As much as you can carry

End of season visits to the outdoor food market are always a little bitter-sweet for me. I get goosebumps of excitement and pangs of regret in equal parts – why didn’t I come by more often this summer? Gawd look at those strawberries! How is it almost overrrr?! It’s a complicated phase in our relationship; it’s like I’m cramming for an exam on my favourite subject; I feel nervous and happy all at once.

In part, it’s because I’m not very good with endings, even if I know that, in reality, this isn’t an ending in the classic sense. Elegant stalks of rhubarb and asparagus will come back by May; sweet peas and baby zucchini in June; baskets of gemstone-coloured berries and velvet-skinned peaches through July and August. But in that transition between summer and fall, I always get a little panicky, at a loss as to how to maximise the last (real) days of the food market. I end up leaving the house without a recipe or a plan, only to wander around aimlessly between the market stalls with the jittery excitement of a puppy who circles the barbecue, hoping he’ll get tossed a hot-dog. I want all the strawberries, all the cucumbers and melons, and all those gorgeous batches of red romaine and frilly frisée from the grey-haired woman at the centre of the market I call “Madame Laitue”. Because she – like the berries and all other ephemeral summer foodstuffs – will soon pull an eight-month disappearing act.

And, secretly, that makes me a little sad. And a little desperate. So, during my last visit, I binge-shopped my way through the last of the summer produce – pints of berries, a few long striped “snake” cucumbers, bunches of fresh herbs and French radishes, baskets of flat romano beans and cherry tomatoes, and several heads of Madame Laitue’s finest lettuce – again, with no recipe, no plan, spurred on only by a need to get it before it’s all gone.

For good measure, I also picked up nothing less than an obscene amount of basil – four whole stalks worth – because when something’s as beautiful and temporary as this, you throw pragmatism out the window and buy as much as you can carry.

Basil for pesto

So that’s what I did – I bought as much as I could haul home, cradled in one arm, like an enormous pageant-sized bouquet. For $10, It was the best purchase I’d made all week. The people I passed on the street seemed to agree, flashing me smiles and “oh la las” usually reserved for hunks and babes. (don’t underestimate Montrealers’ affinity for good produce.)

There was one old man, though, who seemed totally confounded by what I was holding. He took a seat next to me on the metro, stared at my leafy bouquet for a little while, then coyly asked,

C’est un aromatique ça?

“Oui, c’est du basilic.”

Mais c’est très fort comme odeur, non?”

“Haha, oui, en effet! Mais c’est délicieux! Vous voulez goûter?” (I pull off a leaf for him to try; he declines)

Qu’est-ce que vous allez faire avec tout ça?

“Du pesto, monsieur.”

Mais c’est quoi ça, du pesto?

In that moment I wished I could take him back home with me and make him a batch of pesto; wished I could see the look on his face when he tried it for the first time, swirled into a bowl of warm pasta dressed with parmesan; wished I could show him why, when you see fresh basil at the market, you take home as much as you can carry.

Basil for pesto

Basil Pesto (a riff on mom’s version) – makes about 3 cups of pesto

  • 8 cups basil leaves (stripped from the stalk)
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley
  • 2-3 garlic cloves (adjust to taste)
  • 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 cup pine nuts (optional)


  1. Pine nuts are a nice (and super traditional) addition to pesto. We don’t use them anymore because two of our in-laws have nut allergies (and, also because they’re esspennnsive). But if you can splurge on some, they add great flavour and texture. If using, just add the pinenuts into the processor with the other ingredients (1/2 cup in the first processed batch and another 1/2 cup in the second – see directions below).
  2. In traditional pesto-making, a mortar and pestle are used to mush everything together, but a food processor will work just as well.
  3. Parsley is not something pesto purists would add in, but mom does it and it tastes amazing.
  4. Pesto, like any sauce, is about adjusting and tasting. You can use this recipe as a guide, but trust your tastebuds when it comes to the final result.

Pesto prep


1) In a food processor, chop the garlic. Add half of the basil, parsley and grated parmesan cheese (and 1/2 cup of pinenuts, if using) and pulsate for about 10 seconds.

2) With a spatula, scrape down the sides, put the top of the processor back on. Get your oil ready, turn on the processor and slowly add half the oil through the feed tube, until a paste forms. Season with salt.

3) Repeat with the remaining bail, parsley and parmesan cheese (and 1/2 cup of pinenuts, if using). You may need to remove the first batch of pesto from the processor, if there isn’t enough room; I just did one batch over the other and it worked fine. Taste it and adjust accordingly (add a bit of salt, a bit of oil…)


Notes: to refrigerate, place pesto in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Use within a few days. To freeze, place spoonfuls on a tray lined with parchment paper. Once frozen, wrap individually (or in pairs) in parchment paper and transfer to freezer bags. The pesto will keep for several months in the freezer.


Panzanella and Cucina Povera

Salvaging leftovers – while not the most romantic or esoteric of cooking practices – is the departure point for most of the cooking I do. I suspect the same applies to you. It goes something like this: you come home from work, pop your head into the fridge, do a quick assessment of what’s there, and build a meal around it. Yes? Yes. We might not always be thrilled about cooking what’s hanging out in there, especially after a hectic day, but there is a kind of satisfaction that comes from pulling together random (and sometimes less-than-pretty) ingredients and turning them into a legitimate meal. A leftover chicken carcass; floppy celery tops; speckled bananas; a pint of yoghurt hovering near the expiry date – to the salvager, these are all opportunities in disguise.

For the most part I learnt how to cook with odds and ends by watching my maternal grandparents plug away in the kitchen. (You may have already met them here. Or here. Or even here.) They left their tiny, tight-knit village tucked away in the Apennines in the 1950s, but prior to that, they’d endured their fair share of hardships (the Spanish flu, Second World War rationing, pilferage by foreign soldiers…), which meant that they’d learnt how to make do with very little. By the time they came to Canada, they’d become cucina povera experts. They could pull together meals from seemingly nothing, with an effortlesness that came from years of self-sufficiency. It was a waste-not-want-not approach, as dishes like pasta e fagioli, rapini aglio olio, ribolatta, and polenta were all inexpensive ways of using up pantry items, scraps and leftovers.

The term “poor man’s cooking” might come across as pejorative, but cucina povera – while born of economic necessity – is actually a treasure trove of traditions and regional customs, passed down from one generation to the next. Also, cooking with less doesn’t necessarily mean going without. Nonna often reminds me that – even in the leanest times – they always ate well, by which she means that her family not always had food on the table, but always had good food on the table. A bit of olive oil, some sliced garlic, chili flakes and spaghetti were all that was needed to make a luscious plate of pasta aglio olio; a potato, some leftover cabbage, polenta and a chunk of pancetta made a flavourful bowl of cazzarielli soup; leftover beans, fried up with thin slices of onion and swiss chard, served on a thick piece of toasted bread, and topped with a ladleful of broth made a satisfying lunch. And since all it took was a little water or an extra onion to stretch out a meal, it could feed as many hungry mouths as it needed to, with the leftovers reworked and reinvented the next day to make something altogether new. It’s a testament to how any ingredient – no matter how modest – can be transformed into something delicious and sustaining; it’s also one of truer expressions of Italian arrangiarsi (the art of making something out of nothing) which I think is the ace up the sleeve of many Italian grandparents.

Reworking bread is the other ace up their sleeve.

Bread – that beautiful, humble and most accessible of all ingredients – is an important staple in cucina povera, partly due to the fact that it can easily be reworked once it’s gone stale. The Tuscans make a type of soup with day-old bread, ripe tomatoes, garlic and basil called pappa al pomodoro. Eaten in the shade on a blistering summer’s day, it’s heaven in a bowl. There’s also pan grattato, rustic breadcrumbs made from stale bread, then toasted in oil, herbs, and seasonings (anchovies, lemon zest) and sprinkled over pasta as a replacement for its more expensive counterparts, Parmigiano and pecorinoPanzanella is another way that Italians use up stale bread. It’s essentially a bread salad made with ripe tomatoes, some cucumber, onion, olive oil, a dash of vinegar and a bit of basil. Some will tell you to toast the bread beforehand; some will have you soak the bread in a bit of water to revive it. Others might have mush up the bread and the tomato into a pappa, or pulp, before combining with the other ingredients. But most recipes, regardless of the toast or no toast principle, insist that you mix the pieces of bread with the tomato wedges and allow it all to rest at room temperature for about an hour before serving, so that the juices from the tomato can be absorbed into the bread. This is the one secret behind panzanella: the slow soak. It’s important that the ingredients have time to mellow out together, allowing that ripe, summery tomato flavour to seep into the bread’s crumb and soften it.


Now, before you scroll down any further, know this: the recipe below is not panzanella autentica, but it’s something of a close cousin. Which is why we’re going to call it “panzanella-style” salad. You’ll see that there are a few non-traditional flourishes, including shredded raddichio, some fried chorizo and fresh mozzarella (these last two not being very cucina povera, I might add). But, at the very least, this salad was made in the spirit of “waste not want not”: I had a half-loaf of stale bread, a bunch of fresh basil that needed some freshening up, a nub of chorizo hanging out at the back of the fridge, and a pint of cherry tomatoes ripening on the windowsill. In other words, I made do with what I had.

As it turns out, scouring the fridge often bears rich rewards.

Enjoy, friendlies.


Panzanella-Style Salad with Fresh Mozzarella

  • 1 pint mixed-colour cherry tomatoes, halved (or larger tomatoes cut into quarters)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 small head raddichio, thinly sliced
  • about 1 cup stale bread, cubed
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • about 50g fresh mozzarella, such as mozzarella di bufala*
  • about 50g dried chorizo, diced (optional) – I used this one
  • bunch of fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • good quality olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

*Montreal: there are now producers that make buffalo mozzarella in Quebec; ask your local cheesemonger about it.


1) Set a pan on medium-high heat; add a glug of olive oil. Once it’s hot (but not smoking), add the cubed bread and toast until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.

2) With the leftover oil in the pan, lightly fry the garlic (about 20 seconds), then return the bread to the man and mix to combine. Transfer the bread and garlic into a large bowl. Add the halved (or quartered) tomatoes, sliced basil, diced shallot  and toss to combine. Drizzle some olive oil over the top and add a small splash of red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, give it a final toss and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.

3) Put the pan from before back on medium-high heat. Once hot, add the diced chorizo and fry until slightly crispy (about 3 minutes).

4) Add the sliced raddichio to the bread mixture and mix to combine. Place the mixture on a serving platter. Shread the mozzarella over top, then sprinkle the salad with the fried chorizo and some of its rendered fat. Serve immediately.




A Good Place to Start

My younger brother and I grew up in a large split-level bungalow in the suburbs outside of Montreal. It didn’t have a white picket fence, but it was flanked by tall weeping birches, big swaths of grass and a cherry tree that bore bright red fruit right around mid-July. From the time we were born, until the time we turned eighteen, it was the one and only house we’d ever lived in – the one with the family room fireplace and the secret cedar closet disguised as a bookshelf; the one with the damp-ish basement that always gave us the creeps and the “GARDE AU CHIEN” (Beware of Dog) sign on the garage door, leftover from the previous owner.

A few short years after we’d flown the coop, my parents decided to sell the split-level bungalow for the same reason most empty-nesters do – too much space for too few people. It was a process that I’d been largely removed from, having just moved in with my college boyfriend at the same time that I’d started my first desk job out of university. But we did come back to the house from time to time, for dinners and birthdays and for the occasional dip in the pool. Once the house went on the market, though, it suddenly became a very different place to be in. This space that was once ours would soon belong to another family, with new sets of feet padding the floors, new laughter, new smells. It was an odd thing to consider, but it was something that would float into my thoughts with every visit, when I’d sink my toes into the grey carpet of my old bedroom, or hear the antique clock chime in the dining room with that deep, guttural bong, bong, bong – both familiar and foreboding.

The house stayed on the market for several months. I want to say that it was close to a year, but my recollection of the exact time frame is a bit fuzzy. I do remember there being a pyrite problem that was discovered late in the game, changing the terms of the sale and the balance in negotiations. I remember that it was a year in favour of buyers, not sellers. I remember that the first real estate agent was a total nightmare and that there were times when the sale of the house felt like it would be in perpetual limbo. But I also remember that, throughout the highs and lows of the house-selling process, my mother baked. And baked. And baked. Before every open house, she’d have something sweet rising in the oven – a lemon loaf, a coffee cake, a pan of blueberry muffins. Initally, I thought it was mom just being mom – the ultimate hostess – but as it tuns out, her objective was a strategic one: by filling the house with the warm aroma of baked goods, the prospective buyers would – at least subconsciously – feel at home.

It was quite the trick.

The house did eventually sell – to a young family with two kids, a boy and a girl, mirroring our own family unit of four. And while there’s no way of knowing if their choice was influenced by the scent of buttered scones or a batch of oatmeal cookies crisping up in the oven, I suspect it couldn’t have hurt.


All this came to mind a couple of weeks ago, when I was staring slack-jawed at all the boxes on the floor of our new apartment, overcome by that uneasy, post-move feeling where no place feels like home. I knew that if I was going to wrap my head (and my heart) around this new space, I had to take a cue from my mother and – for lack of a better word – “trick” myself into making it feel like home. And so, one quiet evening after work, I plunked my purse onto the floor, flipped on the radio, threw on an apron, and started fiddling in the cupboard for some flour, sugar, walnuts and dried figs – the few ingredients that had made the trip from the old apartment. I also happened to have a giant zucchini on hand, recently excavated from Sophie‘s garden. So I shredded that up and tossed it into a bowl with a couple of eggs, some yogurt and brown sugar. The batter was stirred together and scooped into a greased loaf pan, then slid into the oven, where it baked low and slow for the better part of an hour. As the apartment gradually filled with the heady scent of sugar caramelising in the oven, things started to feel a little more familiar and a little less alien. Having something ticking away in the oven made everything inside these four walls feel more like home. My home. Our home.

There might still be dozens of books on the dining room floor and old wine-boxes filled with miscellaneous cooking gear. But we’re getting there. And the kitchen turned out to be a good place to start.

Fig Zucchini Walnut Bread

Fig Zucchini Walnut Bread (makes 1 loaf) – slightly adapted from A Brown Table


    • 1 lb zucchini
    • 1 cup dried figs, chopped
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1/4 cup minus 1 tablespoon olive oil*
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
    • 4 1/4 ounces all-purpose flour
    • 4 1/4 ounces whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger powder
    • 1/8 tsp nutmeg (optional)
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    • 6 whole figs dried, thinly sliced across their length

*1 tablespoon olive oil + a little all-purpose flour for coating the loaf pan


1) Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Coat a 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan with a little oil and dust with a little flour.

2) Trim the ends off the zucchini and grate them into fine shreds. Transfer the zucchini into a larger strainer lined with cheesecloth or muslin (or, my personal favourite – a Du-Rag!). Bring the ends of the cheesecloth together and squeeze the zucchini to release as much as liquid as possible. Discard the liquid (or freeze in an ice-cube tray for later use in a vegetable stock) and place the shredded zucchini in a large mixing bowl.

039 Fig Zucchini Walnut Bread

3) Add the chopped dried figs to the zucchini along with the eggs, oil, vanilla, sugar and yogurt. Mix with a wooden spoon until combined.

Fig Zucchini Walnut Bread Fig Zucchini Walnut Bread

4) In a separate bowl, whisk the flours, ginger powder, nutmeg, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Gradually combine the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Fold the walnuts into the batter and then transfer the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Place the thinly sliced whole figs in a single center row on top of the batter in the pan.

Fig Zucchini Walnut Bread Fig Zucchini Walnut Bread

5) Bake for about 45-50 minutes, rotating once during the baking process. To test for doneness, stick a knife in the centre – if it comes out clean (with a few crumbs), it’s done. Allow the bread to cool for 10 minutes in the pan and the run the edges of a knife around the cake. Remove and allow the bread to cool on a wire rack. Keeps for 3-4 days at room temperature.

Fig Zucchini Walnut BreadFig Zucchini Walnut Bread

Box Brain

This is a photo of the apartment that I’ve just moved out of, back when I had just moved in and went on a plastering-slash-painting rampage, one week after dislocating my shoulder for the fifth (and thankfully, last time). While the photo is now four years old, I feel that it perfectly encapsulates pre and post-moving day syndrome.

I get tired just looking at it.


We’ve all been through it at some point – you’ve spent the last several weeks organizing, emailing, calling, visiting, meeting landlords, future and previous tenants, exchanging keys, scheduling, rescheduling, cancelling, reactivating, booking, renting, selling, packing, and orchestrating all the logistics of moving the contents of one apartment to another, all while your bank account haemorrhages from all the inevitable (and surprise! we want more money from you!) expenses that rear their ugly head right around move time. You’re happy to be leaving your current apartment, but your sense of space and belonging is temporarily in limbo as you sink into your new surroundings – the neighbourhood, the people, the commute, the way the new apartment smells like someone else, an unfamiliar space that is now monopolized by dingy cardboard boxes that have taken up residency over every square inch of the floor. All of it feels alien. And exhausting. And endless.

At least for now.

I still feel as though my brain is packed away in one of the unmarked boxes in the far corner of the room. I’m also still trying to come to terms with how small the new fridge is and the fact that there are no drawers in the kitchen, leaving me to keep all the utensils in the box they were packed in. On the floor. Because that’s where everything else seems to be.

So, until I find my brain and my bearings (and regain at-home Internet service), I’ll be over here riding out this ultra-wholesome diet of pizza, chips and take-out.

Be back soon. x

For Dad

Dad, thank you for –

Being the one who taught me how to drive, how to deal with a fusebox and how to trim and paint a room like a pro. And for (still) answering my questions about pest control, caulking, household electricity, bathroom plumbing and any other technical issue I throw your way.

Climbing up trees and onto the roof for those crazy, night-time snowball fights we had when we were kids. (and thank you for teaching me how to craft the perfect snowball so that I stood a chance against my brother and boy cousins.)

Being a total goof.

Building that castle tree-house in the back yard. That thing was insane. I still can’t believe you built it.

All those painstaking hours of pool maintenance so that we could swim all summer long.

Getting us that stupid cat we’d always wanted, even though (unbeknownst to us) you were allergic.

All those teeny-tiny notes in miniature handwriting that you’d leave under our pillow, from The Tooth Fairy, and for the sooty footprints you’d leave by the fireplace to prove that Santa Claus had really been there.

Singing songs to us at bedtime, as The Swedish Chef.

Keeping that enormous collection of National Geographic magazines in the family room, at kid-level, so that we could look at them whenever we wanted.

Answering all of my why-is-the-sky-blue nature and science questions, before the Internet was invented.

Bringing me back all those Archie comics from your business trips to the States.

Barbecuing us dinner through the Ice Storm of ’98.

Teaching me how to make stollen.

Making your own wine and beer, before it was cool.

Happily taking all the black and yellow candies and the burnt toast that we pawned off on you.

Making me brush my teeth, even when I didn’t want to.

Helping me through those long hours of math homework, when all I wanted to do was tear my hair out and cry.

Not disowning me when I was going through the hormonal roller coaster that is l’adolescence au féminin.

Helping me move from one apartment to the next, not once, not twice, but FIVE times, without complaining once, despite the fact that summer moves are always hot and sweaty and downright miserable.

Being one of the first people to comment on this blog and for rooting me on along the way.

Most of all, thank you for your patience and unconditional support. Neither goes unnoticed. I’m lucky to have a dad that’s always there for me, no matter what.

Happy Father’s Day, dad. Love you with all my heart. x


My Kind of Food

I first heard of Yotam Ottolenghi about four years ago, at an all-ladies, vegetarian dinner party (I know that that reads like “armpit hair-kombucha-patchouli party”, but truly it wasn’t). Anyway, I got there after a long day at work and an interminable commute, so I said my introductory hellos fairly quickly and made a beeline for the appetizer table, zeroing in on a bowl of dip nestled in a ring of pita chips. Not one to ever refuse a chip, I dunked one into the hummus-y looking mush and raised it to my mouth, not expecting much in return (because, seriously, how many times have you had ho-hum hummus?). But instead, I got sucker-punched by something altogether different – a mix of tangy and sweet, bitter and earthy, creamy and light. I never thought I could get excited about dip, but this thing was a revelation. Omagah wha iv dis schtuff? I asked my host, mouth full, with a second chip already submerged in the dip bowl. Have you heard of this cookbook called Plenty?, she asked. By Ottolenghi? I shook my head no. She found the cookbook and flipped through it until she came to the recipe for Burnt Aubergine with Tahini. This is what you’re eating. Isn’t it great?

That would mark the beginning of my love affair with Ottolenghi, now four years strong.

It’s rare that I want to cook all of the recipes in a cookbook (in fact, I collect more cookbooks than I actually use), but when I flip through my copies of JerusalemPlenty, and Plenty More, they’re bookmarked with so many Post-Its they look like fringed piñatas, ready to burst. They are, without a doubt, some of my most reliable, well-thumbed kitchen companions. Recent Ottolenghi discoveries include honey-roasted carrots with tahini yogurt, grilled lettuce with farro and lemon, urad dal with coconut and cilantro, brussel sprouts with caramelised garlic and lemon peel, and alphonso mango and curried chickpea salad (which I actually just made last night and completely demolished in one sitting).

Through his cookbooks, I’ve learnt how delicate plays on flavour – like adding za’atar or sumac to roast chicken, or lime zest to a salad – can elevate a dish without overwhelming it. He strikes that tricky balance between what’s familiar and novel, what’s subtle and bold. Nothing in his cooking is explicitly for show. There are no obvious fireworks; no molecular gastronomy on display. Just well-balanced, unfussy, honest food that is delicious and gorgeous and can be made easily with your own two hands.

In short, my kind of food.


It should be no surprise then, that the day I came home with a bag full of fresh fava beans from the market, Ottolenghi would be the first source I turned to for inspiration.

As usual, the man did not disappoint.

This salad is great on its own, but would also pair up nicely with a piece of fish. Don’t skip the lime zest – that subtle pop of citrus is what makes this salad what it is.

Fava beans

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Herbed Rice Salad with Fava Beans and Pistachios – serves 6 as a side


  • ½ cup wild rice
  • salt
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 dried Iranian lime (optional)
  • 1 cup fresh shelled fava beans (from about 1 pound of pods)
  • ½ cup chopped dill
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup unsalted, raw pistachios
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp finely grated lime zest


1) Cook wild rice in a medium pot of boiling salted water until tender and grains start to split, 35–40 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

2) Meanwhile, combine basmati rice, lime, if using, and 1 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Cover; let sit until water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Let cool and discard lime.

3) Cook the shelled fava beans in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. Drain again and peel them, by “pinching” the opaque, light green skins between your fingers until the bright green beans pop out.

Fava beans Fava beans Fava beans Fava beans Fava beans Fava beans

4) Toss wild rice, basmati rice, dill, parsley, pistachios, oil, lemon zest and juice, lime powder, and fava beans in a large bowl. Season with salt and serve.

Note: Fava beans can be cooked and peeled 2 days ahead; cover and chill. Wild and basmati rice can be cooked 2 days ahead; cover and chill.

fava rice salad fava rice salad

Breaking Bread

Homemade bread.

I’ve been a total wimp when it’s come to those two words. As much as I like cooking, I’ve carefully avoided breadmaking for years, mostly for fear that it’s a labour-intensive process requiring special types of flour, fancy fresh yeast, elaborate kneading and expensive pieces of machinery, like electric bread makers and large mixers with paddle attachments. And that would just be to get the starter dough going. After that, there’d the issue of rising: Does it have to rise in a low heat oven? What if I don’t have a bread-proof setting on my oven? What if I kill the yeast? How will I know if I’ve killed the yeast? And so on and so forth.

Despite all this, I somehow own three cookbooks on bread – including Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads, Soups and Stews, a hefty tome that has sat on the shelf undisturbed, for four whole winters now. I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to bread, a place where I’ve been quietly stockpiling all sorts of recipes for leavened dough – from densely-flavoured sourdough to crackly baguette to Japanese milk toast – none of which I’ve actually made. But, despite my trepidation, I’m clearly interested in bread – the traditions, the techniques, the delicate alchemy that allows a sticky mass to transform into something crispy and chewy and ethereally light, all at once. It’s a magical beast. The unicorn of food. I’ve just been too timid to get close to it.

Then one day, out of nowhere, I decided to just effing do it already. It happened when I was making lunch with my mom over a long weekend this May:

Me: So, what if I made bread today?
Mom: Yeah, sure. If you want something easy, you should try that no-knead one Mark Bitterman did for the New York Times.
Me: You mean Mark Bittman?
Mom: Yeah, yeah…him. Anyways, it’s so easy. Seriously. There’s a video too. (she finds me the video online). Here, watch it. It’s all there. It’s super simple, you’ll see.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this no-knead recipe. My mom’s been a big proponent of it for years. It’s a version of the old European clay-pot method, modernised by baker Jim Lahey, of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan, and then popularised by Mark Bittman when he did a piece on it for The New York Times. In the video, Lahey walks us through his recipe, step by step, starting with the introductory promise that it’s so incredibly easy, “even a six year-old” (“or a four-year old!”) can make it.

With that bold endorsement in mind, I figured that if any recipe was going to help me cross the threshold into breadmaking, this would be it. The simplicity of Lahey’s recipe is what ultimately sold me. You don’t need to muck around with special bread flour or proofing or extraneous kneading, nor do you need an expensive mixer or a professional oven. All you need is –

your two hands

That, and a screaming-hot cast-iron Dutch oven. The cast-iron is an important part of the alchemy in this bread recipe, creating just the right amount of steam to get an airy interior and a crisp exterior. The idea is you set the pot in a 500ºF oven until it reaches temp, then toss in your dough (cover on for a bit, then cover off) and bake on high heat until the bread becomes crackly and lightly caramelised on the outside. Cast-iron pots retain heat extremely well, mimicking the qualities of a stone oven and a steam-injected oven at the same time. So, whether you’re a six year-old, or a four year-old (or even a monkey), the cast-iron pot will help your first attempt at bread look like this:

baked miche

It’s seriously one of the easiest things you’ll ever make. And when you’re cracking into that first piece of freshly baked bread, straight from your oven, you’ll be so happy you made a go of it.

Happy baking, friendlies x


Notes on the recipe:

  • the dough needs at least 12 hours for the first rise, then another 2 hours for the second rise. Start the night before and let it rise overnight. The longer you let the dough rise (min. 12 hours, max 24 hours), the more flavourful it will become.
  • when my mom discovered this recipe, she quickly starting making her own adaptations, one of which resulted in a drop-dead gorgeous focaccia recipe. All you need to is add a bit of olive oil to the dough and stretch it out on a pizza pan for baking. (I’ve included her recipe for a cherry tomato version below). If you decide to make both the bread and the focaccia, just double the dough recipe.

Note on Dutch ovens: if you don’t already have one, it’s an insanely useful kitchen tool have. They’re especially practical in the winter – to make soups, stews, curries – but are a must-have for this bread recipe. If you’re worried about the financial commitment, remember that you don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line models (the ones that can go for upwards of $350 a pop); I got a Lagostina version on sale at Canadian Tire for $90 and it works like a charm. They usually come with a 10 or 25-year (and sometimes, lifetime) guarantee, so they’re in it for the long haul. Just make sure that you get one with a 500ºF-resistant metal knob on the cover so that you can make your bread (the ones that come with a hard plastic knob are no bueno).

Jim Lahey’s No-knead Bread – makes one white miche


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp dry yeast (like Fleischmann’s)
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cup water

Crucial kitchen tool: cast-iron Dutch oven



1) In a mixing bowl combine the flour, yeast and salt and blend with a whisk.

2) Pour in 1 1/2 cup of water and mix with a wooden spoon. Scrape any excess flour from the bottom and sides of the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well incorporated and form into a ball. The dough will have a stringy texture.

3) Place a piece of plastic wrap on the bowl to avoid the dough from drying out. Allow to rise in a warm dry, and draft free place for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. (I left mine at room-temperature on the counter-top overnight.)


1) Dust a large piece of parchment paper, measuring about 24 inches with flour to prevent the dough from sticking during its second rising. Scrape the risen dough onto the floured parchment paper.

2) Sprinkle some flour on the dough and on your hand to prevent sticking. Lightly pat down the dough with your hands to form a piece measuring approximately 10 x 10 inches.

3) Fold one side to the centre; then fold the other side to meet the edge of the first side, like a book (see images below). Take the top edge and fold to the centre; take the bottom edge and fold to meet the top edge.

4) Turn the dough and place the folded side of the dough on the parchment paper and dust with flour to prevent sticking. Loosely wrap the dough in the parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel. Transfer to a warm and dry place and allow to rise a second time (2 hours).


1) Place the cast iron Dutch oven with its cover, on the second rack from the bottom of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500ºF.  Dust the smooth side of the risen dough with flour to prevent it from sticking to the bottom while baking.

2) Once the oven reaches the required temperature.  Remove the pot from the oven and take the cover off. Place the dough, folded side up into the pot and cover. Bake for 30 minutes at 500ºF.

3) Remove the cover, reduce the heat to 450º F and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes until the crust becomes golden brown. To check if the bread is cooked, remove the loaf from the pot and tap the bottom with a knife – if it sounds hollow, the bread should be done. Cool on a baking rack.

baked miche

baked miche - detail

baked miche

baked miche

baked miche - section


Tomato Focaccia

Mom’s Cherry Tomato Focaccia – makes one 12″ pie

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus a little more for the topping)
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup sliced bocconcini or cubed mozzarella
  • salt flakes and freshly ground pepper (to taste)

1) Follow the directions for bread in the recipe above, adding 3 Tbsp of olive oil to the dough when you add the water.

2) After the first rise (see directions above), transfer the dough to a greased and floured 12″ pizza tray. Dust the dough lightly with flour, and with your hands spread out to the edges of the pizza pan. Place in a draft-free place to allow to rise a second time (2 hours).

3) While the dough is rising, prepare the topping by adding the prepared tomatoes in a bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil, the Parmigiano Reggiano, bocconcini (or mozzarella), minced garlic, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper.

Tomato Focaccia

4) Once the dough has risen a second time (after 2 hours), preheat the oven to 500º F. Spread the tomato mixture gently over the focaccia dough and bake at 500º F for 15-20 minutes.

Tomato Focaccia

Tomato Focaccia - detail

Tomato Focaccia

Tomato Focaccia - detail

Getting to Cake

Blueberry-lined cake tin

I’ve fixated on these photos and this blank page for longer than I’m proud to admit. It’s been an uncomfortable dance – coming back to the page at least a half dozen times, starting, stopping, flipping sentences, deleting whole paragraphs, trying the whole thing over from scratch. At one point, I even poured myself a glass of bourbon, thinking that if nothing else was helping, it might. (It didn’t. I got heartburn instead). At that point, I started wishing I had a typewriter – not because I thought it would solve my writing issues, but because I fantasized about ripping the page from the machine’s roller, crumpling it into a ball, and tossing it unceremoniously into the trash can, along with my frustrations. A bit of visceral, paper-crunching therapy would be nice right now. Somehow, pressing down aggressively on the backspace button isn’t half as satisfying. But, this is real life, not a smoky film noir, so I’ll have to content myself with the sticky backspace button on my I’m-old-and-I-almost-died-but-haha-I’m-not-dead-yet-so-you’re-still-stuck-with-me-you-cheap-bastard! laptop. My only solace is knowing that we’re this much closer to getting to cake. Just a few more words and we’re there…

In the simplest of terms, what I’d like to tell you about this cake is this:

1) It’s drop-dead delicious
2) It’s absurdly easy to make
3) Everyone who tastes it, without fault, will ask for seconds (or thirds, depending)

I think these three points form a pretty solid endorsement, especially when it comes to baked sweets, which often get a bad rap for being fussy. It’s a fail-proof, fool-proof dessert, capable of making anybody’s palate swoon. The batter bakes up fluffy and light, and the blueberries become nice and syrupy, crowning the top in a smooth, indigo-tinged layer. You’ll be grateful to know about this cake the moment you get invited to a last-minute dinner party, or picnic, or office gathering, and you’re asked to bring the dessert!! when really you were hoping they’d ask you to bring the wine and cheese. It’s a cake that comes together really quickly and without much mess, whether you’re a dessert-making novice or a baking pro who’s just feeling a little lazy that day. Once you lay that beautiful thing in front of your dining companions, the pieces will glide effortlessly, one by one, off the serving plate until all that’s left are a smattering of crumbs, blue-tinged lips and happy bellies.


Quick note on the recipe: I’m still using frozen blueberries right now, since we’re not in blueberry season in Quebec yet, but the recipe works with either – fresh or frozen. It’s entirely up to you.

Quick note on the pictures: for the final result, you’ll have to use your imagination – the cake got flipped, berry-side up, onto a serving plate much later in the day and the camera wasn’t nearby. Which is ok, because darting for the camera might have ruined the moment. To give you an idea, it will more or less look like this. When you flip the cake, remember to be bold – lay a serving plate on top of the pan, keep one hand on the plate and one hand on the bottom of the cake pan, and flip, confidently and swiftly, in one go. If you’re worried about the berries sticking to the bottom of the pan, don’t fret – the butter at the bottom of the pan will ensure that the cake slips out of the pan without incident.

Now go forth and make cake!

Blueberry Upside Down Cake – adapted from Canadian Living Magazine

  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • ¾ cup milk

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2) In 9-inch square cake pan, combine melted butter and brown sugar; spread evenly on bottom. Spread blueberries evenly over top. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

3) Cream butter; gradually add sugar, beating until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. Sift or mix together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon if using. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk to creamed mixture.

4) Spread batter evenly over blueberry layer.

Spreading the batter

Batter spread

Batter - detail

5) Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn out on to large flat plate.

Baked cake

Baked cake - detail

Sustenance Salads

In looking back at the last few recipes I’ve left you with (pasta! polenta! caaaaake!!!), you might start to think it’s been a debaucherous carb-fest 24/7 over here. It is sometimes, but not always. Like most people, we eat salads from time to time too. Even sans croutons! Imagine!

I think it’s safe to say that knowing how to assemble a good salad – or better yet, and handful of good salads – is an essential part of the home cook’s repertoire. That said, the salads most of us toss together are made without a recipe (as they probably should be), which is why I hesitate to call these ones “recipes”. Think of them more like sources of inspiration you can call upon when you find yourself stuck in a salad rut (mixed greens, olive oil, vinegar, repeat) and you’re in need of something with a little more oumf.

With winter not far behind us (lest we forget that almost exactly one week ago, a flurry of snowflakes blew through Montreal), I still haven’t entered wispy, summery salad-making mode. The salads I’ve been making lately aren’t decked out in frilly sprouts or edible flowers. At least not yet. Right now, I’m still making salads with a bit of brawn, ones that can sustain me through the afternoon without the need to reach for a bag of chips from the vending machine at 3pm. Come to think of it, these salads – real sustenance salads – are good in any season. My standby trio of ingredients includes lentils (Puy are great in salads), toasted grains and/or some vegetable that’s been roasted or tossed in raw. Every once and a while, some flaked tuna might make an appearance; sometimes there’s a little radish or arugula to lighten things up. But ultimately the bones are the same – legume (lentils, beans, chickpeas), grain (farro, quinoa, couscous, brown rice), veg (whatever is in the fridge), the whole thing tossed with an improvised vinaigrette, and wham, bam, thank you M’am, you’ve got yourself a capital-S Salad.

Below you’ll find two of my new favourites. They’re a couple of good ones to have in your back pocket for quick lunches and (soon! very soon!) picnics:

Salad #1 – brought to you by the 5lb bag of carrots and 3lb bag of beets I’ve been slowly chipping away at over the last couple of weeks. Buying produce in bulk, on sale, always seems like a good idea until it doesn’t. After a week of carrot cake and carrot curry and carrot slaw, you start running out of ideas. And then you enter into dicey territory – should I pickle the rest? Can I make a facial mask with carrots? Can I dye teatowels in beet juice? Maybe my neighbours want beets? To everyone’s benefit, this salad came along instead, helping to make a nice dent in the stockpile. Everything goes in raw – carrot, beet, citrus, herbs – then you toast some pumpkin seeds in tamari and oil and throw those on top for an earthy, salty crunch, along with a sweet and sour dressing. It’s an electric pink bowl of crunchy vegetables and juicy fruit segments, closely resembling a large bowl of confetti. If this salad were a party, it’d be the one where all the fun people were invited and there was an open bar.

Salad #2 – this one is more or less an Ottolenghi-inspired concoction: lots of crispy raw fennel, yellow beets and cucumber are combined with tender mixed greens (frisée, raddichio, watercress, mint) and topped with parsley-studded Puy lentils, pistachios and a drizzle of tahini vinaigrette. That dressing – as simple as it is – is a revelation. You’ll want to put it on everything.

Before you get started, remember that you can riff on these recipes as much as you like. Salads are extremely forgiving; there’s always a little wiggle room. Don’t have an orange? Use a grapefruit. Don’t have apple cider vinegar? Swap it for some white or red wine vinegar. Make use of whatever’s already in your fridge, pantry and garden. Salads are all about colour and contrast, texture and depth of flavour. Find a balance between those things and, man, you’re in business.

Ruby Red Beet & Carrot Salad

Ruby Red Beet and Carrot Salad with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (adapted from The Food Federation) – serves 4-6 as a side

  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 beetroot, grated
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange (or grapefruit), segmented
  • a small bunch of coriander or flat leaf parsley(or a combination)
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp tamari (or soy sauce)
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds

For the dressing:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

To assemble:

1) Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

2) Heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Toss the seeds with the oil and tamari and toast in the hot pan. Toss frequently until they are crispy and a dark brown colour. (nuts and seeds burn quickly, so keep an eye on them while they toast)

3) Place all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add the seeds and the dressing and toss to combine.


Lentil Tahini Salad with Shaved Fennel – serves 4 as a light meal

For the lentils:

  • 2 cups cooked Puy lentils (The Kitchn has good tips on cooking lentils here)
  • small handful of parsley, washed and chopped
  • lemon juice, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the salad:

  • 3-4 cups of mixed salad greens* (frisée, raddichio, watercress, arugula, romaine, and/or mesclun), washed and torn
  • 1 English or garden cucumber, sliced into thin long strips
  • 1 medium yellow beet, peeled and thinly sliced
  • half a fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh mint, washed and torn
  • ¼ cup toasted pistachios
  • nigella seeds, basil seeds, or black sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

For the dressing:

  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs tahini paste

To assemble:

1) Combine the cooked lentils with the chopped parsley; season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Mix and set aside.

2) Combine dressing ingredients; whisk together and set aside.

3) Arrange the salad ingredients on a serving platter, layering as you go along – mixed greens and mint first, then beets, cucumber, and fennel. Add the seasoned lentils on top. Sprinkle with toasted pistachios and seeds (if using). Give the dressing another whisk and drizzle on top. Serve any remaining dressing alongside.

Chopped Parsley

Ingredients - Lentil Tahini Salad

Lentils with Parsley

Lentil Tahini Salad with Fennel

The Real Deal

In the early days of university when I was dating my first boyfriend (three cheers for the late-bloomer!), we used to have our date nights at this bring-your-own wine joint called Eduardo’s. The place was (and still is) a frumpy little hole-in-the-wall on Montreal’s Duluth street, outfitted with the usual harbingers of bad Italian dining: red and white checkered tablecloths, droopy pothos plants, and a menu longer than your arm, with few dishes that would ever come close to anything from terra madre Italia (“Camberelli alla Créole” and “Surf n’ Turf alla Eduardo” are two classic gems apparently still on offer). In our defence, though, we were students without much in terms of disposable income, and the BYOB aspect guaranteed a cheap, loopy night out.

We also didn’t know a whole lot about food outside of our usual repertoire. At the age of nineteen, I only knew how to make a half-dozen of dishes without a recipe: chicken cutlets in mustard sauce, microwave rice pilaf, tomato sauce, blueberry pancakes, minestrone, and the Moosewood Cookbook‘s banana bread, which I’d only learnt by heart after my boyfriend fell head-over heels for it’s butter and espresso-laden crumb. It wasn’t a bad list of back-pocket recipes for a nineteen year-old, but it was still fairly limited. While I knew Italian food pretty well, thanks to the expats in my family, the meals I grew up with always revolved around 1) tomatoes, 2) polenta, or 3) hearty vegetable soups enriched with beans or lentils. In other words, nutritious, sustaining, peasant-food. Dishes of the northern persuasion, from regions like Lombardy and Emillia-Romagna, which tend to favour butter, eggs, cured meats, and abundant quantities of Parmigiano-Reggiano, were still very novel to me.

Which brings me to carbonara.

For better or for worse, I discovered carbonara (or, more accurately, its bastardised second-cousin) in that dingy dining room at Eduardo’s, sitting across from my college boyfriend, contentedly drinking 8$ table wine. It may not have been the ideal venue to have my first go at a venerated Italian classic, but as soon as I tucked into that hot mess of bacon, cream, egg and noodles, I knew I was in trouble. That dish – as far removed from the original recipe as it may have been – totally slayed me. In the way that a cheap grilled cheese or a good hot dog can still slay me.


Little did I know, the stuff that I’d happily twirled onto my fork all those years wasn’t carbonara. At least not in the traditional sense. And when I look back on it, Eduardo’s version was nothing more than a mound of cloying, overcooked, cream-laden spaghetti littered with nubs of cheap bacon, masquerading as “spaghetti alla carbonara”. It would be enough to throw any self-respecting food purist into a total fit.

Real carbonara would only come to my attention about five years later, in an issue of Gourmet magazine. By this point, my budding interest in food and cooking meant that I was starting to pay attention to the details. I became more aware of the differences between authentic recipes and their imposters. As for carbonara, Gourmet taught me the basics, notably that the original Roman version doesn’t have one drop of cream in it (which, it turns out, is a purely Anglo-American flourish). True Roman carbonara is actually quite simpler – pancetta is rendered in a bit of fat (usually olive oil), then some eggs are whisked together with parmesan or pecorino and black pepper, and the whole lot is tossed with freshly cooked spaghetti, along with a little of its cooking water. The final result is a loose mess of noodles slicked in a rich, flavourful sauce dotted with crispy, salty pork belly.

It’s simplicity at its best. The kind of food that makes you happy to be alive.

I hope you think so too.

Carbonara ingredients

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – serves 4

  • 4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4oz. medium-sliced pancetta (or guanciale, if you’re lucky), cut into 1⁄2″ pieces
  • 1¾ cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 egg, plus 3 yolks
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • sea salt, to taste (pancetta is already salty, so go easy)
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Note 1: In a dish this pared-down, the quality of your ingredients is crucial. Make sure to use good eggs, the best pancetta you can find, and real Parmigiano-Reggiano (No knock-offs! No Kraft parmesan! Don’t piss off the carbonara gods!). Freshly ground pepper is a must too. It’s also worth mentioning that this dish is one of the few that doesn’t reheat well the next day, as the eggs tend to curdle when they come into contact with too much heat. It’s definitely a dish best eaten straight away (which, I suspect, won’t be a problem).

Note 2: Given that the eggs are undercooked in this recipe, most sources would recommend that you avoid serving it to children or anyone with a compromised immune system. (apparently, if you use good-quality, fresh eggs, the risk of salmonella-poisoning is lower than in commercial eggs, which are produced in confined environments where bacteria can spread more easily among chickens.)



1) Start by bringing a large pot of water to boil (for the pasta).

2) Whisk together the egg (1) and yolks (3). Stir in 1½ cups of the cheese and mix to combine; add a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper (about 2 tsp). Set aside.

3) Heat oil in a medium skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (about 6–8 minutes.).

4) Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve 3⁄4 cup water; drain pasta and transfer to the pan with the cooked pancetta. Toss it all together, allowing the pasta to cool slightly.

Eggs and cheese

5) Pour the egg/cheese mixture over the pasta and toss to coat (the residual heat from the pasta will lightly “cook” the egg without scrambling it). Continue tossing while adding the 3/4 cup pasta water a little at a time to make a creamy sauce. Transfer to a serving platter and season with salt and some more freshly ground black pepper; sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano and serve straight away.



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