Category Archives: umami

In Search for Umami: Salt Cod & Tuna Fish Cakes


I made these savory crispy fish cakes during holidays and served them as tapas on Quebec National Day along with three sauces. Later, on Canada day, I made another batch from frozen leftovers and toted them as fish tacos to the ‘Potluck with Style’ party along with tortillas, assortment of fresh garden veggies, Aioli sauce and lime avocado mayo. They were a huge hit on both occasions and everyone kept asking me for the recipe. Bring a box of these babies to your next potluck party and you can easily come off as a promising young chef from l’Academie, because, I can guarantee, they WILL upstage any food party. 

Salt cod is one the most under appreciated and underused foods in our country.  Despite its magical flavor powers that can bring most of the dishes with this ingredient to a whole new level, and its availability in almost every grocery; a dirty looking piece of something-dried, covered with gray salt is not very visually appealing.  That, plus a very little knowledge of how handle it and/or lack of publicity, keep this valuable commodity in the ‘underdog’ category of foods reserved for the limited consumption by Natives and/or just a few high-end French, Portuguese or Spanish restaurants. Nobody is serving accrass de morue or pasteis de bacalhau in the fast food joints, like they do it in Carribean or in Portugal although, technically, Canada has been one of the major producers of salt cod for the last 500 years. The Old World, however, has been enjoying salt cod for centuries. The famous epicureans like Claude Monet or Paul Cezanne, for example, used to stash the recipes with this precious ingredient in their diaries as their best kept culinary secrets to impress each other.

Dishes with salt cod are in the category of an acquired taste and people usually love or hate them. Here’s the thing: if you like Parmesan, cured meats, anchovies, oysters, soya sauce asparagus, tomatoes, etc. chances are you are going to like these fish cakes big time because of the umami factor apparent in all these foods. The naturally occurring amino acid in salt cod (called umami) is what makes it so tasty and unique. And if you have a hard time with umami, you can always swap the salt cod for canned tuna or salmon and still have very palatable cakes, although with not much umami in them.

A quick, but useful trivia: about a century ago Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered chemical root behind the fifth sensory taste (in addition to salty, sweet, bitter, sour) and called it umami (which translates from Japanese into ‘deliciousness’). The common component producing the flavor of meat, seaweed and tomatoes was glutamate, which gives the sensation of umami. Not surprisingly, Ikeda further patented the manufacture of an arguably infamous Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) food flavor enhancer.

Back to our fish cakes. Once you’ve tripped over the initial shock of actually buying this ‘thing’ (salt cod) and had it rinsed from salt and soaked for 24-48 hours, you are just a few steps away from making this mouth-watering treat. Mashed potatoes, milk, egg, chives, garlic, thyme, cornmeal and frying oil are basically all you need to add to prestidigitate the ‘thing’ into something amazing. It’s completely optional, but this time I added a can of tuna to the mix to make it exactly one pound in fish ingredient without altering the taste. Feel free to make it half & half (salt cod & canned tuna or salmon) and it will still be equally delicious. I also added 1/3 teaspoon of smoked paprika to deepen the flavor depth even further with the touch of heat and smokiness. Finally, I figured that umamiwith umami can only work out for good, so I added 2 tablespoons of fresh Parmesan crumbs to the mix.

Voila, now you can savor the best thing that can ever happen to salt cod. Enjoy them as tapas with variety of sauces like:  classic Aioli sauce, zesty Tkemali plum sauce, Lime & Avocado Mayonnaise, Buttermilk sauce, even Herb Lentil Avocado Spread.

My latest favorite is to dress them in tacos, laced with one of the above sauces and garnished with a mountain of thinly sliced summer bounty, including: cabbage, radishes, pepper, tomatoes, avocado, shallots, onion, lettuce, fine herbs, etc. Just have a bunch of corn (for gluten-free) or whole wheat flour tortillas, warm up wrapped in foil for 15 minutes at 375F and serve immediately with some refreshing drinks. Fish tacos allow the cakes to shine with their intriguing umami taste combined with textures and captivating colors of artfully embedded crunchy veggies and tangy sauce. Simply out of this world!

