My parents gave us our kitchen table. Or maybe it's a loan. We've never worked out the details.

Either way, it is a table that's been around since I was a kid. The seat of one of the chairs bears scratches from the dog we had when I was in university. It's been in the home of my parents, my brother, and now my own.

Our table shows its age. The finish is waxy here, worn down there. When the humidity is high, the surface feels tacky. Over the summer, the boys and I were making a birthday card, and there was glitter. Since then, in spite of the newspaper we'd laid out in protection, the tabletop has boasted a random patina of tiny sparkles. I've scrubbed, but the shining scatter remains, a glimmering finish of silver and gold, shot through with turquoise. Subtle at times, and a flashing metallic at the right angle. 

Around here, peanut butter toast is presented with a disco ball backdrop. Granola gets sequins.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

A week-and-a-half ago, when I shared the news of my book, I was sitting at that table. And, dear readers, you shone with such light. Your response outshone everything. You were the shiniest part of my day. 

That evening, I made my mother's minestrone.  

I should say, traditional or not, Mum's is the version against which I judge all minestrones. Hers has a tomato base, and a bit of beef, then it's bulky with vegetables. When I was growing up, she'd use what was around, maybe corn and peas, always beans and carrots, and different shapes of pasta. What tied it together was oregano. The combination of oregano and tomato, the sweetness of the vegetables and the underlying savoriness of the beef, made it one of my favourite suppers. I'd blanket my bowl with a heap of grated Parmesan and enough black pepper to make me sneeze, and go to town. 

I still love how the cheese slumps into the soup, both creamy and salty, turning into chewy strands.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

We had it again for dinner on Sunday. I'd craved it since there were no leftovers from that last batch. 

The butcher had short ribs on Saturday. Those became the foundation of my minestrone. Braised simply in a tomato and vegetable broth, the meat goes tender, the fat melting into the cooking liquid. The ribs were left overnight, then turned to soup the next afternoon. A quick base of onions, celery and zucchini was cooked with olive oil, dried oregano and garlic, then in went the braising liquid, broth and carrots. The vegetables were given time, cooked to the point they lost some colour but gained all the richness of the broth; the squash especially, as I wanted nothing of the woolliness often found and its centre. The short ribs followed into that mix, accompanied by two types of beans. After another simmer, everything was done, meeting up with bowls of pasta and greens at the table, vinegar for dripping, deeply green splotches of oregano oil, and the aforementioned cheese. 

Think of that oregano oil as a rough-and-ready cheat's take on an Italian salsa verde. It takes seconds to make, yet the almost aggressive hit of fresh herbs, garlic and chili is what lends moxie to the mellowed, stewy goodness of the soup. It is enthusiastically edgy. And on the topic of the pasta, I like a short, fat variety, think tubetti or macaroni, a kind that has a comforting chew, a sense of substance against the yield of the meat, beans and vegetables. 

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

I like this soup for many reasons, for how it feeds a crowd, and for how it can be stretched even further to feed more; for its changeability and adaptability dependant upon season and circumstance;  how it can use up leftovers, or made from scratch without fuss. I like that it is a soup I've known for as long as I can remember, for as long as we've had our kitchen table, and for the fact I get to introduce it to you.

Thanks again for that. 

SHORT RIB MINESTRONE

While there’s quite a list of ingredients here, and the preparation starts the day ahead, the active time is modest and the effort is blessedly easy on the cook. It’s a case of a lot of things stirred into a pot, twice over. Neither the braising ribs or the simmering soup require babysitting, which is to say, for its length, this recipe fits suits a lazy mood surprisingly well. 

 It is hard to pin down an exact measurement on the vegetable stock, but if you have 1 1/2 quarts to use between the ribs and the soup, that should be enough. Keeping both the pasta and greens separate from the minestrone means that with leftovers the noodles won't get mushy and the greens won't overpower or discolour the broth. Speaking of which, I use vegetable broth instead of beef because Mum's minestrone was very much a vegetable soup with beef, rather than the other way around. 

