Chef Derek Dammann was a British Columbia boy who travelled to the UK to further his culinary studies. On his last day there he went to Jamie Oliver’s newly opened Fifteen restaurant, ordered lunch, then asked if he could stay to cook dinner service with the British chef. He must have had the right combination of bravado and talent — he cancelled his flight home and spent the next three years at Fifteen. He’s since returned to Canada and opened two restaurants of his own, DNA and Maison Publique.
Writer Chris Johns is one of Canada’s most respected food writers, whose five years spent reviewing restaurants for enRoute magazine took him across the country a handful of times. Photographer Farah Khan did a spectacular job of capturing the beauty of the country and the character of the people they encountered on the journey to produce this book. There’s a nice balance between photos of the food and of the landscapes in which it was prepared.
True North is a refreshing look at the incredible variety of ingredients that are available in Canada. I’ve often remarked that we have a stereotype about our food this country. Watching TV, you could get the idea that Canadians eat nothing but salmon and back bacon with a blueberry/maple syrup chaser. While those ingredients are included in this book, they aren’t the stars of the show. You’ll also find recipes featuring moose tongue, seal meat, wild trout, foraged greens and foie gras.
The chapters in True North are different from the typical “ Appetizers, Meat, Fish” but as you read through, you see that they make all the sense in the world. They take us from one side of the country to the other, visiting fishing boats, farmers and local producers of all kinds. For all the unusual recipes found from the Atlantic to the Pacific, I think my favourite was the section simply called Home. Nothing too outrageous here, just a collection of some of the foods you most want to serve to friends and family on a chilly Sunday. Of course, Chef Dammann has ramped it up in his own way. There’s a complete menu of breakfast recipes that’s too extensive to list here, but is worth checking out for the wow factor alone. I’m not gonna lie, the Blood Cake gave me pause, but who among us has not eaten a hangover breakfast?
At one point, Dammann writes nostalgically about coming home to have a dinner made from the Old El Paso taco kit. Here he includes his own version of it saying, “Since this is a cookbook, it feels like a bad idea to tell you to go out and buy the little yellow box of happiness.” This, from the guy who shows us how to make Caribou Carpaccio.
Some recipes are as simple as the Wild Garlic Pasta, made with three ingredients. Unfortunately, one of those ingredients is really only available in early summer but that should give me enough time to find some. I must try this pasta.
The Devilled Spot Prawns look almost too beautiful to eat. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to assemble and serve it on the fishing boat with fresh caught prawns, it’s worth trying.
True North will make you proud of our country and of all the talented culinary artists in it.
Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London. Reach her at email@example.com
True North by Derek Dammann and Chris Johns © 2015 is published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Food photography by Farah Khan; scenic photography by Farah Khan and Alison Slattery. All rights reserved.
Wild Garlic Pasta
Wild garlic, bear leeks, ramps or whatever hip word they are being called are quite possibly my favourite vegetable. They grow in deciduous woodlands with moist, acidic soil. In Quebec they are a protected species, so there’s a moratorium on picking them and they can’t be used commercially. Individuals are permitted to pick a limited amount for personal consumption. That said, there is a grey area that I’ve been known to tread in. If a person was to selectively pick the leaves and leave the bulb behind, there’d still be plenty of wild garlic growing again next year. I’m just saying. No matter what, people should pick them responsibly and never take an entire patch. Also, pick only the plants with two flat leaves. The third one that grows in the middle will be the flower and eventually go to seed, giving you a new plant to pick next year.
In my opinion, the best way to eat this green pasta is with chopped wild garlic leaves warmed in salted butter and a splash of the pasta water, or with wild garlic purée (see below). A few shavings of a hard goat cheese would be a crowning touch.
Makes 1lb (450 g)
1 cup (250 mL) wild garlic leaves
5 large eggs
3½ cups (875 mL) all-purpose flour
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and have a bowl of salted ice water on standby. Plunge the garlic leaves into the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately transfer them to the ice water. Once cool, drain them and squeeze out any excess water with your hands.
There are two paths to take here:
For evenly green dough (my preference): Coarsely chop the garlic leaves. Crack the eggs into a blender and add the leaves. Purée until you have a smooth, bright green liquid. Give the blender jug a few good taps on the counter to knock some of the air out of the mix.
For speckled green dough: Finely chop the blanched garlic leaves and whisk together with the eggs.