And if you want something absolutely lean and/or diet-healthy (from Paleo to Gluten-free to Carb, Sugar or Elimination diet) go for the lettuce wrap option and the dish will never trigger any guilt alarms – just pure joy and pleasure.

All good to the last bite, hot or cold!

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SALT COD & CANNED TUNA FISH CAKES
Serves: 8 to 10 people.
Ingredients:
1 lb skinned & boned salt cod (or half & half of 1 lb of salt cod and canned tuna)
1 cup of milk
1 bay leaf
3 big Idaho or Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
½ cup 10% cream for mashing potatoes
4 tbsp butter at room temperature for mashing potatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small bunch of fresh chives or scallions, minced
1 egg beaten
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced (optional)
1/3 tsp smoked hot paprika (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
oil for frying (sunflower, canola, peanut or grape seed oil)
4 tbsp butter or ghee for frying (optional)
2 cups corn meal for coating
Lemon or lime wedges for serving
Instructions:
Soak the salt cod in cold water to cover in the refrigerator for 24-36 hours changing the water occasionally.
Drain the salt cod and place it in a saucepan, cover with milk, add bay leaf. Add water if necessary to cover the fish. Bring to boil and simmer over the low heat for 12-15 minutes or until the fish flakes with fork easily. Do not overcook. Transfer the fish to a plate and let cool.
In a separate saucepan bring potatoes to boil and simmer until tender for 20 minutes. Drain potatoes, mash them with cream and butter. Let cool.
Using your fingers or a fork flake the cod (check for the occasional bones, although most of the time it’s bones-free).
Combine the cod, drained tuna, mashed potato, garlic, chives, egg, Parmesan, thyme, smoked hot paprika, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix it with masher or hands.
Use 1 full tablespoon of the mixture to form a ball, press and coat well with corn meal. Set aside while making remaining cakes. Refrigerate fish cakes until chilled for 10-30 minutes*.  
Preheat the skillet to medium high. Add 2 tablespoons of frying oil and 1 tablespoon of butter for each batch. Pan-fry in batches for about 2-3 minutes each side or until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Check the seasoning. Serve with lemon or lime wedges, classic Aioli sauce, zesty Tkemali plum sauce, Lime & Avocado Mayonnaise, Buttermilk sauce, Herb Lentil Avocado Spread or other sauce of your choice. You can also serve them in fish tacos wrapped in warmed up corn/whole wheat tortillas, laced with one of the above sauces and dressed with thinly sliced vegetables, such as:cabbage, radishes, pepper, tomatoes, avocado, shallots, onion, lettuce, fine herbs, etc.
*Freeze them on the cutting board if making the dish in advance. When frozen, transfer cakes to Ziploc bag or plastic container and keep in a freezer for up to 1 month. Let thaw in the fridge for 24 hours before frying. Re-coat in cornmeal if necessary for the crispy crust.

Kimchi DIY: Make Your Gut Happy


My kimchi story started about a year ago with an inspiration from my favorite Korean restaurant in Montreal. The first batch I made at home was successful and now kimchi is all the rage in our house taken with almost anything in copious amounts.  It is so umami-rich in flavor, that I firmly believe it can bring any carnivore one step closer to a vegetarian heaven. Which is why, I am so anxious to share the recipe with you! 

Korean Chili Pepper Drying
Kimchi red chili pepper & storing barrels in Korean village via Wikimedia
Kimchi is a Korean version of sauerkraut: a spicy blend of fermented cabbage, radish, Korean red chili pepper, ginger, garlic, salt and few other things. In Korea, it is traditionally served at every meal, either alone, or with rice or noodles.  A stinky mix of high-fiber, low fat, inexpensive fermented ingredients, kimchi is praised for its unique addictive flavor and its digestive health benefits. It is known to help the body fend off bacterial and viral infections and to have a strengthening effect on the circulation and digestion. The recipe is as old as Korea itself.
The major ingredient, Napa cabbage, is a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, but when fermented it brings its power to the next level, adding probiotics and even more vitamin C.
There are endless applications of kimchi at the table. Serve it as an appetizer on its own sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds and laced with some aromatic oil, like hazelnut or walnut.
Use it as a side dish with rice, noodles, meat, fish, vegetables, etc. – my recent favorite is to put some on top of the steamy mashed potatoes. Use it as a flavor booster in soups, stews, even dumplings!
Or, use it as a better condiment in salads, sandwiches, tacos, tortillas or, our favorite street grub – HOT DOGS!
I wanted to write this post back in 2013 already, but now I’m glad I didn’t because I recently run into this amazing Kimchi Chronicles documentary made by celebrity chefs Marja and Jean-Gorges Vongerichten and featuring a whole bunch of some inspiring takes on kimchi and other Korean food. Watch Hugh Jackman and his wife Debora Lee Furness devouring hot dogs with kimchi relish in this episode:
 