FOR THE SHORT RIBS

  • 2 1/2 pounds bone-in short ribs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and quartered through the root end
  • 1 carrot, cut into chunks
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, bruised but left whole
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or a slosh of red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried

FOR THE SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, medium dice
  • 1 celery stalk, small dice
  • 2 small zucchini, medium dice
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 2  carrots, medium dice, or left larger if skinny 
  • 2 cups cooked borlotti or cannellini beans
  • Approximately 6 ounces, a few handfuls, yellow wax or green beans, finely sliced

TO FINISH

  • 4 ounces tubetti, cooked al dente (check package instruction), then tossed with a glug of olive oil while hot
  • Baby spinach, Tuscan kale or Swiss chard leaves, in shreds
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Oregano oil (see note)

 

 

METHOD

The day before serving, season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, then remove ribs from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat an oven to 350°F / 175°C. 

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the short ribs well on all sides. Transfer to a rimmed plate, then pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the pot, and cook, stirring often, until properly golden and starting to catch in places, around 6 to 8 minutes. Clear the vegetables to the sides of the pot. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste is caramelized, maybe 2 minutes. Stir vegetables into paste and cook for 1 minute more. Splash in the vinegar to deglaze, scraping and stirring up any sticky bits. Add the short ribs back to the pot, along with any accumulated juices, then the tomatoes and their liquid. Tamp down the tomatoes, giving them a bit of a prod and squish. Pour in enough vegetable broth or water so that the ribs are halfway submerged. Tuck in the bay leaf. Bring the pot to the boil, cover, and pop into the oven.

Cook until the ribs are tender, approximately 2 1/2 hours. Skim the liquid of any impurities, then move ribs to a large bowl. Strain liquid over the meat through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing the vegetables through. Let cool completely to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

About 2 hours before you want to eat, spoon any fat from the surface of the short ribs and cooking liquid. Leave the the pot at room temperature to lose its chill, say around an hour, then remove the short ribs on a rimmed plate. Set aside the liquid.

To make the soup, heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and zucchini. Season with salt, pepper and oregano, then cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to take on colour, maybe 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring the entire time. Strain the short rib liquid into 8-cup measure, add enough stock to bring to 8 cups. Add the liquid and the carrots to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the soup bubble for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove the bones from the short ribs, shred and/or chop the meat into irregularly bite-sized pieces and add to the pot, as well as all the beans. Cook until vegetables tender, 15 minutes or thereabouts. Check for seasoning, and add more broth or water if the soup has become too thick.

To serve, spoon a mound of pasta into each bowl, then greens. Ladle on the hot soup. Place the cheese, vinegar and herb oil on the table, letting folks help themselves.

Enough for 6 to 8.   

Note:

  • To make the oregano oil, use a food processor to pulse together 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, 1 tablespoon flat-leafed parsley, a few pinches dried chili flakes, salt and freshly-ground black pepper, until finely chopped.
  • The ribs can be doubled, though you're going to need a bigger pot. Store those extra for another day, with the all braising veg and some of the cooking liquid. Serve over soft polenta.
  • This can be made leftover meat instead. Simply skip the braising steps and go straight to the soup section, adding tomatoes and a bay leaf to the broth. It can also be vegetarian by following a similar tactic, and doubling the beans (chickpeas are particularly good) instead.  

 

 

 

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In the woods I can see from my window, the ground looks patchwork brown and white; an Appaloosa's coat imposed onto the landscape. Much of the snow remains, but in those places where it has gone, it's revealed the rock and earth beneath.

I am enough of a realist to accept that this most likely won't be the last of the snow, that the earth might soon again be covered, and that spring is still a ways away for us. For today, that glimpse is enough.

Right now I'm content to think of sweaters and wool blankets. But soon, quite soon I think, I'll be longing for the day the snow melts for good. Anxious and fidgety for a trod through that wood in the time of almost spring. Before the shoots begin, when all is brown and filled with possibility.

