Among the people who have influenced my cooking are the fabulous staff at Lesley Stowe Fine Foods. Our team is very much a family, and we stop every day to have lunch together: to get the chance to sit down and talk, and – of course – to cook for each other. Our head pastry chef at the shop knew how to cook pasta the Italian way, and it was always a popular day when April was at the stove. This is my version of her most requested dish. Simple, delicious and comforting – a perfect mid-week supper!
serves 4 to 6
- 8 oz (225 g) pancetta, cut in ½ x ¼ inch (1.2 x .6 cm) strips
- 2 Tbsp. (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil
- 8 small cloves garlic, slivered lengthwise
- 4 small shallots, slivered lengthwise
- ½ tsp. (2.5 mL) finely chopped fresh rosemary
- ½ tsp. (2.5 mL) finely chopped fresh sage
- ¼ cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. (455 g) button mushrooms, sliced
- 4 cups (950 ml) tomato sauce
- large pinch chili flakes
- 1 lb (455 g) penne
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¾ cup (180 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the pancetta for 2-3 minutes in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp. (30 mL) olive oil, garlic and shallots, sauté until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add the rosemary and sage. Add the 1/3 cup (60mL) olive oil and the mushrooms. Turn up the heat to medium-high and stir until the mushrooms are golden. Add the tomato sauce and chili flakes. Reduce the heat and keep warm.
In a pasta pot, bring 4 quarts (4 L) of water with the 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) of sea salt to a boil. Add the penne and cook until it’s almost al dente, 2-3 minutes. Drain, reserving ½ cup (120 mL) of the cooking water. Add the water to the sauce. Return pasta and sauce to the pasta pot and cook over medium heat until the pasta is a dente, 2 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper. Serve with Parmesan cheese.
My philosophy on starters (if you can call it that) is that they should set the tone for what follows but not upstage everything else. If you are having a sit-down dinner with lots of courses, it’s probably best to keep the hors d’oeuvre offerings down to a dull roar, unless you are going to have drinks for more than an hour before sitting down at the table. I suggest some fabulous olives, perhaps something a little different such as arbequina, nicoise, or picholino olives to add some extra interest. Match these with a bowl of warm toasted almonds sprinkled with fleur de sel, and then maybe add one dip like the Sweet Smoky Spicy red Pepper dip and some raincoast Crisps and flatbread.
If you are going to enjoy cocktails for longer than an hour, add one or two individual hors d’oeuvres to keep those with hearty appetites happy. If you are doing a full-on cocktail party, you want to allow 8 – 12 different items, with a mix of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres. And remember, it works best if you start with the cold hors d’ oeuvres first and then move to the hot ones; guests rarely go back to cold once the hot ones appear unless it is a scorching summer day.
When it comes to starters that are first courses—these and desserts are often my favourite parts of the meal because you can be more adventurous—I have always loved drama, texture and the combination of hot and cold. Two recipes that stand out for me are the Asparagus, Chevre and Parmesan Filos, and the Figs with Proscuitto and Cambozola; both are delicious paired with salad greens for the first course of a dinner and give you the contrast of sweet, salty, hot and fresh, crispy, cold.
Remember to balance your party workload so you aren’t in the kitchen all night. Keep it simple with make ahead items, dips and platters. Your guests are there to see you and you them, so you’ve got to emerge from the kitchen at some point and say hello!
With the Academy Awards just around the corner, thoughts of entertaining are brewing for this weekend! Whatever your preference – finger foods, dips, or appies – this weekend is your chance to invite your friends round, get creative in the kitchen, and serve up some delicious food. Some of our ‘go-to’ snack foods here in the Raincoast kitchen are quesadillas. Simple to make and oh so versatile, the combinations are limitless. The rule of thumb is much like pizza – don’t overload the fillings and keep the ingredients to a few simple complimentary flavours. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Baby Shrimp, Chevre & Papaya
- Roasted Chicken, Sweet Grapes & Brie
- Proscuitto, Figs & Cambozola
- Grilled Chicken, Serrano Peppers & Havarti
To make quesadillas:
Lay open an 8 inch flour tortilla, fill one side with your favourite fillings and then flip the empty side over to form a half moon shape. Cook on the grill, in a lightly greased frying pan or dry cast iron skillet, or on a cookie sheet in the oven at 400 F. Whichever method you use, cook on one side until lightly toasted and golden brown; flip over and toast the other side until golden and the cheese has melted.
Cool slightly and cut into wedges. Serve with lime slices and your favourite Salsa, Guacamole, Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream.
A few weeks back I had the good fortune to try out a relative newcomer to the Vancouver restaurant scene: The Flying Pig. Located in the heart of Yaletown, the restaurant has a classic, casual elegance yet communal feel making it as much a likely stop for pre-theatre dinners and special occasion meals as it is for a mid-week bite out. However, arrive early or expect to wait, as it seems to be busy most nights of the week.
The service was friendly and familiar, not too stiff, and the staff knowledgeable and helpful with both menu options and wine pairing suggestions.
The current menu is a collection of seasonally inspired comfort food: mains including Red Wine Braised Short Ribs with Bone Marrow Mashed Potatoes; Pan Seared Halibut Cheeks with Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi Provençal; and family styled sides such as Lobster and Prawn Risotto; Truffled Cauliflower Gratin; and Crispy Brussell Sprouts with Lemon, Parmesan, and Capers – a signature dish which even non-brussell eaters will dive into. I could easily make a meal out of the sides alone they are so varied and yummy! Portions are large and meant for sharing so order a good selection and dig in!
The dessert highlights are the Homemade Waffle Cone with what must be an illegal dose of Chocolate, Caramel and Pistachios, as well as the Maple Sugar Pie – a definite treat for the sugar lovers in the room.
I’m already looking forward to my next visit to The Flying Pig and can’t wait to see how executive chef Erik Heck and GM John Crook switch things up with the changing seasons.
The Flying Pig
1168 Hamilton Street
When we think about eating lobster it always seems to be as an extravagance reserved for special occasions. But cooking lobster at home is actually really easy, and an incredibly delicious way to show someone how much you love them this Valentine’s Day! So why not bypass the overpriced menus, the overstretched service and the overcrowded seats in the restaurants this year and snuggle in at home with an elegant lobster feast for two? Nothing could be easier. Ask your local fishmonger if they have any fresh lobsters in, chances are this time of year they do. A favourite crustacean stop for us here in Vancouver is The Lobster Man
on Granville Island who is OceanWise
certified: but good, responsible fish shops are plentiful these days. Serve the lobsters alongside some citrus butter for dipping, a loaf of crusty bread, some young grilled asparagus and a bottle of good wine (try with the Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc
or a Chardonnay by Cambria
), and you’ve got a meal worthy of any celebration!
- 1 large stock pot 3/4 full with water
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) sea salt per quart (litre) of water
- 2 live lobsters
- 1 recipe citrus butter (follows)
Fill a large stock pot about ¾ full with water – enough to ensure that the lobster is fully submerged. Add 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of sea salt per quart (litre) of water and bring to a rolling boil. Quickly, yet gently, slide the lobster into the water head first. Bring the water back up to a low boil and cook for approximately 8 minutes for the first pound (2.2 kg) and 3 minutes for every pound thereafter. Do NOT overcook. The lobster is fully cooked when the shell is bright red and the antennae pull off easily.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 tsp (5 mL) lemon zest
- 1 tsp (5 mL) orange zest
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh orange juice
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh lemon juice
Melt butter over low heat, add zest and juice. Blend well. Serve in dipping dishes alongside the lobsters.