Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You have to admire a culture that fries cheese . . . and salami

I forgot to take a photo of fried salami with onions when we made
it last week (well, we had eaten it by the time I remembered!)
so instead, I give you a photo of me and the Friulano himself,
my Dad Italo Sguazzin (he is always laughing).
On warm summer nights my husband I like to take the kids down the rocky, beautiful beach at the bottom of the hill from our house. He’ll throw his line in while the kids play on the beach, looking for an interesting piece of driftwood or a perfect rock. I like to sit on a washed-up log and look out at the Straight of Georgia, and out at my family, and just feel happy and grateful.

We take sandwiches and have our supper there. For Kelly and I, it’s usually a salami sandwich on a chunk of crusty baguette along with, truth be told, a glass of red wine in a paper cup.

I think salami is one of those things that may have been ruined for many people by a bad grocery store variety. But really, a good salami, a hunk of bread, a glass of wine . . . perfection.

But leave it to the Friulani to take perfection and improve upon it. In Friuli, they fry salami. There, I said it. They take thick slices of fresh, not-yet-fully-cured, made-with-care salami and fry it, first slowly melting those little white dots of yum, then turning up the heat, creating a crusty outside that is to die for. Red wine vinegar reduces in the pan and thinly sliced onions carmelize. And the whole mess is a plate of happy. Serve it with slices of roasted polenta and/or a montasio and potato frico and you have Friuli on a plate. 

Fried salami . . . as my little girl Emiliana (or Emiliaina Friulana as I like to call her) would say, “Did that just blew your mind?”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Recipe that Made the Cut!

Creamy Polenta Lasagne

It simply cannot be a coincidence that the food that is so emblematic of my family's culture, of the place my father came from, of the place my family has always referred to as "back home", is the very food that has brought me this exciting, wonderful, inspiring opportunity. An opportunity to meet a world-renowned chef, come together with other women like me from across this country and to cook in front of an audience in Kraft Canada's gleaming (I imagine them as gleaming! I'll know in just two weeks!) kitchens. Yes, it is no wonder that the food that saved my family during WWII  (thus making my existence possible) is the same food that has opened up this new adventure in my life. It is humble, blessed, polenta.

Please view my recipe on the wonderful Real Women of PHILADEPHIA site at http://www.realwomenofphiladelphia.ca/user/recipe/creamy-polenta-lasagna

I am in full-on polenta lasagne training now! More than a few neighbours have come home to find a baking dish of polenta lasagna on their doorstep. Next up, I may be testing it on our neighbourhood bear and her cubs. Now there's a beautiful Italy-meets-Canada moment!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Unexpected Inspiration

Inspiration has come to me from the most unexpected place - a little rectangular, silver box in my fridge.

I love cooking and I love writing and so, like so many others, found this incredible intersection of the two in food blogging. But I let work and commitments and stress and commuting and the thousand little obligations of the day get in the way of this lovely artistic outlet.

Until the cream cheese called my name!

It has been a wonderful and crazy and fun turn of events that has reignited my love of all things foodie and reminded me that my food can have a life beyond my little kitchen and the lovely people I feed there (although that is simple joy to me in its own right). There is a whole community of other foodies out there to engage with, people to share ideas and recipes with, stories to write and so, so, so much to learn and be inspired by.

This crazy turn of events has been a contest I entered - http://realwomenofphiladelphia.ca - and to my sheer joy and amazement, been named a finalist in!

I am off to Toronto at the beginning of July for a cook off (seriously, a cook off!) and to meet the other 15 amazing women in the competition. I'll get to meet a long-time idol of mine, chef Anna Olsen, and cook in the Kraft Kitchens. Amazing!

Yes, that little silver box of PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese called my name, inspired me to create something new, and is opening up a whole new door for me. Thanks Philly!
Find out more at http://realwomenofphiladelphia.ca

Monday, February 7, 2011

Candied Lemon Slices

I started making these candied lemon slices to top my polenta cakes. I had two nice surprises the first time I made them. The first is that the lovely, lemony syrup that is a by-product of this recipe is perfect for pouring over the warm cake and takes the place of a glaze. The second is that I can make a big batch of these and keep them in the freezer between slices of waxed paper, having them handy for topping my cakes, decorating glasses of red-wine laced lemonade in the summer and, as my little girl and I have discovered, eating them cold out of the freezer -- Emmie and Mommy's homemade lemon candy.