A walk where each step of rubber-clad foot is followed by the echoed squelch of the mud beneath.

In my mind's eye I see broad-checked flannel and tins of pretty cookies for later. But first, a thermos full of soup to bring warmth to the enjoyable dampness that surrounds. And as of this moment, if I had to decide, it would be mushroom soup that we'd sip and spoon.

I made some yesterday, so even though that picnic upon the forest floor is weeks away, you can still get the general idea of the way I'm thinking.

It has an aroma dense with notes of growth and loam. (Loam is such a good word, stretched out and rounded like a yawn.) Both fresh and dried mushrooms are cooked in a pan with olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. After 20 minutes of cooking, the mushrooms have gone through stages of transformation; first pale and spongy, then wet and a soggy, then as that moisture evaporates the mushrooms turn deeply golden and their texture goes satisfyingly chewy.

A pour of Sherry to deglaze, it sputters and bubbles into a winey syrup that coats the vegetables in gloss. In goes the stock, and all's left to simmer for 20 minutes more. Whirred to a foaming, ethereal purée, the soup is done save for the indulgent dollop of mascarpone right at the end.

And with that, into the woods we go.

One last thing, I'd like to thank Stephanie Levy for asking me to be a part of her Artists Who Blog series. If you'd like to take a look at what we talked about, she's posted my interview on her site.

THE REAL MUSHROOM SOUP
 

From Jamie Oliver, the title's his, too.

Now mushroom soup depends greatly on the mushrooms itself; not only for flavour of course, but also for colour.

The bulk of the fresh mushrooms I used were the bark and black beauties, crimini and shiitakes, with only a handful each of ochre chanterelles and ivory oysters to counter that darkness. A mix favouring the paler varieties would result in a soup with looks more fawn than mouse.

That business on top there, there is purpose to that prettiness. A bit of herbs, croutons torn into buttery crumble, some sautéed mushrooms, together create the ideal counterpoint to the mellow earthiness of the soup; a freshness to the musky depth of its flavour and essential weight against the lightness of the emulsion. Mr. Oliver suggests a tranche of grilled bread instead of croutons, use whichever you like.

The only change I made to the recipe was the addition of Sherry when cooking the mushrooms, leaving out the lemon juice to finish.

Recipe

Untitled

I've stopped in with some chickpeas today, along with a recipe that has me acting like a crazy person.

How so? Well, let's read the ingredients. You will surely recognize the usual suspects, robust olive oil, our old friend garlic, aromatic leeks and of course the chickpeas. Then there's twangy lemon and woodsy rosemary, adding height and depth to the mix. Last, the salt. Can't forget that, the universal leveler, the thing that amplifies individual flavours while miraculously creating overall harmony.

But no pepper.

Who have I become? It's unlike me to bring Salt along without it's bosom buddy Pepper. And often I go one step further, with dried chili flakes, cayenne or Kashmiri chili thrown in for kicks. But in this case, (deep breath) I have decided I don't want pepper anywhere near this meal.

Let me give you some sense of this tumble of stewy leeks and chickpeas; they cook up in a way that is gratifyingly substantial, as is our need in these January days. But they are just cooked, without a trace of sludginess, still firm and springy-centered. Silken leeks curl around their goldeness, the pale jadeite strands are floral and sweet. The rosemary and lemon are noticed to be sure, but their forms are blurred at the edges, melting into and carrying forth the flavours of the others in equal measure.

The full effect is something akin to what it would be like to read the collected poems of e.e. cummings by spoon rather than by eye. While there is a variation in tone from bite to bite, there are no full stops or pesky uppercase letters to interrupt the rhythm we've got going here. Pepper would break up that essential mellowness, its wham! bang! personality, although a virtue elsewhere, would be too much for the delicate structure of this dish to bear.

We can't have that. So, I've banished the pepper. Scandalous behaviour, on my part.

