All things Italian on a snowy weekend in Montreal

I normally view grocery shopping on a weekend as a result of poor planning, and do it reluctantly. What a surprise it was last Saturday  to make 2 new discoveries. Montreal is not known for its richness of things Italian. It pales in comparison to Toronto and NYC, but now there is hope!

First, after doing my scurvy-fighting order at Chez Louis, I stopped into Nicola Travaglini, a new fine food shop, complete with a few tables to enjoy the yumminess that was being cooked up in the back.   They had a whole roast pig on the counter (yum for some, cover-your-eyes for others) and possibly the best breadsticks I have ever eaten. Sorry, there are no photos of those – I devoured them before I snapped a pic.

Doesn't it smell great?

Doesn’t it smell great?

On my way home, inspired by my discovery, I thought to go to my favourite cheese shop, Yannick.  On the way, I passed by a new café, grocery and bistro. I had to stop and check it out.  Dispensa is a new gem on Bernard, conveniently and so Montreal-like next to Cheskie’s kosher bakery (their babka deserves a post).  Dispensa is the new project from one of the brothers who opened the Italian Pantry on Monkland Ave.  It is tiny, looks great, and is on my must-try list.

Getting home and unpacking my bags I realized I had an Italian feast on my hands…delicious cheese, breadsticks, and my favourite-hard-no-impossible-to-find vegetable, puntarelle.  It is a veggie that is loved in Rome, and tastes like celery IF celery tasted good.  Fresh, crunchy, and delish.

I tried growing puntarelle last year, and couldn’t figure it out…apparently, after the bulbs (much like fennel) are picked, they are left indoors in the dark so shoots are “forced”. Those are the yummy parts.  Hopefully someone reading this can tell me what to do once I have harvested the bulbs.  The leaves are bitter, but tasty if blanched and sautéed with garlic and a squirt of lemon.

untrimmed puntarelle

untrimmed puntarelle

Outer leaves removed, shoots exposed.

Outer leaves removed, shoots exposed.

1 head puntarelle

1 clove garlic

2 anchovy fillets

juice of 1 lemon

olive oil

A pinch of chili pepper and/or black pepper

1. Remove the outer leaves of the puntarelle. Set aside to blanch and sauté if desired. Slice the inner shoots, wash well and place in a bowl of iced water until required.
2. Pound the garlic with a pinch of salt in a mortar. Add the anchovies, lemon juice and enough oil to give a pouring consistency and keep grinding until the anchovies have broken up.
3. Season to taste with pepper(s).4. Drain the puntarelle, place in a serving bowl and pour the dressing over. Serve at once.
Puntarelle, sold ready for salad in Italy. I wish.

Puntarelle, sold ready for salad in Italy. I wish.

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