Bon Appétit!

Yields: 4 portions
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
6 cups packed, rinsed and minced spinach leaves, equal to 1-2 bunches fresh spinach, OR 10 ounces frozen spinach
1 cups fresh parsley, minced (optional)
Salt and freshly ground (preferably white) pepper
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
6-7 cups of hot broth, chicken or vegetarian
4 bread slices (or more depending on a size), grilled (* select gluten free if necessary)
½ cup Parmesan, shredded
Preheat the oven to 400F. Add butter to a big sauce pan or Dutch oven and heat to medium high. Add the minced spinach and parsley, stir for 1 minute. Add one cup of stock, mix and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.  Beat the eggs in a bowl and gently stir them into the spinach mix with the whisk.  Add the rest of the hot stock, mix well with the spinach-egg mix and check the seasoning. Place the grilled bread on top of the soup and sprinkle generously with Parmesan. Place into the pre-heated oven uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the bread and Parmesan dumplings are golden brown. Ladle into the bowls and serve immediately.

Salsa Verde Pasta & Our Talladega Nights

A close cousin of French persillade, Argentinean chimichurri and German grune sosse, the classic Italian salsa verde (from Lombardia region) green sauce is a simple combination of herbs, greens, garlic, anchovies and olive oil.  It’s a wonderful condiment (enhanced with nuts and Parmesan, it turns into a savory pesto) to make your pasta extraordinary in a wink and/or to jazz up the flavor of the freshly barbequed meat, poultry, fish, pizza, salad dressing, etc. Salsa Verde is real must-have condiment for me at any given time or meal, as it is the way to almost anyone’s heart when applied to dishes.
 Lately we’ve been eating pasta a lot (at least three times in a last 10 days, wow) – all of them with green color hues of Salsa Verde (parsley, basil, arugula, oregano), and/or with quickly sautéed greens to praise the summer bounties like spinach, broccolini, rapini, green peas, asparagus, etc. Anchovies, nuts, Parmesan or Pecorino ingredients add tons of umami (see my previous post) to the dish with which they can’t get any better, or bore you, for that matter. In fact, I’m getting hungry for Pasta Verde again by just writing this… 
With days passing at a cosmic speed we couldn’t be any busier this summer: first Montreal’s Grand Prix; then the World Cup; then national holidays, then The Jazz Festival, now Week-ends du Monde and the International Fireworks Festival  – one can barely find time to catch up with all this hurly-burly hot summertime commotion.  So many things to do, places to go, things to watch or discuss over the supper, it’s overwhelming.
Certainly, the trap of the fast food dinner is always at the corner during such times, just waiting to strike. It’s so easy to reach for the plastic and call for Domino’s or St-Hubert or Chinese delivery and then happily re-enact the hilarious Talladega Nights movie ‘supper’episode
I totally don’t mind to have the Talladega night-style dinner from time to time. The problem is: a few dinners like that and the heartburn knocks in, the headache knocks on, the tummy knocks up and the mojo knocks off. We don’t want that. Pasta might not be the leanest or the most dietetic answer to the summer hustle, but it is a much healthier alternative to the junk. You can have totally wonderful wholesome and comforting Salsa Verde pasta dinner packed with good-for-you nutrients within less than 30 minutes. 
A good Salsa Verde is all about the fresh and quality ingredients: the freshest herbs available and the quality olive oil deliver the best result. Once you have a batch in your fridge sky is the limit: you can apply it to or transform it into so many things. The other day we were making BBQ dinner; I used it as a base adding more olive oil, freshly chopped parsley, a dash of fresh thyme, a juice of one lemon, few minced garlic cloves and a pinch of chili flakes to make a great Chimichuri sauce for grilled meat and veggies. It is really one worthy jar of greens with hundreds of dish possibilities. Try it for yourself and see where it takes you next. And it takes 5 minutes to prepare. 
The Salsa Verde pasta dish is a breeze to put together (a friend of mine asked me to put the measuring in ml, which I did below). Cook the pasta of your choice to al dente, drain, toss with salsa and its ready to be served seasoned with freshly ground pepper, drizzled olive oil and garnished with shaved Pecorino or Parmesan :
I like to also mix it with some sautéed greens (see the next few images) in addition. 
FYI, tubular pasta is especially good to absorb the sauce…Nothing however is more comforting to me than orzo or linguini…
Rapini, asparagus and fresh peas are my favorite inclusions for the sautéed greens…
Few simple steps while your pasta is cooking. When pasta is al dente, drain and add to the skillet to dry it  and mix with the green goodness.
And now it’s time to toss with salsa verde:
It’s a to-die-for healthy and comforting vegetarian dish, which I can devour hot, warm or cold anytime, anywhere – a perfect swoon.
 Enjoy the plate of dolce vita!
For Salsa Verde Sauce
2 cups (500 ml) fresh green herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, chives, arugula, oregano, marjoram, mint) mixed in any proportion*
2-3 cloves garlic
¼ cup (50ml) pine nuts or slivered almonds
3 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 tbsp (30ml) capers, drained
½ (100 ml) cup quality olive oil
¼ cup (75 ml) cup lemon juice or white wine vinegar
½ cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (optional)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
½ tsp sea salt
 *Note: If wish be, pre-saute the greens with olive oil for 1-2 minutes and cool before blending for a milder taste and longer shelf life
For Pasta Verde
1 lb (500g) pasta of your choice
1 cup (75 ml) Salsa Verde  sauce (see above)
Freshly ground pepper
For Sautéed Greens (optional)
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
2 cups fresh rapini, spinach, broccolini, Swiss chard or collard greens coarsely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of chili flakes
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp lemon zest
Sea salt to taste
Combine all Salsa Verde ingredients in a food processor or blender and give it a few quick 6-8 pulses until roughly chopped into a coarse puree.  Reserve what you need for the dish and keep the rest refrigerated in an air tight container for up to 6 days.
Optional sautéed greens: preheat the skillet to medium-high and add chili and garlic to infuse the oil for 1 minute. Add green peas and coarsely chopped greens and two tablespoons of water. Increase the heat to high and wilt the greens over the high heat during 1-2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl and put aside.
Cook pasta according to the package instructions in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain.
Place lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. Add pasta and cook tossing for 1 minute until it becomes dry. Transfer to large warmed serving bowl. Toss with Salsa Verde sauce and some extra sautéed greens. Drizzle with some extra olive oil, season with freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately garnished with shaved Parmesan or Pecorino and a dash of fresh mint.

