Category Archives: party

FINAL RATATOUILLE

Last year I endured an entire summer without making a single batch of ratatouille, of which I have no one to blame but myself. This year, I vowed, would be different. I had long been intrigued by Richard Olney’s iteration of the classic ratatouille stew — he serves it froide, or cold, for lunch, and paired with a light, dry, well-chilled rosé — of which he raved about its syrupy, vivid, and satisfying qualities.

Ratatouille is, at heart, humble, country food, and Olney seems to agree: “Many people insist on… refinements, [that are] to me, without interest and not at all in keeping with the basic nature of a dish whose origins are simple and unpretentious.” In The French Menu Cookbook, Olney fits ratatouille into his ‘Simple Summer Luncheon à la Provençal,’ as the first course in a menu that also includes a blanquette of beef tripe with basil, steamed potatoes, tossed green salad, cheeses, and cherries with fresh almonds.

His words guided our thoughts the afternoon we decided to host an impromptu park picnic. The crown jewel of the evening would be none other than our vermillion Le Creuset pot, brimming over with cold stew. I made a few other simple dishes that evening, including a red leaf lettuce salad studded with chopped flat beans, red onion, corn, carrots, fennel, and a flurry of chopped herbs. A dish of glowing, egg-like new potatoes, with skins as delicate as tissue paper, were halved and coated in salted butter and avocado oil, dusted heavily with smoked paprika, and finished with crinklings of tarragon. And finally, we popped open a jar of my dilly beans, addictive in their uncanny similarity to potato chips. But most importantly, an awesome picnic is a group effort, and other treats materialized throughout the night, including a cluster of wine bottles, halved radishes, fresh cucumbers, charcuterie, a multitude of cheeses, and heirloom tomatoes.

Sadly, our days for picnics here in Montreal are numbered. I pulled on two sweaters this morning before making breakfast, and my sturdy denim jacket wasn’t quite enough protection on my bike last night. Troubling to say the least, and all the more reason to make a point to whip up a batch of ratatouille right away, before the opportunity eludes us yet another year, and all of these gorgeous vegetables disappear from the markets.

A few notes about Olney’s recipe: he suggests preserving the leftovers in sterilized glass jars — a wonderful idea. He stresses the importance of a ratatouille “well laced with thyme and garlic” and “impeccable” olive oil. And finally, he includes one fussy detail, in which he advises briefly separating the cooked vegetables from its liquid. The juice can then reduce separately into a thick syrup, and is then re-added to the pot. I found this totally unnecessary for what is purportedly such a ‘humble’ one-pot dish, and the results, I promise, are still spectacular.

Richard Olney’s Ratatouille Froide, adapted

1 pound white onions
2/3 cup olive oil
4 large, firm, well-ripened tomatoes (we used Romas)
1 pound sweet peppers (a mixture of red, yellow, and green)
1 pound eggplant (he recommends the small violet elongated variety; we love the tiny, lavender-hued, bulbous specimens from Birri, at the Jean-Talon Marche)
1 pound baby zucchini (the smallest available; I don’t think you can find these are the markets anymore, so any size would be fine)
6 cloves garlic
salt
pinch of Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
a bouquet of parsley and 1 bay leaf
handful of finely chopped parsley (of course, we used basil instead!)
freshly ground pepper

—Peel and chop onions, and saute in 1/3 cup olive oil. Do not let them brown. Mince garlic and add to pot.
—Peel and seed tomatoes (we score tomatoes with an X and then blanch for 30 seconds for easy peeling).
—Dice zucchini, peppers, and eggplant into 1 inch square pieces. In a second pan, saute each separate vegetable until golden brown, and set aside. I did this in a couple of batches because there were so many vegetables. (We also used a good amount of goose fat in the saute process. Worth it, promise). You don’t want the vegetables to steam — we let them get nice and golden brown.
—Add cooked peppers and eggplant to the pot with onion and garlic. Add tomatoes. Let simmer, stirring gently. Add the thyme, cayenne, parsley, and bay leaf.
—Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a faint simmer, and cover with lid.
—Cook for two hours. At least! I think I went even longer. You’ll find that as the vegetables simmer and cook, they release even more liquid. It’s incredible to watch and defies logic — instead of drying up in the pot, the vegetables just get juicier, stickier, and more syrupy. Oh, and the smell will be incredible.
—Finish with the remaining olive oil, freshly torn basil, and pepper, stirring carefully to avoid crushing the vegetables. Let cool, then serve with crusty bread and a big glass of wine. I found the Lirac red of Château Mont-Redon to be a wonderful, charming pairing.

And come on, did you really think I wouldn’t mention this?

