Fregola with Peas, Ricotta, Pancetta and Mint

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Live long and prosper!

Have you ever wondered what keeps us young? I am approaching a milestone birthday and when I hear the number I just shake my head and say “That cannot be me!”

I still feel the same as I did before my children were born. I am wiser and a little less agile, but I am still that person. I still love music, nature, theater, photography, travel, cooking, family and laughter, as I always have. I can still skate, cycle, walk for miles and keep up with the rest of the family.

We all know that eating well and living an active lifestyle is important. I have also read that a glass of red wine now and again is good for you. So is dark chocolate. All of these facts were proven through research. Researchers spend countless hours studying the affects of lifestyle and diet so we can understand what we need to do to live long and healthy lives.

It really makes me wonder if we know it all when I hear about places like the island of Sardinia. On this wonderful rustic island there are more than 10 times as many people living to over 100 years old, as there are in the U.S. and Canada.

Sardinia is a region of Italy located in the Mediterranean off the west coast of Italy’s mainland. In spite of its prime location, Sardinia remains a culturally isolated place where the locals live a rural lifestyle of hunting, fishing and farming.

Many researchers have visited Sardinia hoping to unlock the secrets of their longevity, while falling in love with the island, the food and the people. The locals enjoy a Mediterranean diet, paired with wine, friends and family. What more could you want?

Fregola (also known as Fregula) is ancient pasta from the island of Sardinia. It resembles Israeli Couscous but has a slightly chewy, almost nutty taste. I recommend using it in soups and salads and mixing it with vegetables for a tasty pasta dinner. It can be purchased in many specialty stores in North America such as Whole Foods and McEwan’s.

This recipe was adapted from the one on the Bon Appetit website. The flavours are well balanced and the ricotta and mint add a freshness to the pasta. I would definitely make this again.

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Fregola With Peas, Ricotta, Pancetta and Mint

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups fregola
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 ounces pancetta cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
Salt and Pepper
1 cup frozen peas or freshly shelled peas
3 sprigs fresh mint
4 oz. ricotta cheese

Directions:

Cook fregola in a large pot of boiling salted water 6-8 minutes. The pasta should be a little firm. Drain pasta, do not rinse.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add wine, bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and simmer. Add the fregola and cook, stirring often, until pasta is al dente and broth has thickened, about 5 minutes.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the peas and cook, stirring often until peas are warmed through, about 2 minutes.

Serve topped with ricotta and fresh mint and drizzle with oil.

Recipe adapted from bonappetit.com

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Skating on the World’s Longest Skating Rink

Photograph by J.S.Swider

Photograph by J.S.Swider

I checked off another box on my bucket last week. I had always wanted to skate the Rideau Canal in our country’s capital city of Ottawa.

With the plan to do this we drove to Ottawa for a long weekend getaway. I had only been to Ottawa in warmer weather so I had never seen the canal frozen and open for skaters. The canal rink is 7.8 km long and is the longest skating rink in the world. Local residents use the canal as a way to commute to work to work on skates while carrying their boots in backpacks.

The canal rink is very well maintained. Every 0.2 km along the route there are signs to tell you where you are and how far you have travelled. Also, every few kilometres there are change huts, washrooms and food concessions where you can buy a hot chocolate or other hot drinks.

The traditional snack along the way are Beaver Tails. Since beavers were declared our national animal in 1975 some clever person decided to make a pastry in the shape of a long flat beaver tail. You can try them with a variety of toppings from sugar and cinnamon to maple and hazelnut. Even though Beaver Tails have become a classic Canadian treat I had never tasted one until this year. I tried one after skating and quickly fell in love. The pastry had a long, thin fried doughnut-like texture that had been topped with cinnamon and sugar. It tasted amazing!

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On our first evening in Ottawa we skated part of the canal to get used to the ice. Afterward we enjoyed a terrific dinner at Maxwell’s Bistro on Elgin St.

The next day we rose early and set out to skate the canal from end to end. I had never skated such a long distance before but the sun was shining, the day was beautiful and I was determined to make it to the end. I was very tired in the last kilometre and had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath but I made it to the end, then we walked all the way back. That afternoon we rested and then ventured out to another local bistro called The Buzz to enjoy a delightful dinner of Steak Frites, Creme Brule and Red wine. I slept like a baby that night.

I hope to go back to Ottawa again soon so I can skate the canal both ways.

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Photograph by J.S. Swider

Photograph by J.S. Swider

After a long day of winter activity I love to enjoy a bowl of hot soup. This Winter Minestrone is from Ina Garten’s new book Foolproof and the recipe is just that.

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Winter Minestrone

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, ½-inch-diced
1½ cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (½-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (½-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2½ cups (½-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1½ tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti (see note)
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
½ cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste.

Serve large shallow bowls of soup. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and serve hot.

NOTE: To cook the pasta, put 1 cup of pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook according to the directions on the package, drain, and set aside.

You can make this soup ahead and reheat it before serving. It will need to be re-seasoned.