‘Nuts About You’ Hazelnut Dark Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches

As I’m writing this, most of you probably already have some kind of titillating chocolate cherub in the vicinity, so this post might first look redundant, but please keep reading if you wish to discover why these little cookies are my choice tonight.
No matter how commercial, patronizing and insipid the Valentine’s Day may feel, it’s still about LOVE, so it gives you and your significant one a chance to give each other some extra attention in so many ways. Sky is the limit, but for me, Valentine is also about celebrating the miraculous and things I like in general. Like cooking, discovering new ingredient, flavor or combination, etc. – today it happens to be the tiny Lady’s Kisses or Baci di Dama Italian sweet treat I was looking for quite a while and surprisingly discovered in Bonjour Paris website, while I was searching for something completely different. I made a small batch, almost climaxed trying it (think of life as a box of chocolates) and here we are, I am sharing the recipe with you… If for you it’s a cat, ukulele or working out the muscle, give yourself a slack and arrange for your own nirvana.
Life is short and there’s no need for a crystal ball to tell us what we need to do next to be happy. Love is everywhere, every day, every minute and I wish we would notice and celebrate it more often. In the meantime, here is a great dig of a Jimmy Fallon’s Valentine songs during his SNL apprenticeship  back in 1999 to put a smile on your face.
The weather is a usual snow-storming today (let’s be positive: at least it’s not hailing), so good luck with all that reservations taken around the city tonight – it will be a Big Honking Deal.
As for me, a home-made winter warmer (supper + wine) with further cuddling and watching Olympics would fix it, not without a touch of my latest hazelnut cookies addiction to go with a cup of tea (a glass of champagne and some fresh berries might replace it tonight).  And did I tell you that my hubby goes nuts about them too? Why? Because you can’t go wrong with ethereally rose scented hazelnut mini-slabs hosting a decadent dark chocolate filling!  Gluten free, my friends, and you are welcome!

The dough is made of roasted and chopped hazelnuts, rice flour (you can still use regular unbleached flour), butter and sugar with the touch of salt and rose water (I suppose you can swap maple syrup for sugar, but you don’t need to add rose water in that case). Mix the ingredients with your hands in one ball, then cut it and roll it in short logs in batches (1.5 inch diameter), wrap in the film and refrigerate for 2 hours, or just leave it in a freezer for 15 minutes. Slice the logs quarter of an inch thick (about 5 mm), distribute in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 325 F for 15 minutes. Let cool without removing from the sheet, melt the chocolate in bain marie and sandwich a dollop of chocolate between two cookies until you run out of them. Start eating them right away.

