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Olive harvest in Sicily

Trees before harvest, needing to be pruned
Trees before harvest, needing to be pruned

Article by Jadro Subic, photos by Jadro Subic and David Gollob

When you talk about olives in Sicily, it is more about the three thousand years of ‘olive culture’ than it is about just olive cultivation.

Pruning the trees
Pruning the trees

Though not everybody agrees on which part of Sicily has the best olive oil, the most prestigious DOP (denominazione di origine protetta) is the area of Monti Iblei, the mounts stretching from Catania to Siracusa and Ragusa.

The most favorable altitude is around 700 meters above the sea, though some trust that the closeness to the sea improves the olives antioxidant properties. There are several varieties used both for oil production and brine or oil-curing.

I’ve always enjoyed my olive oil, even as a kid, but here in Sicily, no matter how much one knows about it, there’s much more to learn. Especially at this time of year, it becomes the favourite subject of local conversation.

Wherever you go, people offer advice to strangers in stores, restaurants, or at the market, not to mention friends and neighbours. Your accountant, your realtor, even your doctor will have something to add or to suggest.

Olives in netting on ground
Olives in netting on ground

Once we found ourselves owners of a lovely property with six first-class olive trees, they were all eager to explain to us (Canadians) the worth of our newly-acquired fortune, a few even offered to guide us through the process. We are of course very appreciative of all their support

For olive oil pressing, it all must be done within 36 hours. The day of the harvest the special light-net sheets are spread around the tree, for no olive should touch the ground directly. We filled six large breathable sacks and left them in the shade.

The following day, David took the olives to one of the community presses in the neighbouring town and watched the whole process play out with a bunch of other (mostly) men doing the same. He noticed a clear difference in attitude between the locals and everyone else. There was a retired science teacher from northern Italy who got a bit more respect from the locals, but otherwise…

Every batch is done separately, so you stand there and follow your own olives being weight (we had 167kg), put in a special container, cleaned from branches and leaves, washed, and so on.. More or less 2 hours to get your very own olive oil. To quote David:The perfume of olive oil in the mill was intoxicating… people here take this incredibly seriously and there was an atmosphere of excitement among the crowd, mostly 60+ with olive-bellies…

We brought a 30 litre barrel and filled 4 cans, 5 litres each. there’s a bit more at the bottom of the barrel, perhaps enough to fill a 1 litre bottle.

It had to be decanted since there should be no air inside the containers while it sits and sediment the residue. I just tasted a spoon of it on a piece of bread. Both the smell and the taste are incredibly rich.

Jadro olive oil bread
Jadro olive oil bread

Margaret’s Coconut Curry Soup

No one likes to think about flu season, but when it’s with us, there’s nothing like spicy food to cut through the fog of grumble-nothing-tastes-good-today.

Here’s a nice hearty, spicy, and warming soup to thin the blood, make you sweat just a bit and make you feel so much better! This is the first of several spicy rich recipes to help us through the cold…and the colds.

Thanks to Margaret Turney for this one!

Joel’s Smoked Mackerel Kim Chi

Recipe by Joel Loughead, photo by Gayle Hurmuses

A Canadian fusion Kim Chi, very non-traditional, inspired by the availability of ingredients in Joel’s kitchen one night.

“My kimchi recipe was dead simple. i accidentally realized i had the ingredients on hand so i just threw it together.

i used smoked mackerel because i had part of one laying around! from what i understand, traditional korean kimchi often uses all sorts of seafood–dried shrimp, anchovies, i’ve even heard raw oysters! i thought smoked mackerel would work, and behold, it did. you can pick it up at any decent grocer. check the seafood section.”

Philly, who did one of our other Kim Chi recipes says of Joel’s version:

“Smokey and delicious; a deep complex flavour. Over rice, it would be a meal”. 

Lisa Shamai’s Corny Cornbread

Yummy Cornbread
Yummy Cornbread

I first had this cornbread at Mr Rick and the Biscuits, CD release party for Cocktails & Cornbread in 2005 (here’s the title song, somewhat earlier at the Distillery Jazz Festival, where I met Lisa Shamai, local caterer extraordinaire, and the creator of this delicious, spicy, cornbread recipe.

A warm and gracious woman, Lisa has been cooking in Toronto for decades, at one time running a jazz club on weekends at her catering facility, Lisa Shamai Cuisinerie. Sadly, it was a brief candle, and the club blew out before I got to see it. Happily, the catering company is still with us.

I’ve always loved Johnnycake, aka cornbread and enjoyed this one a great deal at the show, going back to sneak extra helpings of the spicy, cheesy bread. Lisa was gracious enough to share it with me for this soup and bread edition of Eatin’s Canada and we thank her for it. I suggest you try it with the 3Bean Chili recipe from January…and lots of butter. Yummy.

