Reading & Recipes

Toronto Eats

Tracy Turlin
Written by Tracy Turlin

If you are reading this, congratulations, you’ve survived the holiday season. The halls have been undecked and the last Fa has been la la la’d. The new year came in with a bang and most of my resolutions have gone out with a whimper. There are a few crumbly cookies left in the tin. Essentially, it’s all over but the stretchy pants. A few days after the sugar starts to dissolve from my system, I realize that what I’m really craving now is something savoury and not too complicated (but a little more sophisticated than chocolate reindeer). Most of all, I want something that someone else has cooked.

Author Amy Rosen

I was delighted to find Amy Rosen’s Toronto Eats: 100 Signature Recipes from the City’s Best Restaurants (Figure 1 Publishing; 2017; $37.95). It’s a divine collection of recipes adapted from some of Toronto’s favourite eateries. There’s an introduction to each restaurant written by Rosen, an award winning journalist and food writer. The recipes are accompanied by Ryan Szulc’s stunning photography. You can make these delicious dishes at home or you can go to Toronto and taste them in their place of origin. This year I can have my recipes and eat them too. Happy holidays indeed.

The recipes of Toronto Eats reflect the diversity of the city itself, and range from simple salads to decadent desserts, through everything in between. I find most of the dishes to be wonderfully unfussy. No bacon foams or tomato water, no acquiring new appliances to cook with. Most of these recipes seem like dishes that the chefs might make for themselves after work. Excellent ingredients, beautifully prepared, and made to be enjoyed with friends.

The first picture I saw was of Pecorino Focaccia Bianca from Blackbird Baking Co., and I was instantly hooked. I do enjoy baking but I rarely venture into the more complex breads. I will definitely make an exception for anything with most of a cup of Pecorino Romano cheese on it.

Every so often I decide to try making rabbit, but I never know what to do with it once I get it home. Rabbit with Olives, Honey, and Vinegar from Leña Restaurante intrigued me. Each ingredient in the list made me think, “No, that can’t be right… Wait, that might work… Actually, that would be perfect.” I have spent an hour trying to decide if those things “go” together and I can’t wait to try it. I’m now convinced it will be great. Sweet, sour, hot and salty. You can’t really go wrong with that.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that Maple Sagamite with Vanilla Goat Yogurt and Haskap Jam from Loka was a dessert. I had never heard of sagamite (a type of ground corn) or haskap berries. It looks rich and decadent and pretty much put an end to my ‘no more sweets’ resolution. Oh well, there’s always next year.

The winter is long so, if you just can’t get enough of Toronto Eats, you might try finding a copy of  Rosen’s previous book, Toronto Cooks; 100 Signature Recipes from the City’s Best Restaurants (Figure 1 Publishing; 2014; $37.95). Sadly, it’s now out of print but worth hunting for.

While I’m recovering from the long holiday season, trading my eggnog for herbal tea and waiting out the bad weather days, I’ll also be flipping through both Toronto Eats and Toronto Cooks. Maybe I’ll plan some cooking, or maybe I’ll just plan a trip to the city. I wonder how many of these places I can visit in a weekend?

Recipes are from the book Toronto Eats: 100 Signature Recipes from the City’s Best Restaurants, by Amy Rosen, © 2017. Published by Figure 1 Publishing. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Rabbit with Olives, Honey, and Vinegar

Lena Restaurante

Serves 6–8 

2–3 lbs fresh rabbit, separated into fore quarter, hind quarter, and saddle
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 Tbsp toasted fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 tsp chili flakes 
1 bulb fennel, diced and fronds reserved
1 Spanish onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 rib celery, diced
4 bay leaves 
1/3 cup honey
1 cup mixed olives 
3/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Tbsp good-quality dried oregano 
2 cups good-quality chicken stock
3 cups tomato passata, or good-quality crushed strained tomatoes
Fresh noodles or cooked polenta, to serve

Generously season rabbit with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large casserole dish on medium. Add rabbit, skin-side down, and sear for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip and sear for another 5 to 7 minutes. (Work in batches to avoid overcrowding, if necessary.) Transfer rabbit to a plate and set aside.

