Monthly Archives: November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Freedom from Want, by Norman Rockwell, 1943

”You can tell you ate too much for Thanksgiving when you have to let your bathrobe out.” –  Jay Leno

Most of us already know what Canadian and American Thanksgiving have in common. But have you ever heard about Thanksgivukkah? Check this out ’cause it won’t happen again for another 79,000 years! Happy Black Friday anyways.

Say Sardine: Part II

This is one of my all-time dinner favorites: Canned Sardines Pasta Bolognese.  Easy, inexpensive, utterly delicious + HEALTHY (quick reminder: not only sardines are a super-food, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, iron and B vitamins; because they are short-lived, they don’t accumulate pollutants in their bodies). A little tribute to the humble canned sardines which seem to be making their come back in the last few years. 

Yesterday we had one of those nights when everyone was just zombie-dead exhausted:  time when it’s good to make a nourishing familiar dish you’re so used to cook you can almost make it blindfolded. I have a short list of such dishes and this one is one of them.  I’ve been doing it for so long I don’t even have to switch on my brain: my hands kick into gear for me! 
The origin of the dish table travels me straight to Tuscany. It was one of those summers, which almost never happens in a normal human’s life. When all we had to do (with my best friend) was wandering around the hottest Italian destinations, trying exotic food and practicing the basics of Italian. Almost like Eat, Pray, Love, except we were students in our early twenties and money or responsibility was not an issue (or so we thought) and we did not pray much.  We settled in the picturesque town of Livorno in one of those cute houses on Piazza Grande next to Duomo. 
One day we decided to cook a rabbit with olives and white wine, but forgot to lower the oven temperature and left for a day to visit the Capri Island (what were we thinking?) …  When we returned six hours later, there were a lot of pompieres (firefighters) around the house. One carabiniere(policeman) was carrying out with an outstretched hand our charred skillet with almost crystallized pitch black rabbit emanating a lot of smoke. We wondered whether to laugh or cry… Fortunately, there was no other damage (otherwise I would probably be now writing this in Italian), except lots of smoke in the house.  
Photo Credit: Irene Sirenko
We stayed up late moving our stuff to the other part of the house which was not touched by the smoke. Everything was already closed and our stomachs were growling.  The lady of the house had a pity on us and made us this quick canned sardine pasta Bolognese which she served with some cheap red wine. Our ‘’soiree’’ kicked off at 11p.m. and this was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in life. I couldn’t believe that one can actually turn a can of plain sardines into this blissful fishy extravaganza! Naturally, I took notes of the recipe and have been making the dish for many years, although I haven’t seen it in any books of Italian recipes so far.
This is exactly a 15 minutes prep dish, which you can upgrade using whole wheat pasta and number of additions like: lemon zest, capers, olives, toasted crumbs, etc. I noticed even non-pescetarians quite often love this dish.

But what if you are a proud Sicilian or just a bit finicky to eat this quick adaptation and would still prefer the real pasta con le sarde?  Then you will have to read my next post. Cheers!

1 pound spaghetti (or your choice of pasta)
2 cans of sardines in olive oil, drained and mashed with fork
¼ cup olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
6 anchovies, rinsed and minced
½ cup tomato coulis (or tomato sauce)
1-2 teaspoons chili pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Zest & juice of ½ lemon (optional)
1 tbsp capers (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Meanwhile, heat the skillet with olive oil, add chili flakes and garlic and cook on medium high for 1-2 minutes. Add minced anchovies and give them a stir mashing them with spatula for 1 minute. Add parsley and mashed sardines. Once the mix sizzles, add tomato coulis (or sauce) and sauté for another few minutes. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and capers and mix well. Reserve some sardine sauce to garnish. When pasta is done, drain and add to the skillet with the sardine mixture. Toss well and serve immediately garnished with extra sauce and parmesan or pecorino and toasted bread on a side. Enjoy!

Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal

Another soup with shrimp bursting with flavours and textures:  a mix of elements from Southern bouillabaisse and Northern chowder … How’s that for eclectic?

It might look like an elaborate dish but the process of preparation is simple and straightforward and  you can have a great dinner ready in a flash. I love the background Provencal taste and versatility of this soup: you can replace the ingredients almost as you please. Make it vegetarian by swapping fish & shrimp for green beans, pasta and pistou; stock for vegetarian and, voilà, a take on Ina Garten’s Provencal Vegetable Soup. Or, if you have a variety of small fresh fish and some mussels – skip the potatoes and carrots and bring the assorted fish and seafood in, add some zesty roux and you gotcha – home-made bouillabaisse…

Although this soup is featuring fish and crustaceans prominently, the real star of it is a small fennel bulb and/or crushed fennel seeds. Yep, that is the ingredient that delivers a unique taste of Provence in combination with saffron, garlic, tomatoes, wine and stock. Not to mention how famously well it goes with fish, potatoes and olives.  Anise is another name used for fennel, the smell and flavor of which many find difficult to warm to, but if you are already a fan of bouillabaissethis should not be an issue.  I noticed long time ago that sometimes those who like fennel don’t like dill and vice versa (kind of Southern vs Northern taste), but hopefully the combination of both in this dish will bring more converts from both sides.
This soup is seriously packed with good-for-you stuff, but first a few more words about fennel. In addition to the dramatic list of its health benefits of this herb, it is considered to be one of the 9 sacred herbs of Anglo-Saxons. And here are some few curious historical facts about this mysterious plant (you might or might not know about):
– In Ancient Greece, the word marathon meant ‘’place of fennel’. The battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. which happened in a plain with fennel was named after it. Consequently, the name of long-distance endurance race, the ‘’marathon’’, comes from the legend of those times when a Greek runner who was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. He ran the whole distance non-stop, and collapsed from exhaustion upon reaching the destination and proclaiming ‘’We have won!’’

–  According to the Greek myth, the fire was stolen from the gods by Prometheus, who hid it in a hollow fennel stalk (and paid a big price for that as we know).
– The ancient Romans believed that chewing fennel controls the obesity.
– In Medieval times fennel was put in the keyholes to keep out ghosts and spirits, particularly on Midsummer’s Eve when evil spirits were thought to roam freely as the sun turned southwards.
Fennel has been used with preparing fish since long time ago. Nicholas Culpepper, English botanist and physician of the mid 1600s wrote that fennel ‘’consumes that phlegmatic humour, which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason for its benefit this way is because it is an herb of Mercury and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces.’’
The Ancient Romans, Chinese and Hindus used fennel as an antidote to poisons. According to Culpepper, fennel was an effective antidote for poisonous mushrooms and snake bites and was used as a treatment for the bites of rabid dogs.
Back to our soup. Here are some useful tips on this wonderful and hearty concoction.
Selecting fish & shrimp: I used salmon fillets and peeled Nordic shrimp this time and it worked very well. Most of the time, however, I find salmon a bit boring and use white, firm cold water fish, such as, grouper, haddock or cod.  As for the shrimp, please feel free to use the crustacean of your choice.
Giving your soup a heft: I am not a big fan of flour or starch thickening, so when I wish to make my soup heavier, I just add a few tablespoons of corn meal (which is neutral and gluten free) 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
Step No. 1: boiling potatoes and carrots separately will help them to cook faster than when they are in the acidic environment. Step No. 2: when sautéing veggies, let them sit in the frying pan a little bit before stirring to allow a bit of caramelizing, don’t just jump on stirring all the time.  Add a bit of water or wine if your veggies stick to the skillet. Step No.3: While it’s good to have a tasty home-made broth added to it, you will still have a very palatable result without it – just replace the stock with boiled water.
Killer App: If you don’t have any fresh fennel, use some crashed fennel seeds for that Southern kick and make a cultural substitution, i.e. celery instead of fennel bulb.