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A PAIR OF TARTS

This was my first year at Montreal’s Oysterfest, and man was it good. Plenty of Montreal’s culinary heavy hitters were there — Cafe Myriade, Olive + Gourmando, DNA, Osteria Venti, Kaizen,  and my friend Michelle, the lovely pastry chef at Laloux. She orchestrated the most remarkable dessert, a three-bite Ontario peach tartlet with a hidden sour cherry tucked underneath, topped with a spoonful of dangerous bourbon cream. It reminded me — in the best way possible — of those tiny plastic cups of fruit cocktail that you got at snack time as a small child. Syrupy, sticky, wholesome, and glowing. As her assistant, I was allowed to devour as many tarts as I wished. I think I ate about six.

The day began early. 7am for Chef Marek, and 12pm for me, her tableside helper. Around noon, we were still at Laloux, and without a car. How were we going to transport 200 delicate, still-warm tarts to Old Montreal?

Michelle, always the resourceful one, called a cab. We sat through the bumpy ride, our laps cradling baking sheets lined with tarts, the trunk filled with tubs of pastry cream on ice. Pretty sure our driver thought we were crazy.

Things picked up around 2pm, when we were handed our first sandwich — DNA’s massive, clownish prochetta “sandwich.” It was bigger than our dinner plate, heaving with waves of fat and dripping with aoili. The pork belly was tender, and slathered with a fragrant herbal spread and capers. I managed a few bites and passed it on.

The others didn’t fare much better. Everyone gawked and put away a couple of bites, but in the end, I don’t think we made much of a dent in the sandwich.

The other highlight was Venti’s magnificent timbale, which was coated in one of the freshest-tasting tomato sauces I’ve ever had. Michelle and I were in awe.

After stuffing ourselves silly, we finally set up our table at 4pm. Okay, so maybe our little booth wasn’t as flashy as some of the others. And maybe we completely forgot about signage until halfway through, when Michelle brilliantly thought to write the name of her dessert on the back of a plate. The queries of, “Who are you?” and “What is this?” just got to be too much. Oh yeah, and for the first 20 minutes we didn’t even have napkins, plates, or forks. People still bought them, though. They were that good.

And after two hours, they were all gone. Every single one. I guess I shouldn’t have eaten six of them after all. Next year, I have to get the Dep in on the action.

SUPER MEATY

Sketched out a poster for an upcoming concert in the hour before I left for work. Somehow, even when it’s not about food, it’s still about food. Feels nice to doodle again. It would be nice to get back into silkscreening and make proper concert posters, but this is okay for now. (Also, this concert is going to be incredible. Please come out!)

TOTALLY PORKED

Our Pork Club BBQ at Le Pick Up last Friday was a massive success — oodles of thanks to everyone who came out! I knew the day was going to be special when we woke up to super sunny skies and a flirty breeze. Bartek and I rode our bikes to Marche Jean Talon and tried to stuff 50lbs of new potatoes into his bike baskets (an insane prospect), and I spent the afternoon outside, chopping potatoes and prepping beans on our picnic tables out back while drinking about a million glasses of calimocho. It was totally perfect, though I wouldn’t recommend frosting two massive red velvet cakes while slightly buzzed, and then serving people dinner for four hours straight. Afterward, we hung out on the terrace and ate our lion’s share of pork chops. I’ll be really sad when it gets cold here, the warm weather makes everyone so happy.

More photos here.

SOME SPECTRE FOLKS

Thank you to everybody that came out for the Spectre Folk and MV+EE concert last week at La Brique. The music was incredible, and the night super fun.

Because La Brique has a big kitchen, I decided to make everyone a massive dinner before the show: a savory potato-rosemary tart in whole wheat pastry; Richard Olney’s zucchini gratin (the key is plenty of anchovies and a freshly-made persillade); Richard Olney’s baked eggplant with fresh tomato sauce and ricotta; wild arugula tossed in mustard-walnut oil vinaigrette; smoked salmon, taramosalata, dill, Beluga lentil “caviar,” and lemon wedges on toasted Fairmount bagels; and Lulu‘s (by way of Richard Olney) gorgeous walnut gateaux with homemade crème fraîche and halved Quebec plums (Lulu’s book can be hard to find; David Lebovitz presents his adaptation of Lulu’s cake here).

But the most popular dish of the evening? An unexpected combination of pickled carrots, diced celery, and clams, smuggled in from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Oceanic, bracing, and very pleasantly chewy.

A SURPRISE TRIP TO NORMAN HARDIE

I never would have imagined that I would find myself spending the night in the private staff quarters of one of Ontario’s finest wineries, but then again, Adam always has had a way of surprising me.

Let me explain. Immediately following our trip down to Ithaca for Meredith’s wedding, we spontaneously decided to make our way through Ontario before returning to Montreal.

We drove through Niagara Falls (I’ll spare you the photos I ecstatically took of the insane wax museums, cheesy restaurants, and, inexplicably, haunted houses that line the mains streets of the town) and spent one day and one night in Toronto (more on that soon!), so Adam could do more work on his book.