According to Marja, every Korean house has a different recipe of kimchi, but since kimchi is more of a pickling technique, you can go way beyond just Napa cabbage. I like to add sliced daikon and carrots and sometimes cucumbers. As for the fermenting mix booster, I stay with fish sauce, Asian pear and Korean red chili pepper (you can find it in Asian stores) mix with ginger and garlic.  Please use these images to help you go through the simple steps of kimchi preparation in the recipe below.

As for the fermentation stage, I personally prefer well-fermented kimchi (after a least few weeks in a fridge, I find it tastes best within three-four weeks). FYI, one study about fermentation has shown that people who ate fermented kimchi for one month lost more weight and demonstrated improvements in total cholesterol and blood pressure, compared to those who ate fresh kimchi.
That’s it for now and Gun Bai to all, which means Cheers in Korean!
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One Year Ago: Veal Shoulder Blade Roast with Porcini;
                         Veal Canapes Appetizer;
                         Cuban Ropa Vieja Pulled Veal or Beef

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KIMCHI RECIPE
Kimchi ingredients:
2 medium head Napa (Chinese cabbage), chopped in chunks
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium daikon, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, chopped (optional)
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
180 g coarse salt
Water for soaking
Kimchi sauce:
6 tbsp. fish sauce
4 tbsp. Korean red pepper powder
1 small onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 oriental pear, chopped
½ apple chopped
1 tbsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
2 (2 cm) slices of ginger
2 tbsp. sesame oil
4 spring onions, chopped
3 wide mouth glass jars (1.7 liters+)
Instructions:
Chop the Napa cabbage into chunks; slice the daikon, carrots and cucumbers. Soak them covered with water with about 180 g of salt added to it for 5-6 hours or overnight.
Make Kimchi sauce: blend the ingredients; add spring onions to the paste mixture upon blending. Keep it in the fridge until ready to use.
Drain the cabbage mix and rinse with cold running water to remove excess salt, transfer to a tray and mix by hand with the Kimchi sauce until all covered in sauce.
Pack the glass jars with the mix up to ¾ of each jar pressing well. Add any liquid that accumulated during the mixing process – it will help the brine to develop faster. Close tightly with the lid and let stand at room temperature for 12-24 hours to marinate. 
Transfer to the fridge for a storage. The flavors will continue to develop.  You can start eating kimchi within 2-3 days, but it is best when fermented for at least few weeks. Store kimchi jars in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Use clean utensils to take out a little each time.

Red Lanterns & Labrador Tea Roasted Duck

If you like duck and are open to kitchen science experiments, I’m sure this dish will make your taste buds sing. Labrador tea is an exquisite drink with a distinct woodsy-spicy taste. Combined with the cooking juice of a roasted duck in a sauce it helps to tweak the traditional roasted duck dish into an upscale dining experience you and your guests won’t soon forget. Always on the lookout for tasty tricks, I made this combination presuming that Labrador tea flavor will enhance the gamey taste of a duck in an interesting way. OMG, it was a culinary BINGO! 100 percent worth a try weather you are a chef at home or by professional definition. Although the recipe is not Asian, it was inspired by our recent visit to Chinatown.