3 lemons
1 cup sugar
+ additional sugar for sanding finished slices

1. Cut lemons into thin slices, remove seeds.

2. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and add lemon slices, stirring gently until slices are softened, about 2 minutes.

3. Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium skillet, stirring constantly. When syrup is clear, reduce heat to medium-low and add lemon slices. Lightly simmer without boiling about 1 hour, when rinds begin to be translucent.

4. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment and sprinkle liberally with additional sugar. Cool and serve. To store, place slices in single layers on waxed paper, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lemon Almond Polenta Cake

It was almost a religious experience the day we realized that we could incorporate polenta into dessert. It's not something I've ever seen in any of my Zias' kitchens in Friuli. I understand it has long been a specialty of UK bakers but for us, lemon almond polenta cake is a fairly new discovery. And such a welcome one. It has quickly become a family favourite, and the kids call it "Nonno cake" because my dad adores it. 
I make this so often now, almost every Sunday, that I have begun to experiment with different cake pans and toppings. It is never the same shape twice and is always adorned a little differently. 
One of our favourites is to make this thin, in a tart pan with a removable bottom (one recipe makes about three of these) and to pile sliced almonds onto the top before it bakes. 
Another, as in the picture here, is to make it in those straight-sided cupcake papers and to top each one with powdered sugar and a homemade slice of candied lemon. I've also been known to top them with crumbled amaretti cookies before baking, creating a crunchy and delicious top.
Lemon, Almond Polenta Cake
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup ground almonds
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 lemons (
zest and juice)
1 orange (zest and juice)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup fine ground cornmeal (polenta)
For the syrup:
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar 

Sliced almonds or candied lemon slices to decorate
Preheat the oven to 300F. Prepare an 8-inch round springform pan (line with parchment, grease).
Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Fold in the ground almonds. Beat in eggs one at a time, add vanilla, zests and juices.
Gently fold in polenta, salt and baking powder. 
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the centre of the oven for about an hour and 15 minutes. If the edges or top of the cake begin to get too brown, cover with foil. 

When a skewer inserted in the top of the cake comes out mostly clean, remove and cool. Unmold cake and drizzle with syrup, top with almond slices or candied lemon slices. 
To make the syrup: Mix sugar and lemon juice in a small pan on the stovetop and bring to a boil, simmer until all sugar is melted and syrup is slightly thickened. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Minestra di Fagioli

Fagioli beans in Emiliana's hand.
I always say there are two kinds of Italians from my father's generation -- the ones who will always love minestra di fagioli because it sustained their families through the darkest days of WWII, and the ones who can never look at a fagioli bean again because it's all they ate throughout the darkest days of WWII. Both are totally understandable.

My dad falls firmly into the love category -- in fact fagioli is practically a religion in our family. We grow them every summer, spend time together harvesting and shelling them, freeze them, eat them all winter, and have heated debates about whether we should add potatoes to a particular batch. My brother Paolo has been known to eat nothing else for days and swears it is the best possible breakfast.

In our family, we use the word fagioli exclusively, but I have learned the beans we are referring to are more commonly called cranberry beans, a perfect name given the deep red veins of colour running through both the pods and the beans themselves. To add to the confusion, we also use the same word for both the beans and for the dish, a thick stew/soup of celery, onion, carrot and lots of beans. It is wonderful as a vegetarian dish, and also great with a good chunk of pork in it.

As with most of our family recipes, I learned it without measurements, just ingredients, so the measurements below are approximate, and nothing to be too particular about. Cook from your heart and you can't go wrong with a rustic, wholesome dish like this.