Optionally, add black or green olives and/or capers into the plates when ladling soup in for an extra Mediterranean kick.  Enjoy!
Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal
2 cups of water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small carrot, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fennel seeds crushed (optional)
½ tsp chili flakes
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white part only, julienned
1 small fennel bulb (or 2 celery stalks), fronds removed, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (14 oz) tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine (or 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons fresh dill (or parsley), chopped
½ lb salmon (grouper, haddock, or other white firm fish) fillet
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
 4 cups fish (or chicken) stock
Salt & pepper to taste
Fresh dill, chopped for garnish
In a large pot, add potatoes, carrots and bay leaves; cover with 2 cups of water, bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Set aside.
In the meantime, cut the fish into small cubes and put aside along with shrimps.
Heat the olive oil, butter, chili flakes and fennel seeds in the skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion, leek, fennel and garlic and sauté over the medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the veggies softened. Add tomatoes and sauté for another 2 minutes until they begin to break down. Add wine, increase to high heat and stir for 2 minutes. Add fish and shrimp* and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Add stock, orange zest and bring to boil. Incorporate with cooked potatoes and carrots. Bring to boil, skim the foam (if any) and simmer stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Verify the seasoning. Ladle the soup into plates and serve immediately with lemon wedges and crusted bread on the side. 
*If shrimp is already cooked, add it to the soup 2 minutes before the end.

Nordic Shrimp Deviled Avocado

Nordic shrimp stuffed avocado is almost a no-recipe party deal with guaranteed success. My family members have pretty different tastes, but we all agreed on the winning combination of the ingredients in it. Oddly enough, we first made it to fit the choice of the wine we would have selected. Weird, but true (it’s usually the opposite): we were inquiring about Bourgogne Aligoté when sommelier at the liquor store gave us a flyer with summer recipes developed by their chefs to match the new wine arrivals. The festive picture of the stuffed avocados quickly caught our eye. And there we were on a hot summer night, grilling avocados on a BBQ before stuffing them with chilled zesty shrimp salad few hours later.  
Boy-oh-boy, they were delicious: delicate sweet Nordic shrimps soaked in yogurt herbal lemony mix, drowning in the nutty-creamy-smoky avocado flesh with little accents of a bacon crisp, Tabasco and lemon zest. Pure Heaven!  And, guess what? This appetizer is just as good with a simple rosé as it is with Aligoté or Sémillon varieties (as we had a chance to experiment later in summer).
Now that we have to close our BBQ for winter (hopefully not this week, may be the sun will still give us some slack this week-end), I am using the sandwich grill to char the avocado halves. A no-grill version is also good, but in this case I suggest you remove the avocado flesh with a spoon, cut it into 1.5 cm (3/4 in.) dice, gently stir them with the shrimp mix and then fill in the avocado peels.  Garnish with bacon bits, lemon zest and herbs. Finally, the recipe works perfectly well with fresh cilantro or dill replacing tarragon leaves in winter.  
Summer or fall; rain or shine – you should really give it a try!
Yields: 4 servings
225 g (1/2 lb) pre-cooked Nordic shrimp
60 ml (1/4 cup) plain yogurt
60 ml (1/4) cup chopped fresh tarragon (or cilantro, or dill)
Juice and zest of one lemon
Tabasco to taste
2 avocados
125 ml (1/2 cup) bacon, cooked and crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pre-heat the BBQ or the sandwich grill to medium high. In a bowl, combine the shrimp, yogurt, half the tarragon (or cilantro, or dill) leaves, half the lemon zest, all of the lemon juice, the Tabasco and salt and pepper. Store in the refrigerator.
Cut avocados in halves and remove the pits. Brush the avocado halves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill cut-side down on the BBQ or sandwich grill for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Divide the shrimp salad among the avocado halves. Garnish with bacon bits, the rest of herbs and lemon zest.
Adapted from SAQ (The Société des alcools du Québec) Summer 2013 Recipes Collection.