I was able to visit three wineries on my drive from Toronto to Niagara Falls. VQA is Ontario’s appellation of origin and has hundreds of wineries that dot the area outside of Toronto. They grow many different grape varietals in the area and they are best known for popularizing a sweet dessert wine called Ice Wine. The winery tasting bars I visited were Foreign Affair, Megalomaniac, and Inniskillin which is famous for their Ice Wine. My favorite wine was a Pinot Noir from Foreign Affair, but at $45 a bottle, I had to pass on purchasing it and bringing it back to the states. I also tasted some Canadian wines in bars and restaurants and I can’t say that I’m completely sold on the wines from Ontario but I’m a little spoiled being so close to the California wine country. Canadian wines tend to be more reasonably priced in Canada which is nice considering imported bottles at a nice restaurant start around $45.
In my short trip to Toronto I was able to visit three different food markets that sell local produce and artisan products. It was great to see the locals jazzed with the variety of items the markets have to offer.
Dufferin Grove Market: A small farmers market offering local produce, artisan cheeses, and prepared food items. They even have a pizza oven that is available to the public during certain times. Open every Thursday from 3-7 pm.
Kensington Market: Open market that has several cheese stores, butchers, bakeries, and produce stands. You can find most everything you need here and don’t forget to visit the Good Egg cookbook store. Also close to Chinatown if you need any Asian ingredients.
St. Lawrence Market: This would be my choice for a one stop culinary shopping spree because of its similarity to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza. Although the local farmers are only there on Saturday, you can still find a good selection of produce on the other days of the week, including my new favorite find, golden popcorn shoots.
Toronto is a vibrant city that has an exciting up and coming food culture that seems to still be in its infancy. I was able to dine at two trendy spots that are doing exciting things in the kitchen. The one common theme that I noticed with many of the restaurants was sculptured presentations with the food plating. The second restaurant we ate at after Buca was Nota Bene. Local hot shot chef David Lee heads up the kitchen at this locavore spot creating New Canadian Cuisine. We had the Hamachi Ceviche to start. This is not the Californian and Latin ceviche that I’m used to but the Canadian interpretation was worth having. I felt it was more similar to a crudo or a sashimi with a slight kiss of citrus and a coconut milk sauce that helped take away the sharp bite of the lime. It was the most elegant ceviche I’ve ever eaten. “To Follow” we had the Papardelle pasta with Rabbit Soffrito, Porcini Mushrooms, House Pancetta, and Olives. The pasta was a perfect compliment to the crisp fall weather. The side of Brussels Sprouts were nicely balanced with mint and a minimal amount of Sambal that wasn’t overly spicy.
Last night we had a very nice meal at Buca and ordered a nice selection of New Canadian Cuisine. Duck egg tagliatelle with duck ragu and mascarpone, Bison Carpaccio that was paper thin with a battered fried egg yolk and puntarelle greens. Then we had a beautifully presented beet salad with local mozzarella di bufala and sliced preserved lemon that was too overpowering for the otherwise delicate ingredients and topped with a fragrant basil leaf. The restaurant consists of two rooms, one trendy large loft like room and a smaller cavernous room that serves as an enoteca with a temperature controlled charcuterie room. The same menu is available on both sides. The thin crispy pizzas are the order of the day so we decided on the pickled tomato and prosciutto pizza that comes out on a cutting board with a pair of scissors to cut through the thin rectangle crust.
If you’re going to forgo the traditional method of making basil pesto with a mortar and pestle, and instead use a modern kitchen appliance such as a blender or food processer, then here are a few tips to help you keep the sauce green.
- Make sure the blades are sharp. This cuts down on the time the pesto spends in the machine.
- Use an ice cube or two. This will help keep the blades from getting to warm which can turn the pesto brown.
- Throw in a small handful of spinach or a few sprigs of parsley. The chlorophyll will help keep it a bright green.
- Add the basil as close to the end as possible to prevent it from spending too much time in the machine.
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Pulse until smooth in the blender or food processer and add:
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves (about one large bunch).
Pulse slowly until basil is puréed. You may have to add a little more olive oil to keep the blades moving. Make sure to use the blender as little as possible. Transfer to a bowl and add by folding in:
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Another option for a less sharp tasting pesto, and something that is recommended if you’re planning on freezing, is to blanch the basil for about 10-15 seconds and then shock it in ice water. Be sure to dry the basil thoroughly and you may have to adjust the quantity of olive oil you add.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can also substitute ingredients. Replace one of the following major ingredients for one of the alternatives.
For basil use spinach, Arugula, or mixed herbs.
For pine nuts use almonds, pecans, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds.
For garlic use spring garlic or shallots.
For parmesan cheese use any other hard grating cheese.
I wouldn’t substitute the oil and would always recommend using a high quality olive oil.