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Bringing Villa Rosa dei Venti home – Part 2

Minestra di Ceci

For part 2 of this revisit I thought I’d try one of the quicker recipes from Cooking Secrets of a Tuscan Family. One that can be banged out in about in about an hour. Actually this would be the middle timed version. The long method follows the book precisely by soaking dry chickpeas overnight followed by a 3 hour cooking. The faster method being chickpeas right out of a can and heated up. The way I prepared them was cooking canned Ceci for about an hour.

Ingredients. The list really couldn’t be easier. 1/2 lb. of dry chickpeas, 4 oz. of tomato paste, two garlic cloves some rosemary and extra virgin olive oil.

Substitutions. I’m really embarrassed. Yes gang, I used ‘boxed’ chicken stock. While getting my ingredients together I noticed our last two remaining boxes of Campbell’s low-sodium broth. I figure I’d use it up which would taste better than water. Terra hasn’t let me live it down. I apologize to you and your families.

Method. Either start with a soak or a can opener What you’re looking for are cooked, tender chickpeas. Once cooked, blend the chickpeas to a nice chunky purée. In a separate pot heat the oil and add in the rosemary sprig, crushed chopped garlic and a little salt. When you’re happy with the results, read: you haven’t burned the garlic, add in the tomato paste and mix well. Finally pour in the chickpea purée and heat the whole thing for another half hour. Season and serve.

The eating. I was really curious to taste this soup. I was concerned the tomato paste might take over. Was I ever wrong. The paste gives the soup a huge earthy taste. It tastes like Tuscany! And the rosemary adds a second assertive edge. Finally the little bursts of garlic and olive oil sneak in here and there to round out the overall smack. In fact the tomato taste is so wonderful, I wanted more! Next time I’ll add very ripe roasted tomatoes for even more strength. And cheese. My next bowl will certainly included some grated Parmesan.

Keeping it local. I suppose as long as I’m cooking Italian food I’ll never be able to keep things 100% local. My version of this soup used local rosemary and garlic and that’s about it. The chickpeas and tomato paste were both canned, probably goes without saying where the olive oil came from, and the salt and pepper, who the hell knows. Finally the stock, let’s never bring that up again. Final grade, D- for the grocery list.

Want to blow everyone away before serving your main course? Make this soup. It’s that good. But do yourself a favour, make real chicken stock. It’s so superior to anything you can buy. If you end up using broth from a box, lie.


Bringing Villa Rosa dei Venti home – Part 1

While in Italy last May I took a cooking class in a small Tuscan town called Creti. It was a beautiful sunny day spent cooking, eating and drinking with the Micheli family on their property, Villa Rosa dei Venti. At the end of the evening I picked up a copy of their family cookbook “Cooking Secrets of a Tuscan Family”. Full of great recipes, it celebrates the Micheli family history as well as the food they grow and prepare. Over the next few posts I plan to revisit my time spent with the Micheli’s by cooking some of my favourites from their book.

“Rosa dei Venti” Sauce
We cook a lot of Italian food here at SixTop Industries. Specifically pasta sauces because they’re quick and so good. Most are really basic but some get more involved. The nice thing about pasta sauces is that once you get the fundamentals down you can improvise. Each additional ingredient adds another level of texture and flavour.

The Micheli’s “house” sauce was unusual for me because it goes beyond the usual procedure of cooking vegetables, meat and tomatoes. Read on:

Ingredients. Normally I only use ground pork or sausage when making a meat sauce. This recipe has those but also some really cool extras. Begin with sautéing chicken and rabbit livers, crushed garlic cloves and fresh thyme sprigs in olive oil. Once nicely browned, finely chop the livers and add them in with the other meats. Those being ground pork, veal and Tuscan sausage meat.

Substitutions. Seeing as I don’t live in the most Italian part of the world, and Tuscan sausages are rare, I substituted “spicy italian” jobs from a local butcher. And not having rabbit livers on hand I just doubled the chicken livers. Doesn’t everyone have a big bag of those in the freezer?

Keeping it local. Yes we remain committed to keeping it close to home where we can. So obvious items aside like the olive oil, s/p and cheese, this was a very local sauce. We bought the carrots, onion and garlic at the Halifax Seaport Market from various stands. The ground pork came from the Canning Village Meat Market. The veal and sausages were labelled “Nova Scotia” from Pete’s and the chicken livers came from chickens at Windy View. I just realized two non-local items, the celery was grocery store and the jarred tomatoes also from Pete’s. So I give us a B+. It’s a list as mixed as the locations and people involved. An Italian family’s recipe cooked in Nova Scotia by a Alberta girl and Montreal boy.

