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Vol. 3: No. 185 – July 17, 2014

Perfect summer reading – Italy, oranges and lemons

Improbably discovered while perusing the Gardening Section of the Weekend Financial Times, we rushed out to buy this book: The Land Where Lemons grow – The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit. Author, Helena Attlee, is described as an English garden writer and leader of garden tours to Italy (and judging by her photo she looks somewhat the part of an English eccentric).

Don’t bother to read this book if you are not intrigued by the history of oranges and their arrival in Renaissance Italy from India and China. Likewise if the economic history of Southern Italy is not your thing, including how oranges made the mafia all-powerful throughout the world, do not read this book. But if citrus-based stories about the identity and work of the greatest painter of citrus in the world, Bartolomio Bambi, intrigue you, or you want to learn about the amazing role of orthodox rabbis in the annual harvest of citrons in Calabria, who arrive annually to select individual citrons sold at extortionate prices to be faithful for the Sukkoth (the feast of the Tabernacle), than this book may be for you.

You will be charmed by the hand drawn maps showing locations in Italy where each variety of citrus is grown. The commercial varieties are confined to the south because citrus cannot stand up to the cold temperatures of northern Italy. Italians overcame this in Tuscany by building limonaies into which the trees were moved during the cold months. In other northern areas, Attlee describes the extraordinary measures which growers took to protect their trees in the winter, some so labour intensive that the tradition is dying.

The book contains historical recipes using citrus and one restaurant recommendation, Il Mulina in Amalfi, where coincidentally we are off on a walking tour in October. The author also describes the effort to take on Coca Cola by marketing chinotto, a dark soda drink made from bitter oranges grown on the Ligurian coast. While we always liked the taste, particularly of the San Pellegrino chinotto, the venture falls into the category of “what were they thinking trying to out-market Coca Cola?!”

For us, reading this book is the perfect escape for a lazy summer day. More practically, we wonder whether we should switch our Bulgari amenities which we provide at our hotel, The Ivy at Verity, for the L’Occitane samples which are made with a combination of Jasmin and Bergamot from Calabria…

Lessons learned, cottage baking

Last month, we provided a recipe for the cottage using stone ground whole wheat flour available from Fiesta Farms.

Two problems occurred in Georgian Bay. First, we found that after combining the ingredients, we had forgotten to bring the cast iron pot necessary to make the bread. Recall that you cook the bread in the cast iron pot with the lid on to generate the steam necessary to produce the mouth-watering result. So we tried putting a pizza stone in the oven at 500F for 30 minutes before cooking. Then we popped the dough onto the hot stone and covered it with a large hot steel mixing bowl. We cooked the bread for 30 minutes and then removed the bowl to allow the crust to harden for another 5 – 10 minutes. The final result was better than using the cast iron pot. This, we think, was due to the evenness of heat afforded by the pizza stone which also prevented any scorching of the bottom while the light mixing bowl permitted the steaming process to occur. We experimented further by extending the cooking time to 35 minutes before removing the bowl and the result was excellent.

We found in our first result that the bread seemed a little wet or heavy. At our baker’s suggestion we reduced the water added in our recipe by ½ an ounce and the result was considerably improved. This may have been due to a damper environment at our islands.

With necessity being the mother of invention, we will no longer have to lug up our heavy cast iron pot to the Bay this summer.

Hamburger School at the New York Times is open

It’s hamburger time proper and here is a contention: forget your BBQ and use an old fashioned heavy iron pan. See why in this video by Sam Sifton. Note that Sifton says that the most important thing to get right is the fat content of the meat, which he says should be 20%. This happens to be exactly the fat content used by Olliffe in its hamburgers. The video is also a plea to make smaller 3 1/2 – 4 oz diner hamburgers instead of larger 6 -8 oz tavern hamburgers. He demonstrates the different steps to take to get the diner hamburger just right.

Wine School continues in July with Zinfandel

Each month, New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov, invites readers to drink selected wines with their food, record their impressions and review what they learned by reading Asimov’s comments a month later. In June, Rieslings were featured. Asimov reviewed the impressions of his readers, adding his own thoughts in a recent article: The Sweet Surprise of Dry Riesling. In the article, he describes dry Riesling “as a blend of strength and delicacy, finesse and elegance.”

