Local diets begone!

As of November 1st Terra’s all Nova Scotia diet finally came to an end. We decided to celebrate by inviting the gang over for a multi-course, all night Italian feast like no other we’ve hosted. As luck would have it, the selected night also coincided with a visit from our dear friend Adriana Palanca. What a way to welcome back food.

On the big day we had a ton to do. Shopping at the market, booze, dishes and glasses to pick up, lunch and finally a full afternoon in the kitchen. Bliss! Once home Terra made a fresh batch of her expert apple sauce and jarred it up for take-home gifts. In the kitchen Adriana and I made pasta and tomato sauce. With that done there were vegetables to prep, the antipasto platter to build and two chickens to tie-up. I knew the night of food would go late so the invite was for 5pm. I was only setting the table as NickPick and Doug showed.

We kept the food coming steadily trying to leave enough time between courses for wine refills, burps and the hope of digestion. By evening’s end we ate five courses, two less than I would have liked, but for 10 people we did some damage. The true sign of a successful dinner party here is when Doug says he’s so full he’s getting angry. Which he did, and always as he plates more. What a guy. The others were no slouches either. But those who went for more lasagna gasped a bit when I showed off the two chickens and vegetables about to be roasted. They thought the lasagna was the meal. Bwahaha!

The menu:

  • Cannelloni beans and onions marinated in olive oil and wine vinegar on bread
  • Olives and pickled mushrooms
  • Prosciutto and various salumi
  • Pecorino with aged balsamic
  • Olives Ascolane (Fried stuffed olives)
  • Lasagna
  • Roast chickens with sautéed carrots and roast beets with garlic
  • Chad’s homemade pistachio ice cream (killer)

It all went down with help from insults, jokes, Italian beers, champagne, 10 bottles of wine and finally limoncello.

No one would disagree the culinary stars of the night were the stuffed olives and lasagna. Both Palanca inspired and made possible with her awesome help. We even put in a long distance call to Mama in NDG for live tips!

Adriana calls Olives Ascolane “little prayers” and here’s why. Originally from Ascoli Piceno, the recipe calls for each olive to be carefully opened to remove the pit and stuffed with incredibly fine, sautéed ground beef and olive meat. The olive is then reshaped,
rolled in fine bread crumbs and fried. No we didn’t make them! That would be insane. Fourtunetly I happen to have a source that keeps me well stocked. Serve them hot with a lemon wedge to complete the miracle.

The lasagna though, was entirely homemade. We made a seven egg and olive oil pasta
that was light and airy like linen. The thin sheets dried in the dining room for an hour before a quick boil. Together with the tomato sauce, we had 12 gorgeously thin layers, bubbling with cheese after an hour or so in the oven.

By 11pm the chickens hit the table. It had been about an hour break since the last course and with all the wine going around we were ready to eat again. I seem to recall Chad and Shawn saying they were actually hungry. Nice! The closers were bowls of smooth, cool ice cream, made by Chad, which completely hit the spot. A fine ending.

This was easily our best dinner party yet. We celebrated Terra’s will power to eat local for a month and welcomed back to the table what she missed the most; olive oil, salt, pepper, citrus and pasta. Thankfully we had friends on hand willing to endure over seven hours of eating and who still asked for seconds.

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Mamma Palanca’s Tomato Sauce

I would love to take full credit, but I can’t…

In 2004 I moved from Montreal to Halifax. One of my top requests before leaving my Italian neighbourhood and friends was to get a great tomato sauce recipe from a nearest and dearest, Adriana Palanca. She’s a long-time friend from NDG whose mother’s food has made me cry. I mean, this woman makes her own salumi for crying out loud! And it’s divine.

So they gave me the recipe along with an awesome method for pesto, and since the move I have learned to make the sauce with my eyes closed. Recently I’ve come to modify it a bit by adding my own ingredients, but I always respect the main gist of the recipe and the results are awesome.

For the meatballs, Adriana introduced me years ago to Boucherie Tranzo. It’s a small Italian grocery store on Somerled Ave. in NDG and I still shop there with each trip home. Tranzo make their sausages by hand on site, carry all sorts of Italian delicacies and roast a small pig in the shop every Friday. The sandwiches! I’ll buy six to seven pounds of sausage, load them into my luggage, vacuum-seal bags with four to five sausages each, freeze them and that allows for many meatballs for sauce until my next trip.

Mamma Palanca’s Tomato Sauce (My modified version)

  • 3 tbsp Good Olive Oil
  • 3 Garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
  • 2-3 Yellow onions (chopped)
  • ½ Red onion (chopped)
  • Chili flakes
  • 2 Anchovies and some oil
  • 1-2 Celery stalk (chopped)
  • 1 Carrot (chopped)
  • 5-6 Mushrooms (chopped)
  • 1 can Whole tomatoes (the best you can find)
  • 1 can Tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • Water
  1. Heat the olive oil in a pot until it shimmers. Add the onions and let them soften a bit. Add a bit of salt & pepper.
  2. After a few minutes add the garlic and stir. Make a clear spot in the pot and add a pinch of chili flakes. Let them toast a little.
  3. Next, make another clearing and add the anchovies and a little of their oil from the container. Let them melt a bit, you’ll smell them! Stir everything around and then add the chopped celery, carrots and mushrooms. Another touch of salt & pepper and then let everything cook for 3-4 minutes.
  4. While this is happening, open the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Put the tomatoes in a bowl and break off the harder end parts.
  5. Once again, make a big clearing and add the tomato paste. Caramelize the paste for a few minutes. Slowly mix in some of the cooking vegetables into the paste until everything is blended in the pot and is a deep red from the paste.
  6. Now pour in the tomatoes. As to not waste anything, rinse the tomato can with water to about half full. Now use that water to clean out the bowl you had the tomatoes in. Last, pour that water into the pot. Stir things around and get a feel for how thick the sauce is. You may want to add more water or leave it as it is.
  7. Put the heat to almost full to bring to a boil. Add some more salt & pepper and finally the sugar. One last stir and then reduce the heat to low and cover. Stir every so often.
  8. After an hour you can remove the pot from the heat and blend with a hand blender until smooth or leave it chunky.
  9. The sauce is now ready or you can go over the top by adding meatballs and placing it back on the heat from another 45 minutes to an hour. The fat from the sausage will change the flavour of the sauce.

Meatballs

  • 4-5 Italian sausages
  • 3 Garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 Tbsp Fennel seeds
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp Breadcrumbs
  • 1 Egg
  • 1½ cup Flour (Optional)
  • Olive Oil (Optional)
  1. Remove sausage meat from casing and put in bowl. Add garlic, fennel seeds, mustard, breadcrumbs and the egg. Mix together well with your hands.
  2. Roll together meatballs to about the size of a golf ball. From here you can place them into the sauce as listed above.
  3. For more insanity roll the meatballs in the flour, shake off the excess, and fry in the olive oil. Once browned all over, let them drain on a wire rack and then place in the sauce to continue cooking.

Do it!