On our first few outings when lockdown allowed us to dine on outdoor patios in Toronto, we went for our favourite ethnic comfort foods: Italian, Greek, English and Italian again, where the sweet scent of basil flavours everything.
The second expedition saw us on the Danforth, where Greek restos dominate. Our old favourite The Astoria has conveniently always had two well-covered separate patios, so they are easily able to serve under the new restrictions. My go-to Greek comfort dish is moussaka, a tasty meat pie topped with bechamél sauce. The tangy taste of retsina goes well with it.
Diane said she was yearning for fish and chips, which I wrote about earlier in the lockdown. Our favourite spot is Olde Yorke Fish & Chips, but they don’t have much of a patio, unless I’m mistaken, so we search for an alternative.
Our old friend Andrew Carter, one of the guest chefs on my TV series Market to Table, owns The Oxley and while the small patio in front is nothing to write home about, they have a large patio at the back. Fish and chips are on the menu and I’m sure they will be fully authentic, since Andrew hails from the North of England where good fish and chips is part of the staple diet. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have his outstanding fish pie on hand at the moment, which we prepared for the TV show: the secret ingredient is lobster. Perhaps, when sanity returns it will feature again.
The night we are to go, thunderstorms threaten and the establishment closes early. Their patio is not covered, so even though as Brits we should be able to withstand eating outdoors in the rain, 55 years in Canada has made us soft. We book for another night and hope for the best.
On our return, we are seated in the front, with a good view of all the very strange people walking up and down Yorkville Avenue on a warm summer evening. Young women in inappropriate attire, much older men leering at them, middle aged blokes with beards revving their Ferraris and Lambos at the nearby stop sign and then roaring off with smoking tires. The older men don’t stir, the young women are far too busy looking at their smart phones and laughing very loudly at their own jokes. Our funny Irish waiter brings two plates of outstanding fish and chips, with home made tomato ketchup and sauce tartare on the side. We eat ravenously, but with the din and ambience do not linger long.
Our fourth patio experience is to The HotHouse Restaurant, where they have two huge patios, only slightly marred by the continuing roadworks on Wellington Street nearby. At lunch it can be noisy and dusty, but in the evening the workers give us a break and go home. One of the legacy dishes that continue is, in their words, “A slowly simmered rich Bolognese of wild boar, fresh herbs, Roma tomatoes and Cabernet Sauvignon tossed with tagliatelle.” Many years ago, when Chef Curt Hospedales took this dish off the menu, I was at the head of the vocal protest group begging for its return. Within weeks it had been put back on—vox populi praecepta.* I probably order this every other visit and it remains my favourite all time dish from their menu. Rather than tagliatelle, I prefer penne, which in their case is actually garganelli, which looks very similar and is made from a wrapped square of pasta.
As I am eating, I’m checking past posts on this blog. My version of Bolognese: check. Dishes with a tomato sauce or garganelli: niente. To remedy that omission, here it is from my food-stained old recipe cards, a tasty version of the traditional marinara sauce, with a few additions, a dish which somehow escaped all three of my previous cookbooks.
As an added bonus, my balcony pot of fresh basil is doing exceedingly well in the hot summer sun and evening rains. This recipe gives me another excuse to go overboard with the sweet scented herb.
GARGANELLI WITH MARINARA SAUCE
- 2 cups dried garganelli all’uovo pasta** or penne
- 1 28-ounce can Roma tomatoes, crushed or whole
- ¼ cup EVOO
- 1 small white onion, chopped finely
- 6-7 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
- 1 cup of fresh mushrooms, peeled and quartered
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 6 large fresh basil leaves, shredded
- 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- 4 green onions, chopped
Preparation and cooking
- Pour tomatoes into a large bowl and if necessary crush with a fork or potato masher. Pour 1/2 cup water into can and rinse it around to get all the tomato juice. Set aside.
- In a large skillet (not a deep pot) over medium heat, heat the oil. When it is hot, add onions and mushrooms. Fry for 2 mins until they absorb most of the oil. Add garlic and fry for 1 min.
- Deglaze the pan with white wine.
- Add tomatoes, then the extra tomato water. Add red pepper flakes, half the shredded fresh basil and stir to blend everything. Check for seasoning and add salt as needed.
- Once the sauce has simmered long enough (NOTE: It’s even better the next day), bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for about 8 to 12 mins, depending on how al dente you like it. Rinse the pasta with boiling water through a colander and return to the empty pot. Add a few drops of EVOO to keep the pasta pieces separate.
- Plate the pasta in warmed bowls. Ladle on the sauce generously; grate on plenty of cheese; add the balance of the shredded basil and some chopped green onions. Serve at once.
**NOTE: Garganelli is like penne, made from a wrapped square of pasta; all’uovo is pasta made with extra eggs.
*NOTE: Latin: “The voice of the people rules.”
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This is Nigel’s 310th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, well priced at $9.99 or £9.99 and available on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo and Scribd.
Categories: Simply food