One of my best food memories is of a meal I had in Puglia. It was at a winery and we had a simple lunch that began with focaccia studded with tomatoes, the winery’s olive oil, olives and the wonderful Puglian burrata cheese that oozes cream as soon as you cut into it. This was followed by pasta with tomatoes and shrimp. Because tomatoes were just out of season they were flash cooked so their flavour intensified. The shrimp were fresh out of the water. We ended the meal with taralli, a type of Italian bread stick, and bitter black coffee. It was magic.
Because I am able to purchase farm-raised fresh Ontario shrimp, that pasta gave me the idea for this recipe. I never realized that shrimp could be raised in vats and really anywhere – if you can provide the right conditions. These Ontario shrimp were firm, juicy and had lots of flavour, plus all the perks of being local.
It is important to cook pasta al dente. Not only does it taste better, but it might actually be healthier for you. Some sources claim that it has a lower glycemic index than overcooked pasta. We tried this with both long and short pasta and found that long pasta pulled the ingredients together better, but you can use short if that’s what you have on hand.
You can use Swiss chard, kale, rapini or dandelion greens in this dish. We used a mixture. Breadcrumbs are used often in pasta dishes when there is a seafood ingredient to give added texture, because cheese is not traditionally used with seafood.
I love the texture of sticky rice. Having had some issues with getting the texture correct – mine was too gluey – I turned to Nick Liu, chef proprietor of the excellent Dailo restaurant in Toronto. He showed me how to cook it and this is his recipe.
There are different kinds of glutinous or sweet rice. Chinese rice looks more like a short grain, and the Thai, which I prefer, has a slightly longer grain. But either works in this recipe. Soaking the rice is the most important part of making this recipe as it improves both the flavour and texture of the finished dish. Nick suggests soaking for 2 to 6 hours. Buying red curry paste instead of making it is easier, but buy a small tin from a good brand rather than the overly large ones at Chinese supermarkets. Mae Ploy is a recommended brand that is available in Canada. Fish sauce varies, too. It is usually made from fermented anchovies and should taste of umami, slightly fishy, salty but with a sweetness. Considered the best brand worldwide is the very expensive Red Boat, only available on Amazon.ca. When you go to the Asian market to buy fish sauce, cost counts – buy an expensive one.
There are options if you do not want sticky rice. You can cook 8 ounces of linguine-size rice noodles and add the curry on top of them or you can just cook some jasmine rice.
Toronto Taste, one of the city’s original culinary fund-raisers, celebrated its 25th year this weekend. The lineup for the annual event – in support of Second Harvest’s food-rescue program, which turns surplus food that would otherwise go to waste into healthy meals for people in need – includes more than 40 chefs from the city’s best restaurants, wineries and breweries.
Chris Klugman, founder of Regent Park’s Paintbox Bistro, was one of them. In addition to serving brunch and lunch, Paintbox offers work experience and career support to residents of the neighbourhood, which contains one of the country’s largest social-housing complexes.
Klugman, the Michael Stadtländer-trained chef who has cooked at King Ranch, Winston’s and the Rosewater Supper Club among other establishments, is a long-time supporter of Toronto Taste and this year made a white-asparagus tamale with cured salmon. Served as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre, it’s a full-flavoured twist on the traditional cornmeal bundle.
You can find masa harina, a Mexican cornmeal that’s soaked in limewater before it’s dried and ground, at most supermarkets. And if you don’t have time to cure the salmon yourself – it’s a simple technique, but it must marinate in the fridge for two days – good-quality store-bought will do.
Miheer Shete of Toronto’s Bannock restaurant has trained and worked around the world. Originally from Mumbai, he came to Canada five years ago but never lost the taste of home. The flavours in this curry are inspired by Konkan, a coastal area near Mumbai where coconut, curry leaves, tamarind and seafood are abundant. This is a variation on his octopus curry that was one of the most popular dishes at CurryFest. Measure out ingredients before you start cooking.
There’s no real substitute for the yellow aji peppers used commonly in Peru. They are quite hot and have a grassy flavour. I have used serrano peppers here, which is not quite the same but still makes this dish inspiring. Halibut is not a fish used in Peru. You would more likely find this made with Chilean sea bass. I recommend using sustainable fish if you can find it.
These lacy, gluten-free pancakes, known as bánh xèo in Vietnam, can be wrapped around all kinds of fillings, including leftover stir-fries and vegetable curries. Or, served with ginger-lime sauce, they’re a perfect match for fish or seafood. I make them with the white rice flour found in Asian markets or the organic section of the supermarket. (Glutinous, or sticky, rice flour doesn’t work.) The technique for cooking bánh xèo is much the same as for crepes: Make them one at a time in an eight-inch non-stick skillet. If you only have a larger pan, make a larger pancake and cut in half to serve. To get really crispy edges, use a pastry brush to coat the sides of the pan with oil as each pancake cooks.
One of the glories of food in Venice is the fritto misto served at many seafood restaurants. It was originally a dish designed to use up the little fish that were caught but deemed too small to sell; today it is more sophisticated. Shrimps, scallops, squid and other fish are part of the mix and it usually includes sardines as they are the typical fish of Venice. Depending on the restaurant, some fritto misto is floured and fried; other restaurants use a batter, which I prefer. This is a very light batter so that the taste of the seafood zings in your mouth. Serve it immediately after you fry it or, if you have no choice, keep it warm in a 200°F oven until needed.
When I lived in Scotland, cooking gefilte fish for Passover and other Jewish holidays meant frying it. I had actually never heard of boiled gefilte until I came to Canada. Here, no one makes the crunchy fried version and that’s a shame. When doing it the Scottish way, the mixture of fish is different than the one used for boiled gefilte. It is lighter and full of flavour and makes for perfect fluffy fish cakes for any occasion. On Passover, I use matzo meal in them, but during other times of the year I substitute panko for the coating and fresh bread crumbs for the fish cake itself. The cakes can be cooked immediately or frozen raw. To freeze raw, arrange the patties side by side on a tray lined with parchment paper or foil. When the tray is full, cover the patties with parchment or foil and make another layer of cakes on top. Put the tray in the freezer uncovered. When the fish is frozen, place in freezer bags. Defrost in the refrigerator and recoat with matzo meal or panko before frying. Serve hot with horseradish sauce or at room temperature with coleslaw, pickled cucumbers or salad.