Thursday, October 25, 2012

Braised lamb with buckwheat pasta

                 This dish is about as "comfort food" as it gets. It's like meat & potatoes without the potatoes. It's really simple, but if you make every thing from scratch it's pure love on a plate. With a dish as simple this, fresh pasta noodles make all the difference. I posted the recipe for how to make the buckwheat pasta last month - you can find the recipe here

         This recipe is based on a dish that fellow Top Chef Canada alumni Dusty Gallagher made for me when I visited his restaurant in Toronto. I liked it so much that I've since made it at home a couple times (to rave reviews) so I decided to share the recipe here. Each time, I've braised the lamb specifically with this dish in mind, but this is also something you could make if you just happen to have some leftovers in the fridge that need to get used up. You might want to try my recipe for braised lamb shank first, just so that you can make this pasta with the leftovers. Leftover beef bourguinon makes a killer pasta too.      

                 Because you will be shredding the meat after it's cooked, you can use any cut of lamb that braises well. I bought leg of lamb because that's what happened to be on special at my local supermarket. If you see packages of cubed lamb, those should work perfectly well because chances are they were cut from the shoulder or rump, which are both great cuts for braising. Look for meat that has a good amount of fat and connective tissue left on it because that will melt down and keep the meat tender and juicy.  

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 3 hours Serves 4


250g fresh buckwheat pasta

600g fresh lamb (shoulder, leg or rump)
2 carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
1 large onion, peeled & roughly chopped
1 head garlic
1/2 bunch fresh sage
2 cups red wine
1 tbs corn starch
4 tbs vegetable oil
salt & pepper

Preheat the to 350F

1. Heat 2 tbs vegetable oil on medium heat in a large pot or cast iron dutch oven and sautée the carrots & onions until they are nicely browned. Cut the head of garlic in half and then press the exposed cloves down against the bottom of the pot to brown them a little. Deglaze with 2 tbs red wine. Use a wooded spoon to scrap up any brown bit stuck to the bottom of the pan.

2. While the vegetables are browning, brown the lamb in a separate pan. Generously season the lamb with salt & pepper. Heat 2 tbs of oil in a frying pan on high heat and sear the lamb on all sides until it is nicely browned. Deglaze with 2 tbs red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the meat to the pot with the vegetables. 

3. Add 1/2 of the fresh sage to the pot and the remaining red wine, then add water until all the ingredients are covered. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook at 350F until the lamb is tender and easily breaks apart with a fork, about 3 hours. 

4. When the lamb is ready, stain the cooking liquid into a large frying pan or shallow wide-bottomed pot. Discard the vegetables - their job is done, all their flavour has been infused into the meat and sauce. Place the meat in the frying pan and use a fork or wooden spoon to break up the meat into chunks. Mix 1 tbs corn starch with 2 tbs cold water and then pour the mix into the sauce. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce until the sauce is just thick enough to start coating the meat, about 5 minutes. 

5.   Bring a large amount of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until it is al-dente - 6 minutes for fresh pasta. Strain the noodles and then toss them in the pan with the meat & sauce. Simmer the noodles with the sauce for 1 minute and then serve. Garnish each plate with some freshly chopped sage. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Gratin

         This side dish is a twist on the classic potato gratin, aka scalloped potatoes. I've given the dish little touch of fall by including some butternut squash and sweet potatoes. When it comes to which cheese to use, Gruyere or Parmesan are both good choices, but I decided to go a little off the beaten path and went with Pecorino. Pecorino is similar to Parmesan (it's a firm, aged cheese) but it's made with sheep's milk. It's a little more tangy than Parmesan and goes really well with the squash. If you want an even more flavorful gratin, you can try adding a little sage and/or nutmeg.

Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time 45 minutes. Serves 6


1 butternut squash
1 large sweet potato
2 large Yukon gold Potatos
300ml milk
300ml 35% cream
2 tbs butter
100g pecorino cheese, grated
1 tbs sage, finely chopped (optional)
2 pinches ground nutmeg (optional)
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 375F

1. Peel all the vegetables and then use a spoon to scrape the seeds from the butternut squash. Thinly slice all the vegetables.

2. Use 1 tbs of butter to grease a baking tray deep enough to hold all the vegetables. Place the vegetables down in layers in the baking tray, seasoning with salt & pepper as you go.

3. Combine the milk and cream in a sauce pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in half the cheese and 1 tbs butter. Season with salt & pepper. Add the nutmeg and/or sage (optional.)

4. Pour the cream & milk mixture over the vegetables and then press down with a spatula. Add a bit more cream and milk if necessary to ensure that the vegetable are covered.

5. Cover the tray with aluminum foil and bake in the oven at 375F. After 30 minutes, remove the cover and add the remaining 50g of cheese. Return to the oven and bake uncovered until the vegetables are soft and a knife will pass through the gratin with little or no resistance. For an extra crisp crust, place the gratin under the broiler until the cheese is thoroughly browned.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Spaghetti Squash Soup

              Recently I proclaimed beets my favorite vegetable, but I actually had to think about that for a minute, because at the back of my mind I could hear a little voice crying out: "What about Squaaassshhh?!?" Yes, I do love squash in all of it's marvelous varieties. Right now the markets, vegetable shops and grocery stores are overflowing with all kinds of varieties of squash in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Last week I did a recipe for Cinnamon Chicken with Buttercup Squash. Buttercup squash has a beautiful red-orange colour and a nice buttery texture. Its cousin, the spaghetti squash, has a unique texture all it's own. When perfectly roasted, the flesh of the spaghetti squash with break apart into long strands which make for perfect "noodles" in this tasty soup.

       To compliment and boost the roasted flavour of the squash, I chose to add some roasted red pepper. To roast the peppers, brush them with oil and them roast them in the oven 400F or higher, until the skins are black. Place the roasted peppers in a bowl and then tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap to that the steam they give off will loosen the skin. The charred skin should be easy to then peel off with a knife. Run the peppers under cool water to wash away the remaining bits of skin. To save yourself some time, you could always just buy a jar of roasted red peppers.

      The sausage that I use for this recipe is the French rosette de Lyon. I find this sausage works well because it has a nice deep flavour that will add richness to the broth. Because it's a cured sausage, it will still have a nice chewy texture, even after the soup has been chilled and reheated. Using a cured sausage is also a good choice because you don't need bother with pre-cooking it - just dice it up and chuck it in. You can use any sausage you like. A couple options that come to mind would be an Italian salami with fennel or a Spanish chorizo. The smokiness of chorizo would go really well with the flavour of the roasted red peppers.   


1 spaghetti squash
150g rosette de Lyon, diced
150g roasted red pepper, diced
1 cup onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tbs dried thyme)
2 tbs vegetable oil

Pre-heat oven to 400F

  1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Place the squash skin side up on a greased baking tray and roast in the oven at 400F. Turn the squash after 30 minutes and continue cooking, skin side down, until the flesh of the squash easily breaks apart with a fork - about 15 to 30 minutes more.

  2. While the squash is roasting, start making the broth. Heat 2 tbs of vegetable oil in a medium sized pot and then add the onions. Sautée until the onions are translucent and then add the sliced garlic. Sautée for 1 minute more and then add the chicken stock and fresh thyme.

  3. Use a fork to "spaghettify" the squash. The flesh of the squash should break apart into long strands as you gently pull it out of the skin. Reserve 2 cups of  squash for the soup and set aside the rest for another use. Leftover spaghetti squash will make a nice side dish to any meal when gently warmed with a generous amount of butter.

  4. Add the squash, roasted red pepper & rosette de Lyon to the broth and let simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to marry.