2 large onions
2 large carrots 
3 or 4 celery stalks (with lots of leaves)
1 leak
3 or 4 garlic cloves

2 small tomatoes (skins removed)
2 cups cranberry beans (canned or frozen - if dried, prepare/soak in advance. Romano beans also work well)
4 tablespoons canola oil (canola is what my Nonna would have used, olive oil is fine too)
2 or 3 pork ribs
3 cups water
Salt & pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano, Montasio or Pecorino Romano cheese
Handful of parsley 

Finely chop all of the vegetables (except parsley) and sauté in the oil until softened. Add the meat and continue to cook for 10 or 15 minutes. Add beans and water. Simmer gently for about an hour, more is better. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove 1 to 2 cups of the soup and puree it in a blender, then add it back into the pot so about half of the beans are still whole, and the rest have added a creamy rich texture to your dish. (My mom accomplishes this without using her blender, she takes a big wooden spoon and gently mashes a little less than half of the beans against the side of the pot - it is old-world perfection).

Reheat before serving, stir in a handful of freshly chopped parsley and top each serving with a generous grating of cheese. It is one of those magical soups that is better the next day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Friulano Garden . . . in Canada

We're just pulling out the last of the radicchio and cleaning up the garden for winter. We'll plant garlic soon (if it ever stops raining long enough) so it can tough out the winter.

One of the first things Kelly and I did when we moved out of the city to this house on the Sunshine Coast was to put in a vegetable garden. After years of growing tomatoes and cucumbers in pots on our urban Vancouver roof deck, having space for a wonderful big garden is thrilling.

That first summer though we didn't do very well. After we'd dug the plot, bought lumber for edging and hauled in several truckloads of soil to augment the rocky surface of our lot, we only managed a very small crop of beans and cucumbers that year. We joked about eating our $12 cucumbers.

We're still newbies, learning all the time, and luckily we have my dad, Italo, to teach us (which sometimes sounds a little like barking orders but we're good with that!).

Growing up, my mom and dad always had an amazing garden. I think they were always delightfully surprised at how well the hearty winter vegetables of Northern Italy grew in the cold (and rainy) northern BC climate. Every year, we had an abundance of cauliflower, broccoli, various zucca (squash), beloved fagioli beans and the ubiquitous zucchini (monsters!). Oh, and raddicchio and arugula -- absolute staples. My dad has always had a greenhouse as well for the more delicate produce, like gorgeous tomatoes and fragrant little cucumbers.

And so, we too are learning the nuances of gardening: planting by the phases of the moon as my dad insists; carefully saving, drying and replanting the seeds from the best specimens; harvesting and freezing the bounty to savour all winter; and, most of all, just enjoying the simple satisfaction of feeding our family a meal we grew with our own hands in our own soil.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


These puffs of loveliness are made with yeast dough and flavoured with cheese, fresh herbs and crumbled pancetta.

I make these from my homemade pizza dough – tearing off a knob of dough when I make it and saving it to make into fritters, either the same day or freezing for a day when a doughy pick-me-up is in order.

Once you have the dough made, the fritters are a wonderful opportunity for creativity. For this batch, I used montasio cheese, pancetta and fresh parsley. Other great combinations are asiago, salami and olives, or parmesan, basil and bits of oven-dried tomatoes.

For my kids, I make a mean cheese and pepperoni version and call them “pizza balls” – a name that elicits mischievous little giggles.

Fresh pizza dough (but really, don’t make dough just for this! Have a fabulous pizza night and save a little dough for these.)
Chopped herbs
Crumble pancetta, bacon or finely sliced ham or salami
Finely grated parmesan, montasio or asiago cheese (or any cheese you love)

Break off a piece of pizza dough, about the size of a golf ball. Knead about a tablespoon each of herbs, cheese and cooked meat into the piece and roll into a ball. Repeat until you have as many dough balls as you’d like.
Heat about 3 inches of oil in a deep pot to 350 degrees. Gently fry a few fritters at a time, removing to a paper towel lined plate once they are golden brown. Lightly sprinkle the hot fritters with salt and serve immediately.

I served these with freshly sliced prosciutto (made by my Dad, Italo) and arugula from the garden dressed simply with oil, red wine vinegar and garlic.