Chinese New Year is around the corner, it’s high time to stroll down the streets of Chinatown for a festive spirit, great Asian produce and exotic sampling. If you don’t have time for that, let me give you a quick tour (along with the beautiful sound of the winter wind chimes). I’m sure any well-traveled Montrealer knows that there is more than one Chinatown in our city (Central, West and South). I’m talking about the oldest one in downtown Montreal, famous for its historic buildings and Chinese businesses and squared by St. Urbain, Rene Levesque, St. Laurent and Viger. It is not difficult to find: check for the roof-top Chinese pavilions of the Holiday Inn Select Centreville and you got it.
Montreal’s Chinatown is bustling with tourists and all kind of goods at this time of the year. Red lanterns and couplets with good luck sayings emblematic of the approaching renewal are everywhere. Why red and yellow? According to Chinese mythology, Nian, a sea monster, who comes to destroy crops and homes around the time of the Chinese New Year, is afraid of noise, sunshine and the color red.  Hence, the lucky red couplets and lanterns coupled with yellow symbols are placed beside the doors to keep the monster away and welcome good fortune, fame and riches.
The temperature is still in chilly minus twenty, which puts us in the mood to make hugs or have some comfort food.  We make our first stop at Pho Vietnam soup place located next to the famous Foo Dogs entrance into Montreal’s Chinatown. This little hole in the wall has been our favorite spot for a bowl of great piping hot noodle soup for ages (although I do also like more recent Pho Saigon Viet-Nam and Pho X.O.). I can never get enough of their fresh and crisp salad rolls, and their pho itself is simply PHO-NTASTIC!  I’ve heard people complain about how crowded this place is most of the time, but, hey, you are in Chinatown, not in a sleeping quarter. 
Speaking of the sleeping quarters, the spot is surrounded by buildings with some interesting graffiti murals, but the most impressive one is the giant mural on the Old Brewery Mission for homeless people across the street depicting 23 by 24 meters large train. My mind always wonders what was it the artist was trying to say with this mural. Although the official city’s version was ‘to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Expo 67’ (weird), to me it looks like a message saying: ‘You have just arrived to your final destination’… which is ironic considering the designation of the edifice. Is it just me or anyone else had the same association?  
We continue exploring Chinatown strolling through colorful food stalls and checking what’s up and cooking. There’ve been quite a few places newly opened recently and many that I’ve been always curious about, but never visited, like Mongolian Hot Pot, for example. Critic reviews in general are saying that on average, food spots in Montreal’s Chinatown are not as advanced as in Vancouver or Toronto and remind of a good food of the 90’ies, but see, that’s exactly why I like it: the time traveling side of it. 
We watch some people meditating next to the temple. Anyone is welcome to join, but for some reason, the daredevil spirit of adventure or Vipassana yogi is not coming upon us right now.
At some point we take a side street, get lost and talk about Woody Allen’s ‘I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.’ We wonder if we should try these stairs for a mysterious fortune telling session like his ‘Alice’ character. Well, may be some other time…
We know that the main street (rue Saint Urbain) is just a few strides away from us and the aroma of freshly roasted lacquered ducks helps us to find it back  where we get some freshly baked egg tarts, shitake mushrooms and tangerines.

Here is a good Feng shui tip for the Chinese New Year from experts: place five oranges or tangerines around your living space: one in the center and one in each direction (North, South, East and West) for good luck.

Here are some other great Feng shui tips for the 2014 year of the Wooden Horse if you like.

We dive in to sample some wontons and Peking duck specialties and finish our trip in the Chinese supermarket shopping for young duck, sticky rice cakes and red envelopes to prepare for an authentic-like Chinese-style Spring festival.
 Happy 2014 Chinese New Year of the Horse to All!

Few days later, I cook the duck for the family gathering. I know many people are reluctant to roast a duck thinking that it is much more complicated than roasting a chicken, but it is truly as simple. Believe me, the hardest part is to remove it from the packaging.

I’ve selected this particular roasting method long time ago (rummaging around many different roasted duck recipes) because it’s the least complicated and delivers tender, juicy flesh and a crisp thin skin while rendering the fat gradually without excessive smoking or a complicated cleanup later on.