‘Pitmastery’

Article, recipe and main photo by Sean Galt, additional photography, Glen Synoground, voiceover by Lew Williams.

On alternate Fridays I load myself up in the car and begin the anywhere from 2 o 3 ½ hour drive toLondon where my 10 year old daughter lives with her mother.

RibsOne Friday, about 4 years ago the weather was terrible – cold, snowing and windy. On days like that I have a backup plan, which is to stay in London in a hotel where my daughter and I spend the weekend going to movies, eating out, attending concerts or sporting events.

That Saturday, we had dinner out at a mom and pop restaurant downtown. The special that night was BBQ baby back ribs. I ordered those with a salad and a pint of their house draft. My daughter ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and fries. I offered her a rib when the plate arrived. She looked at me with that quizzical expression a child gives you when they know you’re trying to give them medicine but you’re telling them it’s a gummy bear.

“I don’t think I’ll like those,” she said, taking a bite of her sandwich.

“Try one,” I said, “You won’t know till you taste it.”

“But just one. If I give it back, will that be ok?”

She took one bite and her eyes opened like she had tasted the food of the gods.

She ate the rack of ribs. I got the grilled cheese sandwich.

“Daddy, can you make those?” I honestly had no idea. Up to that point I was not a big fan of ribs, but for $9.99 with a salad, it was a good deal. I blame my mother. Her idea was to cut the racks into single pieces and boil them for at least 3 hours before covering them in spaghetti sauce and cooking them in the oven for another hour. I’m sure there was flavour there somewhere.

So when my daughter asked if I could do something, as a good dad, I took up the challenge, if only to see what I could do for my little girl and if i could cook more than burgers and chicken for her.

RibPasteGiven my past experiences with ribs, namely boiling and baking, it seemed to make sense to add flavour right to the meat and cook it into the flesh. Checking the grocery store, there were a variety of pre-made rib rubs and sauces, all seemed to have the same ingredients, and I thought about making my own rubs and marinades and testing what flavours complimented the meats well.

Some worked: curry/pineapple/apple was a hit; some didn’t: lemon/honey mustard. But it was fun every two weeks to drop two racks of ribs at dinner and ask, “Which is better, a or b?”

Usually we could tell by which rack was done first, but sometimes the runner up was deemed more creative and original. Then at the end of that summer, we went to the Oshawa Ribfest and we were introduced to a whole new beast: the smoked rib.

Flavors, layers, textures; I tried my best to decode everything I was tasting, only to ponder, “How on earth can I do this at home?”

I managed to catch the ear of a Pitmaster to compliment him on his product. When I asked him how I could do this, he said the four words I’ve since lived my life by when it comes to the BBQ:

Smoke.

Water.

Low.

Slow.

OnGrillI began pricing various BBQ’s and realized I didn’t have the money in the budget to purchase one of those gigantic smokers the Pitmaster used; nor did we have the space on the deck for one of those giant oil drum smokers. For a while we experimented with the gas grill, they were cooked. But gas vs wood is kind of like water vs wine. Sure, it’ll hydrate you, but the end result is just not the same.

Then one day my (then) partner said, “I think I found a smoker for you.” We headed over the next day. It was small, maybe room for 5 trimmed racks of ribs, or 3 whole chickens. It didn’t have an offset smoker box, so it meant only being able to utilize half the cooking space. But it would do the job. We plunked down the $150 and brought it You know that expression ‘you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette’? I had my own. ‘You gotta ruin some ribs to make a masterpiece.’

Rack after rack came off the grill dried out and flavorless. Shreds of pork peeled away like strips of jerkey. Everyone was polite. But I didn’t like them. Then one Saturday, I found the right combination of spices, water, smoke and temperature, and I discovered the secret ingredient.

Forget they’re there.

The problem was that I kept looking at them every few minutes, asking myself, “Is there enough smoke? Is there enough water? Are the coals burning in the right direction?” Every time I opened the lid, all that magic was being undone. Imagine biking up a hill, and you stop peddling every 20 seconds or so. remember how hard it was to get the bike going again. It was the same with the BBQ. The process had to start all over again.

So now I close the lid, go play with the kid, read a book, watch a movie, take the dog for a walk. Do anything but check on the food. It’s doing just fine on its own. That night at dinner, we had a hit.

Now that I had winner smoked ribs, it was time to fine tune the recipe. We’ve cooked dozens of ribs and countless other meals on this little smoker over the last three years. My daughter is more an active part of cooking now. We’ll go to the bulk store and she will pick out spices and mix them to see what the best flavour combinations will be.

Daddy/daughter time used to be in a movie theatre or restaurant. Now, it’s in our restaurant. And I think we’re ok with that.

The recipe is here.

Ribs in foil
Ribs in foil