Mound the flour on the counter and make a well in the centre. Add the garlic/egg mixture to the well. Stirring with a fork, begin to incorporate the flour from the sides. Keep pushing the outside edge of the flour to maintain the well shape (don’t worry if it looks messy). When about half of the flour is incorporated, the dough should begin to come together. Start to gently knead the dough with your hands to incorporate the rest of the flour. As soon as the dough comes together in a cohesive mass, scrape up and discard the leftover flour and any dried bits of dough.
Lightly flour the counter and knead the dough for about 10 minutes, dusting lightly with flour if the dough sticks to your hands or the counter. Scrape the counter from time to time, just to make sure any dried bits aren’t being incorporated into the dough. The dough should be smooth and soft and just a touch tacky, but it should no longer be sticking to your hands or the counter. Wrap it in plastic wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling it out.
This dough can be rolled into any pasta shape, whether lasagna noodles, pappardelle (pictured), fettuccine, ravioli—whatever you like.
Wild Garlic Purée
Wild garlic is one of the first things to come up in the spring, but only during a three- or four-week window, depending on the weather. Since the season is so short, I process as much of this delicious, vibrant green purée as I can and freeze it to enjoy the rest of the year.
There’s nothing you could replace this with. Use it to make pasta dough, fold it into aïoli or mix it into softened butter to be rubbed under the skin of a chicken. And this emerald purée looks incredible swirled into a soup. Basically, use this on anything you want to make delicious.
Makes 1½ cups (375 mL)
6 oz (170 g) wild garlic leaves
1 cup (250 mL) vegetable oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and have a bowl of salted ice water on standby. Add half of the leaves and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately transfer them to the ice water. Once cool, drain them and squeeze as much water out of them as you can. Coarsely chop them along with the raw leaves.
If you have a large blender you could do this all in one shot; if not, do it in batches. Place the raw and blanched garlic leaves in the blender with the oil and let it rip until you have a smooth, bright green purée.
Devilled Spot Prawns
This is essentially a ceviche of spot prawns—just the little bit of acid from the lemon and the tomatoes “cook” them. I made this dish right on Frank and Steve’s boat. The prawns were out of the water only as long as it took us to clean them, and their fresh, sweet flavour was phenomenal. You could substitute lobster or wild salmon, but please don’t use those crappy tiger shrimp. Serve this on a beautiful platter outside in the summer and let everyone dig in. The spot prawn garum takes a good six weeks to mature. Substitute Thai fish sauce if you prefer.
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Flaky sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 serrano chili, sliced paper thin
4 lb (1.8 kg) fresh spot prawns, peeled and heads removed
1 Thai bird chili, sliced paper thin
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
2½ cups (625 mL) seeded and chopped really ripe good tomatoes of different varieties, shapes and colours
3 tbsp (45 mL) really good olive oil
3 tbsp (45 mL) torn fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp (30 mL) thinly sliced Italian parsley
2 tbsp (30 mL) finely minced chives
2 tbsp (30 mL) nonpareil capers, rinsed
1 tbsp (15 mL) spot prawn garum (see below)
2 tsp (10 mL) Société-Orignal dried clay pepper (or 1 tsp/5 mL sweet smoked paprika)
Torn fresh chive blossoms and fennel fronds to garnish
Slice the shallot into thin rings and soak in ice water for 10 minutes.
In a bowl, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, jalapeño, salt and pepper to make the dressing.
In a large bowl, combine the prawns, serrano and Thai bird chilies, garlic, tomatoes, oil, mint, parsley, chives, capers, spot prawn garum and clay pepper. Toss with some of the dressing. Adjust the seasoning.
Transfer the salad to a large serving plate in a nice organic layer. Drizzle over the remaining dressing and shower the top with the chive blossoms and fennel fronds. Sprinkle with some flakes of salt and a few twists of pepper.
Spot Prawn Garum
This is a Canadian version of the classic Roman fish sauce. Make sure to use the freshest prawn heads to yield the best results. It is especially good in marinades that will eventually see a charcoal grill.
To make this recipe, you’ll need as many fresh spot prawn heads as you can get your hands on and 11% salt by weight of the heads.
In a nonreactive container, mix the spot prawn heads with the salt. Cover the container with a quadruple layer of cheesecloth and secure it with butcher’s string. Store in a cool, dark place until the mixture smells a little bit worse than death, about 6 weeks.
Carefully decant the mixture through a coffee filter, discarding the solids. (Garum keeps in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 6 months.)