Pillowy puffs of perfection

I have been terribly remiss. And for that I am sorry. I don't even know if Choux Choux Charcuterie is still carrying sheep's milk ricotta (and for a ridiculously low price too). This cheese is soft, fairly moist and just barely crumbly, with a rustic ewe taste. You could eat slabs of it, drizzled with honey, alongside the loads of sunset-and-damsoned summer fruit that we need to stuff ourselves with before Fall takes over entirely.

I would suggest you make gnocchi though. Not the regular, stiff and substantial potato variety. No, this would be an entirely different beast, or maybe I should say angel. Bite through the perfect golden crisp and vanish into a cloud, light, ephemeral. Despite shelling out some pretty pennies for chanterelle mushrooms, and my fiendish love for fresh summer corn, these savoury delicacies stole the show. 

In case you're not sold, I should tell you how ridiculously easy they are to make: Simply mash together most of your ingredients, shape into a log and freeze. When you're ready to eat, slice 'em up, toss them in cornstarch (for extra crisping), introduce them to your gently sizzling pan and minutes later you're done.

What are you waiting for?

Sheep's Milk Ricotta Gnocchi
Adapted from Food & Wine

In the Food & Wine recipe the gnocchi are served with a mushroom and corn ragout. That part was okay - I would have been just as satisfied with a plate of bare, beautiful gnocchi. Thus, I am only giving the recipe for said gnocchi. Serve with them what you will.

1 lb sheep's milk ricotta
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large egg yolks
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Start by clearing room in your freezer, then line a large rimmed baking sheet that will actually fit in there with wax paper. In a large bowl, blend the ricotta with the flour, Parmesan, egg yolks, salt and pepper. You can either construct a makeshift piping bag by spooning the gnocchi dough into a large, sturdy, resealable plastic bag and cutting off a 1/2-inch corner from the bottom, or coax the dough into about five 1-foot-long strips, roughly 3/4-inch wide, with your fingers. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, about 3 hours, or up to 3 days.

When you're ready to proceed, preheat the oven to 275 F. Let the gnocchi dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes then cut the strips into 1-inch lengths. Sprinkle with cornstarch and toss gently to coat.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add half of the gnocchi and cook over high heat until browned on the bottom, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to moderately high. Use a spatula or tongs to turn the gnocchi and brown the other side, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you cook the rest of the gnocchi with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil.

Serve on warm plates with whatever you want. Swoon.

Makes enough gnocchi for 4.


All the tomatoes

This post has been in the works for some time now. Ever since I had my first transcendental tomato of the season. Let me set the scene for you: Patrick, Emily and I had just finished picking boatloads of blueberries and were heading home along Oldfield Road when we decided to stop by Sun Wing Tomatoes. I picked up a few specimens - a handful of cheerful cherry tomatoes, a couple romas and then, on a whim, a variegated green guy. He was unassuming, mottled, a bit mushy in my hand. I didn't expect much. In fact I was otherwise preoccupied with slicing and stirring the latest variation of the tomato-and-bread-soup theme I can't seem to get enough of when I took a nibble and oh lordy. This was Some Tomato. Sharp, with a balanced, if not biting, acidity. It didn't need nothing - no salt, no pepper, no olive oil. 

So ever since then I've been wanting to tell you all about my very favourite tomato sandwich. I fell in love with the recipe even before I tried it, after I read it on Saveur. The author (mysteriously unnamed) admits that this "summer sandwich is kind of a private thing. It's messy - and who wants to own up to using both butter and mayo?" and suggests that "if you're ever home alone one hot afternoon give this a try." When I did just that the result was as transcendent as any first tomato of the season. You can eat this sandwich for breakfast, lunch or supper and, of course, embellish it to your heart's content. I like it pretty simply though, very early in the morning, wearing my blue-striped Canadian Tire pajama shirt with the sleeves rolled up; my arms dangling over the sink; hot, creamy, tomato juice sliding down my fingers.

But I guess it makes me kinda blue, thinking about tomatoes, and how you sure as hell can't grow them like they do where you grew up, against the concrete wall of your house, tethered to sticks with rags. Try as you might, here in Victoria the tomatoes tend to languish in chill winds and just warmish temperatures. And then, maybe it's this going-back-to-school thing, but it feels like this Summer is a closed case, a shut book, already done and over with. It barely feels like it happened though, or even started. The sad truth of the matter is that I wait all year for tomatoes and this year I don't even want to eat them.

