Tag Archives: Michael Symon

Asparagus Panzanella Salad

plated 625 sq 3I promise that this asparagus post (unlike my previous one) will not offend anyone by mentioning any bodily functions, so feel safe to read on. This post is all about the unabashed joy of celebrating all things green this spring.

The classic panzanella salad originated in Tuscany. It was a way to use up stale bread and highlight tomatoes at the pinnacle of their summertime glory. Often onions, cucumber and basil are added. The texture of the bread in traditional panzanella is not supposed to be crunchy or chewy or crusty like croutons. If you have ever eaten this salad in Italy, you will recall that the bread is light, a bit wet, airy, just short of mushy. I was shocked when I had it a few years ago on the Amalfi Coast, and to be frank, was less than enthused. It sort of had the texture of fluffy torn-up matzoh balls. There is a very fine line between lightly moistened and unpleasantly soggy. Although I love the classics, in my panzanella salad, I want the bread to have a bit of chew and crunch. 

The inspiration for this spring panzanella came from Chef Michael Symon. Asparagus and green peas get top billing in this version of panzanella. Out of season tomatoes need not apply for entry into this salad. Like Michael, I grilled my asparagus, but I also shaved a few raw spears with my vegetable peeler to get some fresh crunch.shaving raw asparagusI used a half a loaf of Ciabatta bread I had in the freezer. I thawed it and then tore it into chunks, rather than cutting it into neat cubes. Tearing it gives a more rustic appearance and all those craggy surfaces have a better chance of soaking up the flavourful dressing. oil on croutons

cutting asparagus

grilling asparagus

chopping mintIf fresh peas in a pod are available where you live, go ahead and indulge. I used frozen peas since we are at least a month away from fresh here. I really love frozen peas. It seems to be a family thing. My daughter used to eat frozen peas as her afternoon snack every day when she was about 4 years old. Peas are one of the few vegetables that are actually better frozen. Unless you have green-peas growing in your backyard or access to a Farmer’s Market, you really are better off buying frozen. Cook’s Illustrated explains why this is so:

“Fresh peas have very little stamina. They lose a substantial portion of their nutrients within 24 hours of being picked  This rapid deterioration is the reason for the starchy, bland flavor of most “fresh” peas found at the grocery store. These not-so-fresh peas might be several days old, depending on where they came from and how long they were kept in the cooler. Frozen peas, on the other hand, are picked, cleaned, sorted, and frozen within several hours of harvest, which helps to preserve their delicate sugars and flavours “

I finished the salad off with some crumbled Ricotta Salata cheese (a firm ricotta). If you can’t find it, Feta would work just as well. Ricotta salata is a sheep’s milk cheese that has been pressed, dried and salted. It has a dense, slightly spongy texture and fresh milky flavour.ricotta salata 3

servingA quick dressing is made with garlic, dijon, sherry or red wine vinegar and olive oil. Fresh chopped mint gets sprinkled over the whole dish. This is a delicious addictive salad. I was home alone the day I made this and polished off the entire platter after photographing it. The contrast of the soft grilled asparagus was really wonderful against the crunch of the fresh shaved raw asparagus ribbons. The peas, barely cooked gave a great pop of green brightness. I mixed everything together and let the salad sit for at least 20 minutes. By the time I ate it the croutons had time to soak up the dressing and they were chewy but still just a bit crunchy. Perfect.

Click here to print recipe for Asparagus and Panzanella Salad.

I had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with this salad. Asparagus is quite difficult to pair with wine, as certain chemicals in asparagus can make your wine taste vegetal, grassy, or just plain rotten. A crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect match. I am currently crushing on New Zealand Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc. It has a juicy acidity and crisp finish that pairs perfectly with this salad.

If you are curious about learning more regarding food and wine pairings, check out Natalie MacLean’s Great Canadian Wine Match. Natalie is a certified sommelier and was named the World’s Best Wine Writer at the World Food Media Awards.


This is the first People’s Choice Competition for Canadian food and wine pairings. A real on-line battle of the bottles! The search for Canada’s best wine and food pairings launched on May 8. Wine drinkers from coast to coast are rallying behind their favourite Canadian pairings in this first grassroots, “bottoms up” competition.

Wine lovers can nominate and vote for their favourite Canadian wines as pairings in six Canadian food categories: cheese, chicken, beef, seafood, pizza and dessert. Voting ends May 20 when the top five wines in each category move to the showdown finalist phase. Wines from each region in Canada will vie to be named the best wine with a particular Canadian dish.

“This is a coast to coast toast to celebrate our own wine and food ,” says MacLean. “I think we can all drink to that.”

Chili Hand Pies

Just the words “Hand Pie” make me smile. Could there be anything more adorable and appealing than a little pie you eat with your hands? To be honest, I’m not a huge fruit pie fan. Perhaps it’s because of my peach pie blunder.   Or maybe it’s just that if I’m going to ingest copious amounts of butter and sugar, I’d rather partner it with chocolate or caramel rather than fruit. Plus, there’s something about a fruit hand pie makes me think of McDonald’s deep-fried apple pies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But stuff something savory in pastry and I’m all over it!

I was watching The Chew last week and Carla and Clinton teamed up to make Chili Hand Pies. They had way too much fun making them, and I wanted in on it. I think it would be so much fun to have the cast of The Chew over for drinks! Cooking dinner for them would be too much pressure, but I know that certainly after a few cocktails, they’d all be in my kitchen with me cooking away. Michael would be laughing while he prepared some porky goodness, Mario would be grating Parmesan Cheese over everything and Clinton would surely keep the cocktails flowing.

My sisters just read the last paragraph and I know they are thinking that I am turning into my mother, having imaginary parties with my TV friends.

Carla and Clinton did a Beef Chili. I decided to do a vegetarian version, substituting Veggie Ground Round for the beef. I also added some onions to the chili and ramped up the heat, using 3 kinds of peppers: fresh jalapeno, diced pickled jalapeno and ancho chili powder. You want the filling to be quite spicy because the pastry crust is quite mild.

The dough is made with cornmeal. They recommended cutting the butter into small slices, but I took it right from the freezer and grated it into the dry ingredients. This is a wonderfully supple dough and rolls out without any problems. I used a 5 inch tin to cut out my circles. Use whatever you have on hand. Smaller ones would also be a wonderful hors d’oeuvre. You can make the chili and the pastry a day ahead and refrigerate them separately. I rolled out all my pastry circles and stacked them between sheets of waxed paper, before chilling. That way, the next day it was all ready to assemble and bake.

Onions, garlic, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, cumin, chili powder and salt form the flavour base.

Make sure you let the chili cool before mixing in some grated cheddar.

Don’t overfill them or you will have trouble sealing them. You can simply press the edges with the tines of a fork, or get fancy and roll the edges like a rope. 

Cut a few slits so the steam can escape. 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven, and they are ready to serve.

Click here to print the recipe for Chili Hand Pies.

Maple Pecan Salmon

I think it was Albert Einstein who said, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This could well apply to me. Every year, in mid-late March, we have a few days of warm weather and I put away all the boots, winter coats, hats and mittens. Then inevitably, without fail, it snows the next day. In the ensuing scramble the next morning, everyone curses me for putting it all away and I vow to wait a bit longer next year.

My blogger friend Bobbi, wrote so lyrically about this subject last week. As a matter of fact, she writes lyrically about everything. You should check out her blog. Even though we have never met, she seems like such a lovely person, someone I could be friends with. A few weeks ago, she was travelling and away from her husband. She wrote a beautiful blog titled, Absence and Coconut Chow Mein Butterscotch Cookies. Here is just a little bit of it:

 “I reach for you in the darkness like I always do, a twelve-year habit that I can’t bare the thought of breaking. My hands meet a cold, crisp sheet. Where are you? Where am I? The sleepy haze begins to clear, and I remember that you’re at home in our bed, so far away. I fumble for the light. I miss you less once my day has started; the light holds so many distractions. But in the dark, awake, all I feel is your absence.”

See what I mean? She is so poetic and lyrical. When I’m away from  my husband, I’m just grateful to have control of the T.V. clicker! I guess maybe I’ve been married a bit longer than Bobbi.

While we’re on the subject of virtual friends, in my mind, Kelly Rippa and I are the best of friends. It annoys my daughter to no end, when we are having a conversation and I say, “Well, Kelly told me …” She reminds me that Kelly and I are not friends, nor are we ever likely to be. But I believe, that if she met me, we would be great friends. We have so much in common. We both have 2 sons and a daughter, with our daughters being the middle child. We both love to stay at home and as I discovered this week, we both suffer from Misophonia.

Literally translated, it means, “hatred of sounds.”  It is a form of decreased sound tolerance. People who have misophonia are most commonly annoyed, or even enraged, by such ordinary sounds as other people eating, breathing, or coughing; certain consonants; or repetitive sounds. Both Kelly and I can not stand to hear other people chewing. If my husband is eating an apple or grapes in the other room, and I hear him chewing, it makes me crazy. I have to get up and close the door. I am also extremely irritated by the sound of coffee being poured from a silver coffee pot. I know this sounds totally bizarre, but it’s true.

Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. I apologize if now you know way too much about me. But perhaps, maybe now you think we could be friends? I would make an excellent virtual friend.

In the spirit of it almost, but not quite yet, being spring (don’t put away the winter boots just yet), I bring to you a lovely salmon dish, featuring maple syrup and salmon. This recipe was originally created by Rose Reisman. I have adapted it, using a new cooking method I learned from Michael Symon (and no, I do not imagine that we are friends, but wouldn’t he be so much fun to hang out with?) Michael suggests cooking the salmon in a very low oven (200°F) for about 15-20 minutes. At this low temperature, the salmon stays very moist and it quite flavourful.

At first, it seems like the sauce ingredients will never come together. But keep the faith, eventually they boil into one sweet and sticky sauce.

When you check on the fish after about 20 minutes, it will not seem like very much has happened since the colour will be almost exactly the same as when it went in. Use a fork to see if the fish will flake. If it does, it’s done. I ended up cooking mine for about 30 minutes, as no one here likes it rare in the center. It was so moist. The sweetness from the maple and honey balanced the richness of the salmon. The crunch from the pecans provided some wonderful texture. I served it with an apple and cabbage slaw.

Click here to print the recipe for Maple Pecan Salmon.