The morning we were to leave Toronto, we were faced with a question — should we drive straight back to Montreal, or take a day-long detour through Prince Edward County?

PEC is a gorgeous, bucolic wine region in Ontario known for its delicious Burgundy-style pinot noirs. At the lobster dinner party we hosted earlier this summer, we sampled a fair amount of French white burgundies — eight, in fact. (It was a hectic night). But there was one lone bottle of Canadian white burgundy, from a small winery in PEC called Norman Hardie.

Amazingly, the verdict was unanimous: this bottle of Ontario wine was everyone’s favorite burgundy. By a long shot. It was sublime.

So back in Toronto, Adam tells me to pack my bags. We’re leaving Toronto in an hour, and we’re going to Norman Hardie after all. To stay. For the night.

“Wait. So what you’re saying is, we’re staying at a hotel near the winery? Is that what’s happening?” — Me

Nope. We were staying at the winery. In a bed. On their property. Oh, and they were cooking us dinner. Don’t ask me how Adam makes these things happen. He has a gift for it.

A few hours and three Popul Vuh CDs later, we arrived at Norm’s estate, just as the sun was dipping out of sight. It was a stunning property — undulating acres of twisting vines, all bearing tiny, hard green grapes.

When we arrived, our host, Richard, one of the associate wine makers, welcomed us into the kitchen, which was housed in this beautiful hangar that also housed all of their barrels. Of course, he poured us a glass of wine right away.

I was happy to sit back, while Adam had the pleasure of fiendishly nerding out with fellow wine freaks. After all, it’s not often you have a wine maker make you dinner.

The night went on and on, in the best way possible. It was like having dinner with old friends — that’s how fast we clicked.

We snuck upstairs to the tasting floor to pick up more wine for the dinner and grab some pasta.

Richard put us right to work, cutting squash, mushrooms, and onion for a huge pot of tomato sauce he was making. I’m glad he asked for help. I always feel more comfortable when I’m busy in a kitchen.

By then, the sun had almost disappeared. The sunsets in PEC? Spectacular.

This was our dining room table. We were surrounded by vats and vats of wine. It was a little surreal.

Of course, we had to being a few wines of our own, to spread the love. I died over this 2002 bottle of Simon Bize & Fils Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses. (Just a few days earlier, we drank the 1996; I can say with confidence that the 2002 vintage is spectacular in comparison).

Since the main topic of conversation was wine, they showed us a few priceless bottles that they’ve enjoyed on a few drunken, late nights. Apparently that 1982 Penfolds is really something else.

The pasta — made with heirloom tomatoes and basil from their own garden — was outstanding. Meaty, rich, and full of sweet tomato flavor.

Oh, and it was topped with a perfectly grilled, medium-rare beef tenderloin. I told you this night was special. At this point, I was beside myself with happiness. I ate all of my steak, plus a few bites stolen from Adam’s plate.

We drank a lot of wine that night, including a very special Cabernet Franc that tasted like jalapenos. It was uncanny.

After dinner, Richard gave us a killer tour of their barrels, and explained a bunch of weird, insider wine knowledge (as a wine neophyte, I can honestly say that I had no idea what was happening).

Full of fantastic food and even better wine, I don’t think I’ve ever slept better in my life.

The next morning we woke up early and did — what else? — but a barrel tasting. (I had never done one before!) We grabbed coffee, muffins, toast, jam, and peanut butter at the adorable Tall Poppy Cafe, and then headed back to Norm’s for one final tasting before hitting the road. I wish I had taken photos at the Tall Poppy — they had hosted a wedding (!) the night before, so there were beautiful jars full of flowers everywhere.

A wine tasting at 9am may sound a bit intense to some (it certainly did to me), but the opportunity to taste straight from the barrel was too cool to pass up.

We were told to sip and spit — right onto the floor! (I tried to aim for the little cracks between the tiles). I laughed every time I attempted to spit, and dribbled wine onto my shirt like a crazy person.

We left shortly thereafter, with plenty of souvenirs (read: a case of wine) with which to remember our trip. As a final present, Richard sent us down to their garden, where he said I could pick whatever I wanted to take home with me. I went for the tomatoes and peppers, and we ate half of them, still wet from the morning dew, in the car on the way home.

Man. What an unforgettable night. Thank you Norman Hardie and crew for your incredible hospitality and generosity — and come visit us in Montreal soon!

COUPLED UP

Last wedding post, I promise. (And it wasn’t even my wedding!) The day of Meredith’s wedding, it poured rain, which at first was stressful, but in retrospect was kind of nice. Everything was foggy and cool and sort of mysterious looking, in that Twin Peaks-kind of way. Definitely preferable to the scorching 100+ degree temperatures we were enduring only days earlier.