Tomaotoes. Ornella (Mama) Micheli and daughter Barbara taught us a specific approach to adding the tomatoes. To start, use bottled tomatoes, not canned. When everything is browned, instead of just dumping in the whole bottle, you do something different. Without disturbing the meat and vegetables too much, create wells and pour in about half a cup of tomatoes into each. Do this in about seven or eight spots. Mama declared this procedure extremely critical! Only after some time of undisturbed cooking do you gently start to mix everything together and empty the bottle. I asked if less agitation makes the meat more tender. Yes, it does.

The eating. After a good hour of slow and low cooking the sauce turns a deep red and tastes smooth and mellow, yet strong. The liver bits melt slightly and add that familiar taste. When completed, sauce the pasta (not too much!), crack on some pepper and grated Grana Podano. With a final hit of extra virgin olive oil you’ll have yourself a meal. We ate ours with chilled Fontella Orvieto Classico.

Try this pasta sauce! It’s a nice change from the usual and doesn’t require tons of work. Now kick back, tuck in and stay tuned for Part 2…


Roasted sweet potato with white bean ravioli

After a crazy fall 2011 that kept me away from cooking and playing with ingredients, I found a weekend to check out what was hiding in my fridge and to experiment.

I tried this two ways: the filling and pasta were the same, but first I tried a tomato/basil sauce. The tomato competes with the delicate sweetness of the ravioli stuffing – I don’t recommend going the tomato sauce route.

Second try: I created a cream sauce with a twist beyond the usual. Instead of loading a cream sauce with a heavy base of parmesan and salt, try a teaspoon of white miso paste into a cup of cream. This sauce rocks! and lets the oniony/sweet potato centrepiece do its job.

As for the filling for the ravioli, I peeled three small sweet potatoes, oiled them, and roasted them for 20 minutes. Once cooled, I pureed the potatoes in a processor with half a cup of rinsed, white kidney beans, a quarter cup of cream cheese, and finished with diced green onion (3 or 4 stalks).

Here’s a video link to my raviolis getting stuffed. I used a Jamie Oliver recipe for the pasta (it’s pretty much just flour and four eggs, but I added a dash of black truffle olive oil).

Stuffing the ravioli

…other than a filling for ravioli, the stuffing makes a great hummus-like dip for veggies or crackers!


Ballotine de poulet redemption

As mentioned before in many of our posts, things don’t always go according to plan around here. Try as we might, disasters are part of the game for the home cook and recipes sure aren’t perfect. Oh the shame of it all. But we buck up right? We dust ourselves off and get back up on the horse. Before throwing it on the grill.

Case in point, the “truck full of jet-fuel crashing into a elementary school” Ballotine de poulet episode from last April. If you didn’t read it, I was at frustration level RED, my hands covered in guts, swearing like crazy while trying to tie up that #$%!@*in’ bird. Terra at my side hiding the sharper implements. Not my best moment but at least the spoils were worth the humiliation of my outbursts.

This time however, it was all Zen man. I went downstairs thinking, don’t get pissed off, concentrate and try to make it work. Debone and tie-up this chicken and enjoy it. And it worked! Wow. It’s like performing a task repeatedly helps you get better. Sounds like Greeting Card crap, but seriously. The tie-up part of the project went nice and easy. None of the stuffing (mushroom and herbs) came out while tying and the final product was pretty and delicious.

And this time we served it with carrots from a recipe in that amazing Joe Beef cookbook. Have I raved enough about that damn book yet? No.

I’m not an angry person in the kitchen. Normally cooking is my way to relax. That particular occasion last year was a lousy experience but I got the message. Try and try harder. It’s also fair to admit there’s still many chickens ahead of me before I replicate Jacques Pépin.

NB. Apologies for our absence so far in 2012. There’s no excuses, we’ve been lame. Happy new year anyway!


Christmas potato and watercress soup

Christmas is all about the food for us. Are we alone here? Not a bloody chance. It seems this year all I’m hearing about are different holiday dinner plans. Course after course of insanity. Turkeys, pork, veal, vegetables, tourtières, desserts, cheeses, breads. Where do you stop? Actually another question would be, where do you start? With soup of course!