Secondly, I'm mad for this stuff. Straight out of the pan it is terribly good, with some wilted bitter greens or steamed broccoli rabe nearby to swirl into the herby, lemony, garlic-infused olive oil left behind. Or, pour in few glugs of stock (chicken or vegetable, please) and suddenly there's soup. It can be eaten as is, with perhaps some Parmesan, or blitzed into a purée (but take the rosemary sprigs out before bringing out the heavy machinery).

Whatever way, in mine at least, hold the pepper.

CHICKPEAS WITH LEEKS AND LEMON

I was heavy-handed with the olive oil, as I knew I wanted that excess to dress the greens served alongside. For a lighter dish, or if your intended result is soup, reduce the oil to 2 tablespoons. Adding the rosemary back to the pan at the end gives a final hit of herbal steam. The twig, and the clove of garlic, can be removed before serving if desired.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, bruised but whole
  • 1 6-inch branch fresh rosemary, broken in two
  • 4 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and with the white and light green parts sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 lemon

METHOD

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic and rosemary over medium heat. Once the garlic turns fragrant and the rosemary begins to sizzle, remove the rosemary but reserve for later.

 

Add the leeks to the pan, along with a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the leeks are soft and sweet but still brightly green, around 5 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas, and continue to cook for a 5 minutes more, at which point the chickpeas should have darkened slightly in colour.

Using a microplane or zester, add a few scrapes of lemon zest to the pan, along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir gently to combine. Check for seasoning, adding more juice, zest or salt as needed. Return the reserved rosemary sprigs to the pan, and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

(Photo courtesy Irene Powell)

"Want to go to the cottage?"

One phrase, six words, and the ability to transport the listener to a whole other reality. Come summertime, there is no sweeter sound to my ears than the promise of a leisurely weekend of food, friends and family, and the opportunity to let concerns of the every day fall away.

While the fall may almost be upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, there still is a part of me that is thinking about the summer sun and afternoons on a deck somewhere. Inspiration for the menu would not be hard, with Marty's World Famous Cookbook (Whitecap Books, 2008) nearby. This cookbook offers up the sort of crowd-pleasing fare that is made for a long weekend of relaxation. And it is not surprising, considering the fact that the author, Marty Curtis, owns and operates the highly-popular Marty's World Famous Café in Bracebridge (located in the Muskoka Lakes region of Ontario, a popular cottage destination).

The book features many of the café's specialties; included are the recipes for their chicken stock and house bread, with notes brewing the perfect cup of coffee. If pressed to find an adjective for this book and its author, I would have to say "likeable." The food is casual, the sort that inspires guests to roll up their sleeves, put their elbows on the table and dive in. Few of the recipes would be considered daunting or demanding of the home cook and the writing is conversational and welcoming.

Curtis' enthusiasm for his food is evident in the anecdotes and tips that are scattered heavily through the pages, often accompanied by evocative location photographs by Allen Dew. The subjects are far-ranging, reminiscent of the wandering conversations of a long weekend. He covers everything from the importance of mental preparedness in the kitchen to the parable of stone soup to how to improve at fishing.

By his own admission, Curtis believes it is best to "go big" - serving up generous 14" pies, jumbo pastries, and showcasing bold flavours at every turn. It is apparent that Mr. Curtis is a man of specific tastes, with an evident love of citrus and aromatic spices. Most notable though is Curtis' preference for the mix of salty and sweet; the combination appears in many recipes with varying success.

To that end, this book seems stranded in a middle ground of being simply nice. The indulgent breakfast and desserts were standouts, but I found many of the main dishes fell short of expectations.

The enormous Lemon, Blueberry and Cream Cheese muffins were tender and moist. With a good deal of sharp lemon to balance the richness of the cheese, these showcased the blueberries quite well; most likely the perfect breakfast for any fan of cheesecake. Eggs Benedict are made even more unctuous through the addition of brie - blitzed momentarily under the broiler, the cheese melts lusciously over the eggs and asparagus. Once napped with Hollondaise, the dish was good but overly-rich to my palate. To that end, I chose to add a splash more acid and a tablespoon of hot water to thin the sauce. Lovers of indulgence might not feel the need to make such alterations.

