One September morning, on the way home from the dog park on edge of Montreal’s Little Italy, I stopped by Boucherie Capitol to buy a chunk of pecorino. Capitol is one of the city's busiest Italian food specialty shops, so I remember noticing it was unusually empty.
The radio was blaring. Something about airplanes and New York. “What’s happening?” I asked Giovanna, the friendly but world weary cashier who looks like a mash up of Edie Falco and Aida Turturro.
“It’s the end of the world” I remember her saying, matter of factly. She did eventually elaborate, but it was mid morning September 11 and nobody really knew what was happening. I walked home stunned, but fighting the urge to run back. If there was about to be some kind of Hollywood style apocalypse, I couldn’t think of a better bomb shelter situation than Capitol. Giovanna and I could have lived there for a couple of years, just off the cured meat section.
That memory re-surfaced when this Salon Kitchen Challenge came up. But even eight years later trying to turn this tragedy into a reason to eat feels morbid. I mean who commemorates epic tragedy with expensive Italian food. Okay, The Pope. But who else?
Me, apparently, since I can’t seem to turn away any more easily than I could from the television that morning. Obviously no one can cook away all the grief that entered the world on that day and in its aftermath. But if you're going to try, Italian is a pretty good place to start
For inspiration I turned to Entre Cuisine & Quincaillerie a cookbook written by one of my neighbors, Stefano Faita. I know him through his dog, Socks, who hangs out with my dog, Blitzen, at the aforementioned dog park.
Stefano’s family owns Quincaillerie Dante, an eccentric store about a couple of blocks south of Capitol. Quincallerie is the French word for hardware, but the store hasn’t sold any hardware for the last 20 years. At least not in the traditional sense of the word.
Mostly its known for its extremely discriminating selection of kitchenware. Don’t bother trying to buy a garlic press that isn’t a Suzi Zyliss, or an ice cream scoop you won’t be passing on to your grandchildren. I could probably grate rocks with the Microplane grater I bought there ten years ago (though I found out a little too late about the protective glove that’s also a must have.) Dante is also famous for the cooking classes Stefano’s mother, Elena, gives every week.
But in certain circles Dantesports.com is best known for another kind of hardware. And apparently this would be the month to buy some:
Yes, Quincallerie Dante, servicing all your high end cooking and killing needs since 1956. According to Dante’s gunsmith, who I also know from the dog park, this little cooking school is one of the biggest online gun retailers in Canada. Montreal, it turns out, has a lot more in common with New York than many people know.
But while you might need to hunt for a few of the ingredients I've used here, I promise there will be no weapons needed for this modest disaster relief dinner.
September 10th Salad with a Foreshadowing of Speck
Keep this salad simple and bittersweet. Just some mixed greens with slivers of endive, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and a favorite balsamic dressing. Don’t overload it will speck, a kind of proscuitto with a slight juniper flavor.
You'll want to save most of it for the main course. If you can’t find speck—or the word triggers painful "speculation" of how things could have been if those CIA reports hadn’t been ignored—substitute ordinary prosciutto.
Penne Arrabbiata Shrouded in Aged Ricotta Rubble
According to Stefano, arrabbiata translates into anger. Penne merely translates into pasta. But it sounds like peine, the French word for sorrow, so it seems like an appropriate choice.
Stefano's recipe is pretty standard. Just sauté some garlic in olive oil and lightly fry about 5 oz. of slivered speck. Throw in 3 cups of tomato purée and a few tablespoons of minced hot peppers preserved in oil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, the time is takes to cook a pound of penne. Coat the pasta well with the sauce and garnish with fresh basil. Stefano is right to prefer aged ricotta. It’s blander than parmesan and a nice counterpoint to a spicy arrabbiatta.
If I’d made this in September, I'd have used overipe late summer tomatoes. But I have friends who had an apartment a few blocks away from the twin towers. In honor of them and all the other people who were displaced, I suggest stocking enough cartons of Pomi tomato purée to quadruple this recipe a few times over. You never know when you might need it.
Revenge Semifreddo under a spill of No War for Truffle Oil
Ah, revenge served cold. It all seems so easy in retrospect, choosing ice cream over war. But the time for gnawing on speculation—or speck, a we’ve nicknamed it for today--is over. It’s time to move forward, symbolized by the return to fresh ricotta in this simple frozen dessert. I love Stefano’s idea of freezing and also serving this easy home made ice cream in 8 oz. mason jars. It’s also a great way to contain the truffle oil spill, which you’ll definitely want to do, given what a bottle of white truffle oil costs.
Here’s the recipe (I forgot to buy nougat, so I garnished this one with grated Dark Chocolat Mars bar.)
1/2 cup of sugar
4 tbsp Rum
1 lb. Ricotta
1 cup nougat broken into small pieces
1. Separate yolks and white into two bowls. Beat yolks and sugar with an electric mixer.
2. Add Rum and Ricotta and beat until mixture is smooth. Add nougat and mix well.
3. Whip egg whites until stiff peak stage. Fold into Ricotta mixture.
4. Pour into 6 cup sized mason jars and freeze, covered, from 4-6 hours (don't overfreeze.)
Rescue Dog Biscuits
As part of the 9/11 relief effort, the Montreal produced show, Dogs With Jobs, donated a shipment of Muttluks to protect the paws of the rescue dogs. Montreal dogs need these just to survive five months of rock salted sidewalks. These are Blitzen's Muttluks, which we bought the winter of 2001. Eventually we moved next to the dog park, which explans why they're still in such great shape.
Les Biscuits de Socks is Stefano's recipe: I've included it as the final recipe to pay tribute to all those rescue dogs who if they're still around, are probably well into retirement by now.
1 cup rolled oats
5 tablespoons of butter
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup semolina
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups chicken bouillon
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 egg beaten
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1. In a big bowl, mix oats, butter and water. Let the oats soften for about 10 minutes.
2. Mix in semolina, sugar, bouillon, milk, cheese and egg. Mix well.
3. Add flour, 1 cup at a time. Mix well, in between cups, until you get a firm, smooth dough.
4. On floured surface, knead dough about 3 to 4 minutes, until it stops sticking.
5. Preheat over 325 F and grease a cookie tray.
6. Roll out dough until it's about half an inch thick. Cut into dogbiscuit shapes.
7. Spread out on cookie sheet with about an inch between biscuits. Bake 30-40 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely.
8. Refrigerate or freeze (they disintegrate easily at room temperature.)