Winter screams for big, hot bowls of soup so why not squeeze one into the line up at Christmas time? With just a few ingredients, including a great stock, soup can start off your Yuletide feast and ease everyone into the heavy loads headed to the table. One I make often, that never fails, is a thick potato and watercress soup. Ready in about 25 minutes, it’s hearty and delicious.

Potato and watercress soup

  • 1 lb. – Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks)
  • 1 – Medium sized onion (chopped)
  • 1 – Garlic clove (minced)
  • 1 bunch – Watercress (coarsely chopped)
  • 3 tbsp – Butter
  • 2 tbsp – Olive oil
  • 2 – 3 cups – Chicken stock (or turkey!)
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Heat the oil and 2 tbsp of butter in a pot over medium heat.
  2. Once the butter has stopped sizzling add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Don’t forget to season.
  3. After 5 minutes add the potato and just enough stock to cover.
  4. Bring everything up to the boil and then lower to a simmer.
  5. After 10 minutes throw in the watercress and add more stock to cover. You can use water instead but it won’t be as good.
  6. Cook everything at a simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender.
  7. Once there find a way to blend everything. You could do batches in a counter blender or the hand held type. Make it as smooth or chunky as you prefer.
  8. Return the soup to a light heat and stir in the last tablespoon of butter. Season.

On a normal day you could serve this soup as is but t’is the season. Add some cream for crying out loud! We all know the rest of the meal is going to be rich. One variation I’ve tried is adding celery leaves with the watercress. Another could be a small pile of oyster mushrooms sauteed in butter placed in each bowl. Or pan seared scallops. Anyway you serve it, this soup is a champ.

So that’s it for SixTop in 2011. Thanks for all the comments, likes and tweets. We’re already looking forward to another year of posts, pics and crazy diet restriction experiments. We hope you’ll continue reading. Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!


Pork chops with pumpkin sauce and turnip fries

This was one of those make-it-as-you-go recipes that really turned out well. Trust me, not all do. With no formal culinary training to fall back on, I often find myself crossing my fingers and hoping for the best when spending time in the kitchen. We only post the good ones! Nothing ventured, nothing gained right? Blah blah blah. Here’s a pair of winners.

Pork chops with pumpkin sauce

  • 2 – Pork loin chops
  • 2 tbsp – Butter
  • 2 tbsp – Vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup – Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup – Pumpkin purée
  • Salt & Pepper
  1. Set oven to 350° and put your frying on a medium-high heat.
  2. Pat the chops dry before salt and peppering both sides.
  3. Add the oil and 1 tbsp butter to the pan. Wait until the butter stops foaming.
  4. Gently place the chops in the pan. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes each side to get a nice brown crust.
  5. Put the pan in the oven and let the chops get to about 150° internal temperature.
  6. Once there, remove the pan from the oven and put the chops on a clean plate and cover them with foil.
  7. Drain the fat out of the pan and put it back on the heat. Pour in the cider vinegar. Scrap the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and let them melt. Reduce the cider down about half.
  8. Add the pumpkin purée and whisk. Let the sauce reduce a little.
  9. Add the butter to finish and salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Holding the chops, pour the juice from the plate into the pan.
  11. Plate the chops and spoon on the sauce. Yum!

Turnip fries

  • 2 – Large turnips
  • 1/4 tsp – Thyme (minced)
  • 1 tbsp – Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 tbsp – Maple syrup
  1. Set oven to 350°.
  2. Trim off the turnip ends. Cut the turnips into 1/2″ french fry pieces.
  3. In a bowl toss the fries with the oil, thyme. Salt and pepper them well.
  4. Lay the fries out on a cookie sheet on a piece of foil and chuck ‘em in the oven.
  5. After about 20 minutes they should be browning, take the pan out and turn them over. Pierce them with a fork to check if they’re getting there (read: cooked).
  6. After ten more minutes take the tray out and drizzle the syrup over the fries.
  7. Toss them around. You’ll see the syrup get runny. It should coated them all.
  8. Serve with the chops.

This awesome meal screamed Winter. We washed it down with Chardonnay and a few episodes of Dexter. The chops were tender and went so well with the thick pumpkin sauce. A great pairing. The turnips were the real surprise though. They tasted like turnip but also had that french fry quality which made them even more appetizing. When you’re done shoveling, make this!