Marty's Best Brownies were another winner. The rich batter bakes up dense and fudgy, with a deeply crackled top. Walnuts, freshly-roasted and sprinkled with kosher salt, are a tasty addition. The nuts are buttery but with saline crunch that adds punctuation to the sweetness of the dessert.

I would be remiss to review this book without mentioning Marty's World Famous Buttertarts. They are an evident passion; gracing the cover in their golden glory, garnering 16 pages of photographs, notes and recipes within. Not only are they one of the main draws to the café, but they also seem to be the embodiment of Curtis' food philosophy - they are unapologetically large, sweet with warm spices and featuring a hit of citrus. Although I have never been to Mr. Curtis' shop, I had to try these at home. The lard-based pastry (which is also used for sweet and savoury pies) came together quickly, was easy to work with and produced wonderfully-flaky results. While everyone loved the pastry, the buttertarts as a whole received mixed reviews. Some found the filling unlike their opinion of the archetypal treat and so were disappointed, while others found these to be a welcome departure from heavier versions.

I think buttertarts, like the perfect apple pie, are deeply rooted in personal preference and so the idea of tacking down a universally-loved ultimate recipe is virtually impossible.

From the Fishin' Muskoka section, the BBQ Wine and Herb Salmon was succulent and moist, however the highly-flavoured marinade (while delicious) verged upon overpowering the the fish iteself. The same could be said of the Candied BBQ Asparagus from Barbecue Classics. The tangy-sweet sauce contains both sugar and balsamic vinegar; a tasty combination but one that overshadows the asparagus flavour. As one tester put it, "this is really good, but it isn't about the asparagus."

The Barbecue Classics section is also home to the intriguing idea of Buttertart Burgers. A mix of meats retained moisture and texture, but the seasoning (including Curtis' Buttertart BBQ Rub) was one that took the savoury and sweet combination a step too far. Disappointing as that was, it was further troublesome that the Buttertart BBQ Rub, and its related barbecue sauce, is required in a number of recipes in this chapter - after the experience of the burgers, these other dishes were unappealing.

With well-shot food photography by Douglas Bradshaw, a number of solid dishes and featuring contributions from Martio Batali, Michael Smith and Ted Reader, Marty's World Famous Cookbook is as easy-to-like as its author. Straightforward and not particularly challenging, the book is suited to easygoing weekend cooking - or whenever you want to have a bit of a vacation in your own kitchen.

Recipes from Marty's World Famous Cookbook

Fluffiest omelettes ever

World famous bean salad (scroll down to end of article)

The ultimate Canadian back bacon sandwich

The original big sandwich

Pancakes

Lemon, blueberry and cream cheese muffins

Eggs Benedict with melted brie and asparagus

Around this time two years ago, I was coming up with various uses for peas. Before that, I was all about asparagus. While the grass outside is only showing the barest shades of hopeful green, days of sun and warm breezes have put a definite sense of spring in my step. It is fitting then that this year I am embracing the warmth of recent days by serving both green vegetables.

This simple side can be served warm or at room temperature, offering up sweet and tender-crisp veggies tossed with a vinaigrette that can be called nothing short of enthusiastically herby. Served alongside a seared salmon filet this would make a lovely light supper for these glorious early days of the season.

Spring vegetables with green goddess pesto
While not wholly traditional pesto ingredients, the name refers mostly to the texture of the vinaigrette. The combination was inspired by the original Green Goddess Dressing.