But in case you do (and I do hope you do) you won't be disappointed with this:

Tomato Sandwich
Adapted from Saveur, though it's hard to say it better.

It is extremely important that you have tomatoes of exceptional quality here. If you don't, then I suggest you make something else. But, if you do, then oh boy, you are in for a treat. I like to use an all-white bread here (the farmers loaf from Cobs to be specific) but you can use whatever you prefer. The mayonnaise can be homemade or store-bought. I admit that I buy a jar of Hellman's around this time of year just for this purpose. That and potato salad.

1 really ripe, juicy tomato (or a couple smaller guys)
2 fairly thin slices of good bread 
butter, at a spreadable temperature
sea salt and black pepper

Thickly slice the tomato. Toast the bread, butter it, then slather a thick layer of mayonnaise on either side. Lay on several slices of tomato, season with a generous sprinkle of salt, a few good grinds of black pepper and the tiniest pinch of sugar. 

Roll up your sleeves (or just take off your shirt), lean over the sink, and bite through the crisp buttered bread and creamy mayonnaise, and into the sweet taste of summer. Abandon yourself. And let the juice run down your arms.

Serves 1. Perfectly.


Cool relief, part two

It isn't exactly revolutionary hot here in Victoria these days but it is pleasingly warm. I mean, this morning I sat outside in my plaid pajama shorts and ate some oatmeal pancakes with blueberries I had just picked the day before, and it was not bad, no not bad, at all.

But still, you may find yourself in need of a refreshing beverage every once in awhile - something to drink in the deep of late evening or the swelter of midday. Indeed, if you floated on your inflatable turtle in the middle of calm, cool lake all afternoon long and now find your cheeks in a perpetual state of high blush, this is just the ticket. It's delicious and hardly more complicated than pouring a beer into a glass, and did I mention it has a great name? Well, it does.

When you combine beer with carbonated lemonade in the U.K. it's called a Shandy; if you use ginger ale or ginger beer it's called a Shandy Gaff. In South Africa you've got a Rock Shandy, while in France it's a Panaché. Germany is arguably the king of Biermischgetränke (or beer-based mixed drinks) - there's Alsters and Radlers, Potsdamers and Bismarcks. It gets complicated because depending on what kind of beer you use (such as a pilsner or a stout), and what you mix it with (ginger ale, lemonade, coca-cola), and in what proportion, you've got a different drink with its own particular name.

Anyway, what I can tell you is that I drank this and have no plans to stop for those 28 days we've got left in August.

Lemon Lager Top Shandy

I used a pilsner here - Czechvar, to be precise - which I can highly recommend.

12 oz (1 1/2 cups) lager beer, chilled
4 oz (1/2 cup) lemonade, chilled

Pour the beer into a chilled pint glass, top with lemonade and imbibe.

Makes one refreshing drink.


In five minutes flat

So! Couscous. What could be better for this time of year? It takes all of five minutes to cook and tastes fine hot or cold but especially in-between. Bring it camping in the deep, dark woods, to a sand-streaked beach picnic, a summery backyard potluck. It's equally happy to be the star event or wait in the wings. Throw in what you will - mangoes, sausage, dill - it'll shrug, take it in stride and still manage to be effortlessly delicious. (Although, please note, I'm not necessarily suggesting you combine those three ingredients together).

I made a particularly superlative batch about a week ago and, of course, I hardly kept track of how much of this and that I tossed in. (I must be on summer vacation). So, in lieu of a proper recipe, I'll refresh your memory on how easy-peasy couscous is to make, then mention what I used my last go-around. If you are intrigued, try it yourself. Or invent your own combination. Whatever you concoct, will you do me a favour and tell me all about it?

Your Basic Couscous

1 1/4 cups water, or appropriate stock
1 cup couscous

Bring the liquid to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the couscous, slap on a lid, turn off the heat and let sit for five minutes. Once five minutes have elapsed, fluff up the grains using a fork. Transfer to an appropriate dish to mix with your chosen ingredients and a dressing. Toss and enjoy.

Enough for 2 to 4, depending on what goes in, and whether it's a main meal or simply a side dish.

I made a dressing with honey, boysenberry vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I added finely chopped preserved lemon, pitted and halved Moroccan olives, thin slivers of sweet red onion, toasted chunks of almonds, wedges of a juicy, ripe pluot and a good amount of chopped parsley, mint and basil. I ate it with some flatbread, grilled eggplant and creamed feta.