Confessions: I doubled the recipe’s quantity and skipped the part of rolling the sliced dough into little rounds (the actual lady’s lips) like it is suggested in original recipe turning them into sandwiches. Heck, it saved me a lot of time and gave me something to talk about with my best half (‘Oh, crikey, I completely forgot to make the lady’s lips out of them, but they still look like cartoonish lips, and the taste is still there… and HEY that’s why I called them sandwiches!‘(say it in Italian, if you know Italian, for more drama)).  
Short in time or space? Go for the faster dessert option of a little Molten chocolate cake – so swoon-worthy for the Valentine! Or just buy a bunch of quality French macaron like I did last year – heavenly. 
 Have a Happy Valentine dear readers!
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger

Makes about 20-24 mini-sandwiches
1 ¼ cups roasted and skinned hazelnuts or blanched almonds
1 ¼ cup rice flour (or unbleached flour)
3.5 oz (100g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tbsp rose water (or fleur d’oranger water)
Pinch of salt
2 oz (60g) bittersweet chocolate, melted in bain marie
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Chop the hazelnuts in a food processor to the semi-coarse, but not flour consistency.  Mix all ingredients, except the chocolate, with your hands in one ball, then cut it and roll it in short logs in batches (1.5 inch diameter), wrap each log in the film and refrigerate for 2 hours, or just leave it in a freezer for 15 minutes. Slice the logs quarter of an inch thick (about 5 mm), distribute in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool without removing from the sheet. In the meantime, melt the chocolate in bain marie and sandwich a dollop of chocolate between two cookies until you run out of them.  Enjoy right after the chocolate sets within 15 minutes.
Adapted from: Lady’s Kisses (Baci di Dama) by Theresa Murphy

Roasted Quail à la Milanese

Ladies and Gentlemen, I humbly invite you to indulge in my little menu with the succulent roasted quail mounted on top of sautéed veggies with pronounced Italian taste…  and the aromatic puddle of juices waiting to be picked up with the bite of a savory bread pudding (my version of holiday stuffing). For the contrast and/or a drop of color (not to mention the amount of fiber and nutriments) I added some steamed Brussels sprouts with orange zest to complete the unbelievable harmony of seasons in this recipe. Can you think of any more elegant setting for a holiday dinner on a budget?
I came up with this combination idea after some hours of mentally deconstructing a holiday bird and the stuffing (while driving long distances or on the bus), in a way you can still have fun with both.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas turkey dinners just like Chevy Chase’s, or Eddie Murphy’s characters or any other person who likes to chill out with the family.
This time though I was craving some new age flair for a change.  Something that would not require any horse power to manipulate with and would not cork the fridge the day after.  Something more visually and socially appealing and much more exciting for the taste buds than a turkey, and… that can actually be made in advance?AH! Hopefully I just got your attention!
This little quirky bird came to my response.  I know, I know, it is not much to eat, it’s messy and primal and it is not always working well in recipes. I’ve tried and failed the ones with all kind of sweet marinades over the years (allowing the marinades to destroy the delicate flavor of the bird) and that was the reason I got cold feet about it.
Until I discovered this absolutely amazing and easy Chef Jean Soulard’s recipe and am now proudly presenting it to you with almost no alterations.  The only thing I added to it was one jalapeno pepper for a bit of a kick.  So, NO, the recipe has nothing to do with my once upon a time travel to Milan where my luggage (not heart) was lost without a trace. But, YES, it is an Italian inspired dish I found in the French Canadian chef’s book. And the secret of its success is in the sauce…
Quails are available, relatively inexpensive (go to the Chinese supermarket for the best $ deal) and make a stunning addition to the festivities. Why do you think high-end restaurant menus have this bird so often on their holiday menus?  It’s easy and fast to cook, it makes a hell of a presentation (because of its small size) and (when cooked properly) it tastes divine. Also, don’t forget that quail has less than 300 calories per bird (yes, you will get much more from just a few bites of pigs in the blanket); it is lower in fat and higher in protein than chicken and is a great source of nutriments and is considered a low-fat energy booster. PS: Game meat is my next table resolution for 2014: to fight hormones, antibiotics, etc., make portions smaller and add some forgotten vigor to the plate.
If you are still not convinced, here is the best thing about the recipe: you can make the dish up to two days ahead! Or, did I already mention that? Keep it in the fridge and then just warm it up in the 400F oven for 10 minutes (buttering and broiling the top if necessary with the tips of the legs covered with aluminum foil not to burn).  Sure, if you serve it immediately upon cooking it will give you a tender juicy flesh, which some people are looking for. However, if you put it aside and let the juices ”cure” for 24-48 hours, the meat will be less juicier, but will become smokier and gamier and more acceptable for those, for example, who are not the admirers of the ”rare” condition.  And, by the way, no one has to know you did not cook it from skratch 15 minutes ago…  Check out the images below (right after cooking and after 36 hours in the fridge) to see the difference. 

And so it’s time to dust off our best cutlery and open a bottle of good wine and prepare to celebrate Christmas. Be deliciously Merry and have a Happy Holiday! Cheers!

Wait, what about the dessert? Good question – I saved that for a bang tomorrow!  Oops, who am I kidding, it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow and I am not home alone!