Ingredients
2 shallots, cut in quarters OR 3 green onions, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
2/3 cup mixed fresh herbs; whatever combination of chervil, dill, tarragon, lemon thyme and basil you prefer
1-2 anchovy filets, rinsed if salt packed
Zest and juice from half a lemon
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (see note)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into approximately 1 1/2" pieces, blanched
2 cups frozen or fresh petit pois, blanched

To make the vinaigrette; place the shallots, garlic, herbs, lemon zest, juice and anchovies into a blender or small food processor. Pulse to reduce the contents to a coarse purée. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil in slowly, scraping the sides down as needed. Season to taste.

In a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat, gently cook the pesto. Stir constantly for about 2 minutes, or until the edge (raw flavours) of the garlic and shallot are mellowed slightly. Toss through the blanched vegetables until just warmed through. Taste again for seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6.

Note:
• The olive oil measurement is only a guide, adjust the amount to best suit your textural preference.
• If you do not mind the pungency of raw garlic and shallots, cooking the pesto can be skipped.
• For this, and many other similar preparations, I prefer to use an immersion blender and a container only slightly wider than the blender head (like a mason jar); this way, the ingredients are well chopped and fully blended.

Growing up, my best friend was right next door. It was one of those friendships where sleepovers were weekly, staying over for dinner was almost daily, and company was constant. We were lucky enough to live on a street where everyone knew everybody, where children ran freely from yard to yard wreaking havoc and laughter. It was a great place to live, with pool parties and backyard barbecues crowned with sparklers at the end.

Beyond the fun we had, my most vivid memory of these childhood friendships was the food. I think of those barbecues and I can taste the juice of sticky sweet watermelons, I think of strawberries picked from the bushes in the backyard, and of fingers stained a myriad of rainbow colours from Fun Dip.

But most of all I think about the kitchens - ours and the one next door. While our house was filled with the flavours of India and England, theirs was bursting with those of Italy. So as much as my Grandmother's shepherd's pie and my Mother's chicken curry figure largely in my remembrance of childhood, so do jars and jars of pickled red peppers, tender veal cutlets, and handmade breads for the holidays. The alchemy of homemade wine was a mystery to us. I was fascinated by the yearly ritual, and the enormous glass carafes that would take up residence in the basement. Oh goodness, and Nutella - that wonderful dark chocolate and hazelnut spread that is nothing short of ambrosia to a 6 year old.

As kids, we ate all meals at home, walking home from school at lunchtime. As far as I can recall, the business of meals was simply part of the daily ritual. I never had the impression that it was a bother, or that it was a chore (though it must have been, sometimes).

I cannot help but think that it was this assumption of good, fresh food that has shaped how I cook today. Even when tired or frustrated, it is not often that I am too tired to cook. I may be vexed about my day, but I am not vexed about the food. Sure, it may sometimes be simple, but the process of preparing food is integral to the routine of my day; I feel I have forgotten something without it.

I am thankful for those early influences, and that food and philosophy are remembered fondly - and often. As with most of us, I am sure, pasta has endured as a comfort food in our household. In its preparation, I sometimes stop to remember those meals from years ago, hoping I can come close to those tastes.

While this vegetable bolognese is far from traditional, and nothing I had as a child, it still brings me that sense of comforting nostalgia. Slowly stirred aromatic vegetables cooked until deeply flavoured and tender, then served with hot pasta and a snowfall of Paremsan - how memorable is that?

Vegetarian bolognese
My version was a combination of recipes; as I did not write down quantities as I cooked, I thought it best to simply provide the same guides I used. If anyone would like specifics, please feel free to contact me.

Sources:

Pappardelle with vegetable bolognese from Epicurious
Rigatoni with vegetable bolognese from Giada de Laurentiis

Specific changes and notes:

• Added 1/2 a large eggplant and 1 medium zucchini to the vegetables called for. As I prefer my mushrooms and eggplant to be well caramelized and golden, I cooked them separately from the rest first, then added them to the soffritto as per the recipe.
• 6 oil packed sundried tomatoes were puréed and added along with the tomato paste.
• The wine was replaced with vegetable broth and a splash of red wine vinegar.
• The photograph featured does not include marscarpone, as I intended to freeze a portion; the dairy is added just before serving, and I do believe the sauce needs a bit of richness at the finish. Full fat cream cheese can be used if mascarpone is unavailable.
• This sauce is particularly nice when thinned with a bit of pasta cooking water, then tossed through with your favourite medium tube pasta and chunks of fresh mozzarella.