This month, Asimov suggests three Zinfandels suitable to accompany barbeque, each with differing Zinfandel characteristics. He suggests characteristics to consider in your drinking excursion here.

Our Sommelier, Ian Thresher, searched the LCBO listings for three wines similar to the ones Asimov recommended in New York and shared his suggestions:

“I feel bad for Zinfandel. Too many people think it’s pink, fizzy and sweet. We can probably blame Mondavi for that. His 3 liter jugs of it are what made the grape famous and ruined the grape’s reputation at the same time. Real Zinfandel is a dry red wine with dark wild berry fruit, figs and spice. It can be softly textured and plump, or it can be deep and brooding, depending on the region and producer. I prefer Sonoma Zin from Dry Creek or Alexander Valley AVAs. They tend to be drier in style, with marked tannin and acidity. Full bodied but more food friendly than the over alcoholic sweet style. I’ve listed four Zinfandels that I think are the better examples of this Californian gem. The fourth, the 2011 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville is the benchmark. The price reflects it and there are only a few hundred left in the LCBO, but if you can find one, decant for a few hours and you will see the quality. It is truly one of the finest. Here are my picks from the LCBO:

CLINE ANCIENT VINES ZINFANDEL 2012 719211 750 mL: $20.95
CLOS DU VAL ZINFANDEL 2012 590216 750 mL: $24.95
DRY CREEK HERITAGE ZINFANDEL 2010 574491 750 mL: $21.95
RIDGE GEYSERVILLE 2011 723072 750 mL: $52.95”

These are big wines but can be fun to drink if you are in a rowdy mood. Asimov suggests strongly you chill them for 20 minutes prior to opening them.

Summer arrives all at once

Chef Loseto returned from the Ontario Food Terminal saying that although to him, it still does not feel like summer, most of the early summer produce in Ontario has arrived all at once and it looks good. He believes the lack of any real heat this year has meant that Ontario produce may not be a sweet as usual. This particularly applies to Ontario carrots. But the strawberries are sweet and may actually be in better shape than normal because they are not wilting from sitting around in the heat.

This year there have been no crop failures from freezing or flooding. Prices are up in general and the farmers will do better. The Chef bought everything: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, favas, snap peas, snow peas, lettuces and baby radishes which he liked a lot. Red currants have started and he found his favourite Italian cucumbers which he loves. Brought to Canada from Italy by immigrants, these cucumbers are shaped like a grenade and have a superb flavour.

He bought little in the import section excepting California artichokes and apricots, which are not ready in Ontario yet. California prices for artichokes are as high as he can ever remember and the Chef expects Ontario famers to use these prices as a benchmark for their artichokes. He bought Washington cherries which have been superior in the last few years. Then he found an Ontario cherry grower who he remembered picking cherries with as a boy. He naturally bought the Ontario cherries as well but on returning to the George kitchen found to his dismay that once again the Washington cherries were better. So he is preserving the Ontario ones. The best thing, however, is that the Ontario sour cherry crop leads to the best cherry pies. See the latest edition of Bon Appetit if you need a recipe. To mark the beginning of the cherry season, George is introducing a new cherry cocktail, aptly named Ma Cherie. The drink is made with cherry gin by Niagara producer Dillon’s, which uses fresh Ontario cherries. The drink combines this cherry gin, Fever Tree soda water, and is topped with fresh Ontario sour cherries.

ma cherie

Ontario apples, pears and some melons have not started yet.

Porcini wild BC mushrooms are done and the Chef is buying BC morels. He is looking forward to the start of Saskatchewan chanterelles.

The Chef is using the same meats as last month: rack of lamb, sweetbreads, pork and bringing back wagyu beef. He is acquiring whole OceanWise certified harpooned swordfish and whole yellow fin Nova Scotia tuna.


Soft shell crab from Cape Cod is starting as well as Dungeness crab from BC.

At a recent special Austrian food and wine night at George, the apricot strudel was widely acclaimed and the Chef is keeping it on his dinner menu. Also, he has brought back his double baked chocolate souflée with roasted strawberries.

— Le Patron

A monthly online newsletter, Ecclesiastes 3 contains Le Patron’s ruminations on local seasonal food markets as well as speculation on broader global food issues.