Place the casserole dish back on the stovetop, reduce heat to medium-low, and add fennel seeds and chili flakes. Cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add fennel, onions, garlic, celery, and bay leaves, and cook for another 3 minutes. (Add a little more olive oil, if necessary, to help the browning.) Add honey, increase heat to medium-high, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. (You’ll smell the caramel as the honey reduces.) Add olives, stir, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add vinegar, paprika, and oregano and cook for another minute.

Return rabbit to the dish, add chicken stock and passata, and bring to a simmer on medium-low heat. Cook, partially covered, for another 1 1/2 hours. If the ragu looks too soupy, remove the lid and cook until you have the desired consistency. If it’s too dry, add an extra splash of broth, cover, and simmer away. Season with salt and pepper.

Chop reserved fennel fronds and use to finish the rabbit.Serve with fresh noodles or polenta.

Pecorino Focaccia Blanca

Blackbird Baking Co.

Makes 1 (10-inch) focaccia

2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting 
1 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar 
½ tsp instant yeast 
¾ cup grated Pecorino Romano  
1½ cups water 
Olive oil, for greasing
Coarse sea salt
4 Tbsp chopped mixed herbs (e.g., rosemary, parsley, and oregano)

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and Pecorino Romano. Stir well. Add water and mix by hand until combined, then mix for another minute. (The dough will be very wet and sticky.) Lightly oil a large bowl, place dough in it, and cover. Set aside for 9 to 12 hours, until dough has more than doubled in size and is covered with bubbles.

Generously dust a clean work surface with flour and use a bowl scraper (or rubber spatula) to scrape dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using floured hands, gently fold dough from the edges to the centre to make a loose ball. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle sea salt over the surface. Cover and set aside for 1 to 2 hours, until almost doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450°F and place a rack in the middle slot. Place a pizza stone on the rack to warm.

Meanwhile, generously dust a pizza peel or baking sheet with flour and place dough in the middle. Working quickly to prevent dough from sticking to the peel, use your fingers to dimple the dough in an outward motion, making it an even thickness across the peel. Continue until it reaches a 10-inch diameter. Drizzle with olive oil, top with chopped herbs, and sprinkle generously with additional sea salt.

Shake dough onto the baking stone and bake for 20 minutes, or until crust is a deep golden colour. Transfer focaccia to a cooling rack and let sit for a few minutes before cutting.

Maple Sagamite with Vanilla Goat Yogurt and Haskap Jam

Loka

Makes 6 ramekins or 1 (9 x 13-inch) pan

Haskap Jam Ingredients

4 cups haskap berries and residual juice
1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped

Haskap Jam Method

In a large saucepan on medium-high heat, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until reduced by half and jammy.

Vanilla Goat Yogurt Ingredients

2 cups goat yogurt
1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp whipping (35%) cream
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Vanilla Goat Yogurt Method

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well until smooth.

Sagamite Pudding Ingredients

2 cups whipping (35%) cream
2 cups best-quality maple syrup
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sagamite (coarsely ground white corn)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Butter, for greasing

Sagamite Pudding Method

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium saucepan on high heat, combine cream and maple syrup and bring to a boil. Set aside.

Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix at medium speed for 1 minute, until creamy. Add sugar and beat for another minute, until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, combine sagamite, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the bowl of the stand mixer and mix for 1 minute, until a soft dough forms. Divide dough into greased ramekins or baking dish. Divide cream among the ramekins or spread evenly on top of baking dish. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes (add 15 to 20 minutes extra time if baking in a pan), until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the centre.

Serve with whipped goat yogurt and haskap jam or your favourite preserve.

About the author

Tracy Turlin

Tracy Turlin

Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London.
Reach her at tracyturlin@gmail.com.