In addition to seasoning, the process takes three major cooking steps: browning the duck at 400 F; baking it at 350 F; roasting it at 350 F for the crisp skin. Voila! You may choose to stuff or not stuff the bird, it will be delicious anyways, although, I tend to put one chopped apple, celery stalk, small onion and a slice of ginger into the cavity to add a layer of taste and help produce more coking juice.  I don’t scald the young duck with boiling water, but suggest do it with the mature one for a crispier skin. I don’t blow up a duck either, but agree that it’s an important part of the cooking method for a Peking duck recipe.
Here are some great tips to roast the duck:

*  Seal the cavity with a toothpick/s weather you use the stuffing or not to prevent the breasts from overcooking.
*  Prick the duck’s skin in several places with a toothpick (and scald the mature duck with boiling water) for a crispy kin and to ensure a good fat rendering during the roasting process.
*  Air dry duck in the fridge to make sure the duck is very cold before roasting as it will help to avoid overcooking the breast meat (by rendering fat from under the skin longer).

Keeping the cooking juice and separating fat from it (see in the below recipe) are important. As a result you will have a flavorful liquid to use in a sauce/gravy; and at least 100 g of pure duck fat which makes a wonderful swap for cooking oil or baking grease. The price of the store bought duck fat is around $8 to $10 per 100 g, so BAM! you got yourself a rebate of almost $10 off your duck purchase. That’s cool, no?
As usually, the devil is in detail, which is the Labrador tea mixed with the duck cooking juice (separated from fat). The result is simply unbelievable: rustic, yet sophisticated. This sauce is simple and fast to make: strain the duck cooking liquid upon roasting, cool it in a fridge to easily scoop the fat in about 15 minutes – that’s it. I am giving the detailed instructions in the recipe below.
For many Labrador tea is a drink still to be discovered. A pure boreal delight, it is aromatic and soothing with ‘rather agreeable fragrance, between turpentine and strawberries’ (according to Henry David Thoreau). Once I first tried it I could not stop brewing it. I got over my initial excitement though after I learned that Labrador tea should be handled with care (not more than a few cups per day). You can learn more about Labrador tea here.

Tips for Brewing Labrador Tea:

Crash a small handful of Labrador tea leaves in mortar or with your fingers. Add the leaves to two cups of boiling water, simmer for 1 minute and then steep for 10 minutes without the lid. Filter into cups and enjoy as is or with some honey.

Serve the roasted duck with some steamed rice, homemade kimchi and Labrador tea sauce on a side. Enjoy.
Have a great one!
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ROASTED DUCK WITH LABRADOR TEA SAUCE
Yields: 4 to 6 portions
Roasted Duck:
1 young duck
¾ cup mix of 1 apple, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, 1 thin slice of ginger, chopped (for optional stuffing)
salt and pepper to taste
2 toothpicks to seal the cavity
Labrador Tea Sauce
1 handful of Labrador tea leaves, crushed for brewing
2 cups water
1 cup duck cooking juice, fat removed
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 20 ml of cold water (optional)
1 tbsp brandy (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Instructions:
For the Roasted Duck
Thaw the duck in the refrigerator overnight if it’s frozen. Remove packaging and any giblets in the cavity of the duck. Wash the duck thoroughly under cold running water and pat dry with paper towel. Season the duck generously with salt and pepper inside and out. Stuff the cavity of the duck with the mix of apples, celery and onion if you wish. Seal the cavity with a toothpick/s weather you use the stuffing or not to prevent the breasts from overcooking. Prick the duck’s skin in several places with a toothpick for a crispy kin and to ensure a good fat rendering during the roasting process. Air dry duck in the fridge to make sure the duck is very cold before roasting as it will help to avoid overcooking the breast meat (by rendering fat from under the skin longer).
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the duck in a roasting pan and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes on each side (turning once, to finish with the breast side up). Remove the roasting pan, cover it with foil and/or lid. Lower the oven temperature to 350 F and return the covered duck to the oven for 1.5 hours (make it 2-2.5 hours in case of the mature/age-unknown duck). Remove the lid/foil and finish cooking uncovered for 30 minutes, basting with dripping juice every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes loosely covered with foil before carving. Serve with Labrador tea sauce and steamed rice & veggies on a side.
To Separate Fat from Cooking Juice
Remove the duck carefully to the cutting board and pour the cooking juices through a strainer into a small bowl to recuperate fat and juices. Cover and refrigerate until firm. The fat will separate to the top and solidify and the juices will jellify. Scoop the fat with a spoon into a container and reserve for further use in the fridge (confit, sauté, pancakes, French toast, veggies, etc.) Duck fat is very heat stable and makes a good alternative to cooking oil or lard. The separated cooking juice can be used right away or kept in a freezer for the future use to enhance sauces, soups and stews.
For the Labrador Tea Sauce
Add two cups of boiling water to a handful of crushed Labrador tea leaves, bring back to boil for 1 minute uncovered, turn of the heat and steep for 10 minutes. Filter and set aside to be mixed with the duck cooking juice.
Mix the duck cooking juice (separated from fat) with Labrador tea in a small pot, while bringing the mix to boil. Add brandy, mix and simmer for a few minutes (2-5) to slightly thicken and/or add the cornstarch dissolved in cold water to thicken the sauce more.