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten and also published in Canadian House and Home Magazine

Broccolini with Pancetta, Walnuts and Lemon

I received an e-mail the other day to tell me that my blog has been nominated for a Ninjamatic 2012 Canadian Weblog Award. I want to extend my gratitude to the people who submitted the nomination. I am truly humbled to be nominated along with some of my favourite bloggers in the Food and Drink category.

Writing a blog is a lesson in dedication and perseverance. You are constantly looking for ideas and recipes and food events to feature. I have cooked, baked, photographed and tasted every recipe posted. For me it has been a labour of love. It is really touching to think that others are enjoying my work as much as I have enjoyed creating it.

Since I started Savoury Image I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone in the kitchen. I have to tried baking and more complicated recipes than I would probably have attempted otherwise. This has prompted me to sign up at Toronto’s George Brown College School of Culinary Arts to learn more about the classic techniques of professional cooking. This program is not the Chef’s program but rather the continuing education program for people who want to improve their culinary skills. I can almost relate to how Julia Child must have felt when she set out to better her culinary skills, while living in Paris. It is all about the love of the food! Classes start in January so stay tuned for some tips and tricks.

This recipe comes from a fellow blogger, Katie Quinn Davies who writes a popular blog called What Katie Ate. We had it as a side dish at a dinner and it was a huge hit.

Broccolini with Pancetta, Walnuts and Lemon

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 bunches broccolini, florets and stems separated and ends discarded
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 sliced pancetta, finely diced
1/3 c. walnuts chopped
1 lemon, juiced

Directions:

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the broccolini and cook for 3-4 minutes until tender. Drain and soak in ice water for 30 seconds, drain and pat dry.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add pancetta. Cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until crispy. Add the broccolini and walnuts to the skillet. Add the butter and lemon juice and toss all ingredients to coat well.  Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.

Recipe from What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies

Meatballs for a Rainy Sunday

It is a cool and rainy Sunday morning here in Toronto. Thousands of runners are braving the elements to run in the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon. As much as I enjoy running, I cannot imagine trying a marathon. These committed athletes are making their way around our city while the rain relentlessly beats down on them. They are truly dedicated to their sport.

It is the kind of day when you want to stay in, curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea and some comfort food. A friend told me that we crave comfort food in the fall so that our bodies can store fat for the winter. I plan to feed my craving while working it off later at the indoor ice skating rink.

Yes, I am learning to skate all over again. Last night I donned ice skates for the first time in over 20 years. I was extremely tentative on the ice because I was trying to skate in hockey skates. I learned to skate with figure skates so I kept try to use the pick on the front of my skates but there was none. A sweet little girl came up to me and congratulated me for learning so fast. I was embarrassed because I used to skate quite often as a child. It just goes to show you that you need to practice to be a good athlete. My years of being off of the rink made me skate like a beginner all over again.

I will feed my craving today with one of my favourite comfort foods, homemade meatballs. They don’t have to be served on top of spaghetti to be good. In fact, you can serve them on the side of some vegetables or potatoes or pasta. Any way that you choose to serve them will make a heart warming meal.

Meatballs al Forno

Makes 24 meatballs or 8 servings

Ingredients

¾ cup day-old crustless bread
¼ cup whole milk
1 ½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
½ large yellow Spanish onion, minced
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 extra-large eggs
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tsp. pure ground red pepper flakes
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground veal
6 ½ oz. pancetta, finely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour for dredging
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 quart tomato sauce
1 quart chicken stock
3 dried bay leaves
6 leaves of fresh basil, finely chopped

Directions

Put the day-old bread in a small bowl, pour in the milk, and set aside to soak for about 5 minutes.

Combine the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, onion, parsley, eggs, garlic, ground red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Add the pork, veal and pancetta. Squeeze the bread in your hands to press out the milk, discard the excess milk. Add the bread to the bowl with the other ingredients and use the tips of your fingers to combine the ingredients without overworking them. Divide the meat into 2-ounce portions and roll each portion into a ball.

Pour the flour into a large bowl or another dish convenient for dredging. Dredge the meatballs in the flour, shake off any excess, and place them on a baking sheet. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the meatballs for at least an hour or overnight.

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Pour the live oil into a large Dutch oven or ovenproof skillet and add more if needed to cover the bottom of the pan to ¼ inch deep.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking and slides easily in the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Working in two batches, place the meatballs in a single layer in the pan and sear them until they are lightly browned all over, about 6 minutes.  Be gentle with them when turning so they don’t fall apart.

Remove the meatballs to a plate. Add more oil to the plan and repeat the process for the second batch. Turn off the heat and wipe the oil and browned bits from the pan. Return the meatballs to the pan. Combine the tomato sauce and chicken stock and pour the liquid over the meatballs. You want to make sure the meatballs are submerged but not drowning in the liquid. Add the bay leaves in place the meatballs in the oven to braise for 1 hour. Remove the meatballs from the oven and allow them to rest in the sauce for at least 10 minutes.

The meatballs can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance.

To serve, remove the meatballs to a plate and skim off and discard the fat from the sauce. Spoon a thin layer of sauce on a serving platter, lay the meatballs on top of the sauce. Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the meatballs, sprinkle with basil and serve.

Recipe modified from The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreno