Some timely tastes to usher in the season — and say good-bye to a winter of relentless snow
Potato and Bean Salad by the 3 Greek Sisters is completely brilliant and perfect for spring and summer, with rich depth thanks to premium Greek olive oil and genuine feta cheese made with either sheep or goat milk.
APR 08 14 – 11:10 AM — It really is spring — can’t you just feel it? — and what better way to celebrate than with inspired recipes with a Mediterranean twist I picked up the other day at the 20th annual Ottawa Travel and Vacation Show.
These are easily doable at home, and I particularly enjoy the depth and richness that a little extra-virgin olive oil adds to the food.
My litmus test of a new restaurant (or, at least, new to me) is to order a plate of calamari if it’s on the menu to see if the kitchen crew is on its toes. In inexperienced hands, I know squid that’s even slightly overcooked will quickly turn into a pile of chewy rubber bands, which does not inspire confidence about other dishes coming from the galley. Not good.
In his recipe, posted here, Greek food specialist Peter Minaki is embellishing squid with a Greek rendition of the famous chimichurri sauce so beloved with meat in Argentina — normally a melange of olive oil, vinegar, chopped parsley, oregano, onion and garlic, but in this case with the addition of preserved grape leaves. Really quite a pleasant variation and perfect, I should think, pool-side as an appetizer with a glass of white wine.
The potato-bean salad medley by 3 Greek Sisters — that’s Betty, Eleni and Samantha Bakopoulos — is packed with flavour because they’ve added rich Greek olive oil to the dressing, and crumbled genuine feta. I’d serve it cold, but warm would be fine. (Apparently, Samantha has a newborn at hand and couldn’t make it to the travel show this year, so we got two out of three Greek sisters — both very well-versed, lively and comfortable with their repertoire.)
Finally, I’ve been in love with this fresh, seasonal pea risotto since the day I tried it roughly a year ago on the patio at Le Café at the National Arts Centre.
Here, executive chef John Morris embellishes the plate with colourful peas and — my favourite part — just a few drops of truffle-infused olive oil to deliver earthy notes you simply cannot achieve any other way.
You can buy truffle-infused oil in a good gourmet food boutique; try to find the variety made with white or bianco truffles, which have more aroma. I also choose the small 100-mL size bottles because truffle oil loses its punch over time, and I don’t consume it fast enough to justify a large bottle.
3 Greek Sisters Potato White Bean Salad
– 1 pound (450 g) fingerling potatoes
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) olive oil
– 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
– 2 cups (500 mL) cooked white beans (Great Northern, white lima), drained
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) capers
– 10 kalamata olives, pits removed
– 6 green onions, chopped
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) each, fresh parsley and basil leaves, chopped
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) fresh dill, chopped
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) feta cheese, crumbled
For the dressing:
– 1/3 cup (75 mL) olive oil
– Juice, 1 lemon
– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) Greek or Balkan style plain yogurt
– 1 anchovy fillet, rinsed and chopped
– Pepper, to taste
1. Place potatoes in roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil; lightly season with salt and roast in preheated oven at 425°F (220°C) about 20 minutes, or until fork tender. Remove to cool.
2. When cooled, cut into bite-size pieces and place in salad bowl. Add cooked white beans, capers, olives, green onions, fresh herbs and feta. In a separate bowl or in a clean Mason jar with lid, combine all dressing ingredients and whisk (or shake jar) to combine well. Toss salad with dressing and set aside 1 hour before serving.
Peter Minaki’s Calamari with Greek Chimichurri
Serves 4 to 6 as appetizer
– 1 pound (450 g) fresh or frozen whole squid, thawed, gutted and cleaned
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
– Fine sea salt, freshly ground pepper, to taste
– 6 to 8 grape leaves from a jar, rinsed (at Mediterranean or Mid-East food stores)
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh parsley leaves, rinsed and chopped
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) dry Greek oregano
– 3 to 4 green onions, chopped
– 3 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1/2 carrot, grated
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) wine vinegar
– Salt and pepper, to taste
– Water (only if necessary to thin sauce)
1. Rinse and pat-dry cleaned squid (tentacles and tubes) and place in bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper; toss to coat and set aside.
2. In blender or food processor, add all chimichurri ingredients and process until smooth. Adjust seasoning (should be slightly tangy) and add water only if sauce is too thick.
3. Preheat grill (or heavy frypan — not Teflon) to high and grill squid about 1 minute per side. Transfer to cutting board and slice tentacles/squid tubes into rings into bowl, adding sauce and stirring to coat. Serve immediately.
John Morris’ Spring Pea Risotto
For the risotto:
– 8 cups (2 L) hot vegetable stock, as needed
– 3 tablespoons (50 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
– 3 tablespoons (50 mL) shallots, minced
– 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
– 2 cups (500 mL) arborio rice
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) dry white wine
– 3 tablespoons (50 mL) softened unsalted butter
– 2/3 cup (150 mL) freshly shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese (use a vegetable peeler)
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) fresh chives, sliced thin
– 1 cup (250 mL) fresh (or frozen) peas
– Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For pea purée:
– 1 cup (250 mL) green peas
– 3/4 cup (175 mL) vegetable stock
– 2 tablespoons (25 mL) softened unsalted butter
– Sea salt, freshly ground pepper, to taste
– Fresh pea (or other tender) green shoots
– Truffle-infused oil
To make risotto:
1. Bring vegetable stock to simmer in a large saucepan; set aside and keep hot.
2. In a large sauté pan on medium-high burner, add olive oil. Sauté shallots until translucent; add garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add rice, stirring as grains are coated with oil. Add white wine and simmer, stirring, until most of the wine is absorbed by rice. Add hot vegetable stock about 1 cup (250 mL) at a time, stirring until most liquid is absorbed, then adding more stock in increments as the rice cooks and absorbs liquid (you may not need all the stock). After 20 or 25 minutes, rice should be cooked to al dente stage — taste to see if rice is ready, with just a little bite in the centre.
3. When done, remove risotto from heat and stir in butter and half the cheese. Add a little more simmering stock, about 1/2 cup (125 mL) to loosen risotto and make it creamy. Add chives, whole peas, and season to taste with salt, pepper.
For the puree:
Bring saucepan of lightly salted water to boil and place a bowl of ice water to one side. Boil peas just until tender, about 1 minute, then quickly drain and transfer peas to ice water to stop cooking. Drain again, then purée in blender with stock nd butter until smooth. Season to taste with salt, pepper.
To assemble plate:
Warm pea purée gently, then spoon onto the bottom of each plate and swirl to edges, leaving room in middle for the rice. Add a generous spoonful or two of risotto into the centre of each plate and garnish with pea sprouts and reserved cheese shavings. Drizzle each with just a few drops of truffle-infused oil.