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!
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PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with Sardines)
Yields: 6-8 servings.
Ingredients:
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
Instructions:
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

Eggs Asparagus Ham Savoury Tart

Here is what can be called ”Breakfast of Champions” way to cook the eggs and asparagus together into a fancy yet delicious quilt pie you will never forget. Baked eggs have all but disappeared from home menus, which was a pity because they taste great and are so easy to prepare. Just like poached eggs, baked eggs are about to be back IN due to the chefs who are trying to re-invent them with some awesome recipes. This is one of them from local celebrity chef Ricardo (Larrivée), which he called ”Savoury Quilt Pie”. 

Right Image: Amédée Varin from “Drôleries végétales. L’Empire des légumes, mémoires de Cucurbitus Ier” 
by Eugène Nus and Antoine Méray, Paris: Gabriel de Gonet, 1861.

This tart is a perfect way to showcase your freshly bought spring asparagus packed with vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, selenium and many other minerals our bodies need after a long nutriments-depriving winter.

I modified the recipe just a little bit over the course of a few tries. Particularly, I reduced ham to 200 g (Ricardo’s version is way too MEATY for me) and used only green asparagus (did not get the white one before the week-end).  The preparation takes about 25 minutes, 30 minutes of fridge time and around 45 minutes of cooking, so give yourself a good hour to make this impressive meal. Once you taste it, you will not regret. Steps are easy: defrost and roll the puff pastry, boil or steam asparagus; chop the ham and mix it with sauteed onions and mustard, spread everything according to the instructions and bake. Add eggs 10 minutes into the end of baking. Mine got little out of whack, but the look and aroma were still amazing.

The recipe below is a version of chef Ricardo unchanged.
EGGS ASPARAGUS HAM TART
Ingredients
400 g (14 ounces) store bought puff pastry dough, defrosted
2 onions, chopped
1/2 pound sliced ham, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
30 green asparagus, each 5” long
30 white asparagus, each 5” long
6 eggs
salt & pepper
Instructions:
Line a 30 x 43 cm (12” x 17”) baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 30 x 43 cm (12” x 17”) rectangle. Place it on the baking sheet. Fold the edges of the dough inward, making a 1 cm (1/2”) upturned edge. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the onions in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool. In a bowl, combine the onions, ham, sour cream and mustard. Refrigerate.
In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the spears to a bowl of ice water. Drain and set aside. With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Spread the ham mixture evenly over the dough. Place the baking sheet next to the work surface, with a long side parallel to the edge of the counter or table.
Assembly:
Mentally divide the pie into 6 squares, 12 x 12 cm (5” x 5”) each. Working from left to right, lay 10 green asparagus spears side by side in the first square. In the next square, lay 10 white asparagus spears side by side, at right angles to the green asparagus. Repeat with the remaining squares, alternating colors and directions to create quilt effect. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven. Break egg onto each square. Bake for 10 minutes more. Cut into 6 squares and serve.
Adapted from: Ricardo Larrivée, ”Parce qu’on a tous de la visite” (La Presse, 10/2008)