Merry Christmas to All of You!
Quail à la Milanese (Cailles mijoutees comme a la Milan)
Yields: 4-8 portions (two birds per person are suggested, but you can easily go with one)
Time: 20 minutes to prepare/20 minutes cooking time
8 quails
30g (2 tbsp) butter
15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
6 bacon slices, cut in small pieces
2 onions, minced
3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut in cubes
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in julienne
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced into julienne (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
20 black olives,
30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh basil, chopped
Salt & pepper
In the large Dutch oven or skillet, brown the quails on all sides in the mix of butter and oil for 5 minutes. Salt, pepper and set aside. Keep warm.
In the same skillet, add bacon and onions; sauté for 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, peppers, garlic and olives. Mix, place the quails over the vegetables and let simmer for 15 minutes. Five minutes before the end of cooking, add basil. If desired, broil quails for an additional minute for a crunch and/or presentation. Dress the plates and serve the quails on the mountain of sautéed vegetables.
Adapted from: Le Grand Soulard de la Cuisine by Jean Soulard: 1150 recettes classiques au gout du terroir quebecois ©Les Editions La Presse, 2013

Pasta con le Sarde

Lo Jacono: Palermo; Fonds Ancely: Arrivée des marchandes de sardines; Old Map – Wikimedia.

This post will conclude my bolero with sardines. By now you are probably no longer surprised with my most strange obsession (especially considering how many people hate this fish), thinking: ‘’The woman went nuts and is probably now walking the fish market daily whispering to sardines…’’ or that I might soon become like this guy
The truth is simple though. We recently visited new Sicilian restaurant Scarpetta (at 4525 avenue du Parc in Plateau, Montreal) and I was very much impressed with their food and service, especially with chef’s (Monick Gilles) Pasta con Sarde alla Palermitana.  It was really different, exotic and tasted nothing like any pasta I ever tried before.  Inspired, I googled for the classic recipe of the dish and soon found myself in the kitchen gutting a pile of fresh sardines again (see the tips in sardine: part I). 

And, since I promised you to post this recipe during my last sardine adventure, here you are. This is an authentic Sicilian dish created during (over 200-years) invasion by Saracens (Moors). It combines typically Sicilian ingredients including: pasta, sardines, pine nuts, wild fennel and saffron in an extremely tasty and different twist.

In the island of Sicily they add some briny cured fish roe (from tuna, swordfish or grey mullet) called bottarga to spice up the dish, which in our case, is substituted with anchovies. Upgrade your pasta to whole wheat if you want or, for gluten-free version, feel free to use gluten-free pasta, crumbs and fish dusting. The result will still be uber-delicious, since the devil is in the sardine-fennel sauce.
I wholeheartedly recommend this dish to any curious, open-minded and adventurous cooking enthusiast (and/or sardines’ lover).

Lois- Auguste Veillon: Les pêcheurs de la région de Naples – Wikimedia

Buono Appetito!
PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with Sardines)
Yields: 6-8 servings.
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
4-6 tbsp olive oil
6 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1 lb (500 g) fresh sardine fillets
2 tbsp plain flour or semolina, for dusting fish
½ cup sultanas (small raisins)
½ cup pine nuts
Pinch of saffron
50 ml dry white wine
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ tbsp. tomato puree
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
1 lb pasta, such as bucatini, maccheroncini or spagetti
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Few springs of fennel greens (or parsley) for garnish
Soak saffron in white wine.

In a large frying pan heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil, add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring until golden, for about 5 minutes. Remove the crumbs and toss with Parmesan. Set aside.
Bring a big pot of water (8 cups) to boil and boil sliced fennel for about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve the boiling liquid.
Dust half of the fish with semolina or flour (I used cornmeal). Heat the skillet with 1tbsp. olive oil and fry sardines turning once until browned. Set aside for garnish.

Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet and sauté anchovies and onions over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until anchovies start to turn into paste and the onions become translucent. Add fennel and sauté for 5 minutes. Add pine nuts, raisins, salt and pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
In a separate skillet, heat the remaining olive oil to medium high and add the rest of the sardines. Crush them in chunks with spatula as they cook. After 2 minutes, add saffron with wine, garlic and parsley. Mix well, stir for another 2 minutes and add salt and pepper. Set aside.
Boil pasta until aldente using fennel water (add extra water for boiling as per instructions of the package). Drain. Put in the bowl and dress with half the sardine sauce.
Put a layer of dressed pasta in an ovenproof casserole. Top with a layer of sardine sauce, layer of fennel sauce and then another layer of pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan breadcrumbs. Cover and bake for 15 minutes at 350F. Serve hot or cold garnished with extra fried sardines, fennel springs or chopped parsley.

Adapted from: Sicily Food and Cookery, Phaidon, 2013