As a child of the 1980s, I have a deep affection for that era of roller skate - the ones with four wheels and the bright red, eraser-like stopper attached to the toe. I spent many an hour touring the neighbourhood in my skates, confident as can be.

Flash forward 20 years later and you can imagine my trepidation when my dear Sean strapped brand new rollerblades on me and assumed I would be steady on my feet. Facing the downhill slope of a rather steep hill, little did he expect the athletic debacle that would follow.

To make a long story short, I ricocheted off of a fence once or twice on my way down. Since then if faced with the slightest of declines, I am happy to veer off the road, sit myself down in the grass and watch the world roll by.

In this case I am all too happy to indulge my cowardice.

But one arena in which I have rarely shown fear has been the kitchen. Whether it was youthful exuberance or sheer naive ego, I would be hard pressed to remember a recipe that I have shied away from due to lack of experience. I will either place my confidence in quality of the recipe or in my own common sense, and then pray for the best.

That is not to say that errors have not been made; I could tell stories of some spectacular culinary failures that culminated in me laughing and crying all at once, as I reached for the phone to order takeout. But for whatever reason, these catastrophes have never fazed me. A simple shrug of the shoulder later, a wipe down of the counters and I am usually ready to tackle my next attempt.

It was with this touch of hubris that I made my first soufflé. Not smart enough to heed the many horror stories of fallen hopes, I happily whipped, folded and baked my way to airy perfection. Maybe it was assuredness that was the secret of my success. Maybe it was my assumption that all will be well was what made it so. Since that triumph, I have never looked back; both savoury and sweet offerings have graced our table. I have fallen in love with soufflés, with their luscious eggy density and slightly tender belly.

This corn and cheddar version has been a favourite since first taste. With a subtle background heat playing off of the sweetness of fresh corn, it is a wonderful balance of flavours for a light summer supper. The procedure is surprisingly simple and forgiving; stir the roux patiently, do not overwhip your egg whites, fold the batter gently. Bake until set without peeking in the oven, and your bravery will be rewarded with awe at the table. Who needs a greater ego-boost than that?

Sweet corn and white cheddar soufflé, with herbs and chili

Ingredients
Kernels from 2 ears of fresh corn
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, cut into small dice
1 small red chili, finely minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the ramekins
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, separated
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup grated aged white cheddar
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (coriander)

Preheat oven 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease four 3/4 cup capacity ramekins with butter, then coat with Parmesan.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Add the corn, onion and chili and cook, stirring, until the corn is tender and the onion is translucent. Remove the vegetables to a small bowl and set aside to cool.

In the same pan over medium low heat, melt the remaining butter. Whisk in the flour, cayenne and nutmeg, then cook this mixture for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to combine. Continue to cook, for about 3 minutes, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Turn off the heat, whisk in egg yolks, cheddar, remaining Parmesan and herbs. Stir in the corn and vegetable mixture. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff (but not dry) peaks. Using a spatula, fold one third of the egg whites into the soufflé base. Continue to fold each third in, only until just combined.

Divide the soufflé batter among the four prepared ramekins. Sprinkle with additional finely grated cheddar or Parmesan, if desired.

Gently place ramekins into a roasting pan or large casserole dish. Fill the pan with water from a recently-boiled kettle, until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, until crowned and golden.

Serve immediately, makes 4.

Notes:

• For a more impressive crown to your soufflé, rather than one that will just coyly peek over the edge of the dish as seen here, use a slightly smaller ramekin.
• When folding in the egg whites, I usually let a few streaks of white to remain for my first two additions as I know those will dissipate with the last addition. This allowance will prevent you from overworking the batter and deflating the volume.