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Bitter, sweet and potent, the Negroni is an acquired taste. Judging by the drink's skyrocketing popularity, a lot more people are acquiring it. It's a simple enough recipe to remember: equal parts gin, Campari and sweet red vermouth, stirred with ice, strained over ice and garnished with an orange twist. But to mix a perfect Negroni, one that's ice cold, perfectly balanced and silky smooth, requires the right tools, the right booze and a bit of skill. Here's how.

GIN

When it's Negroni time, leave the top-shelf gin in the liquor cabinet. The Gilbert Gottfried-like screech of Campari drowns out the subtler qualities of premium spirits. Go with a classic London dry gin such as Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater. I prefer the latter: its sharp citrus flavours can handle the aggressive bitterness of Mr. Gottfried.

CAMPARI

Sweet, complex and as bitter as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Campari is an Italian liqueur infused with herbs and fruits made according to Gaspare Campari's recipe from 1860. In Canada, Campari is 26 percent alcohol, and its colour is essential to a Negroni's neon red hue that flashes, "Drink me!" Some people prefer the similar, yet lighter Aperol — it's only 11 percent alcohol — but those people would not be drinking a Negroni.

VERMOUTH

Vermouth is a fortified wine that's been flavoured with an array of botanicals including roots, barks, flowers, herbs and spices. It can be sipped on its own as an aperitif, but it's more often than not used as a modifier in a huge range of cocktails.

A Negroni calls for sweet red vermouth. Fratelli Branca Carpano Antica Formula is the Dom Pérignon of said vermouth. And while Antica makes a magnificent Manhattan, its root beer-esque richness throws the balance off in a Negroni. I prefer the more affordable Martini Rosso; its slight vegetal character really ties the drink together.

STIR

A Negroni is a stirred drink. Stirring, rather than shaking, preserves clarity, and yields a cocktail silkier than a Hermès scarf. While you can do it in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, it's worth investing in a handsome mixing glass if you make a lot of Negronis. A long bar spoon comes in handy though you could MacGyver it with the handle of a large metal spoon. (Avoid wood, as you don't want your drink to taste like last week's curry.) Gently stirring the drink over ice chills the liquid while diluting the alcohol to a more palatable level. It takes around 30 to 45 seconds, but taste it to be sure.

ICE

It may seem pretentious to insist on a single two-square-inch ice cube to chill your Negroni, but this is a master class, not nursery school. You want a perfect Negroni? Buy an extra-large ice cube tray. The bigger block keeps the drink cold with minimal dilution.

TWIST

Fort the garnish, remove a 3/4" by 2" strip of orange zest with a Y-peeler, being careful to minimize the bitter, white pith. Squeeze it over the drink to release the oils then drop it in. Finally, it's Negroni time.

If you want to explore variations on the Negroni — they are seemingly endless — I direct you to The Straight Up, Nick Caruana's excellent blog that focuses on classic cocktails.

THE RECIPE

Eric's Negroni

1 oz. Beefeater London dry gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Martini Rosso sweet vermouth
Ice cubes
1 large ice cube
1 orange twist

Step 1: Chill a double rocks or old-fashioned glass.

Step 2: Pour gin, Campari and vermouth into a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Add enough ice to come above the liquid. Stir until the mixing glass or shaker feels ice cold, 30 to 45 seconds.

Step 3: Place large cube in chilled glass. Strain drink into glass. Pinch orange twist to release oils and drop in glass.

Photo credits:
1-2. Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

In the land of five-month winters, I'm always surprised to hear everyone declare an end to summer on Labour Day. Not so fast, partner. According to my calendar there are a few weeks left, and in Toronto, it's often the finest stretch of the season.

While it's still nice out, I like to park myself on the front porch after work and sip a refreshing libation while my daughter affixes stickers to every available surface. At my house, a late summer cocktail means something cold and citrusy with a good slug of gin.

Good things happen when gin and citrus meet, and they meet often in classic cocktails. The beloved Tom Collins is essentially a spiked glass of sparkling lemonade. A Sloe Gin Fizz is similar to a Collins, but with the addition of sloe gin, an English liqueur made by infusing high proof gin with wild blackthorn plums then sweetening it with sugar and diluting it with water. It's cloying on its own, but magnificent in a fizz. For something stiffer, the South Side is a straight-up icy drink that is perfumed with mint and has the sweet-sour tension of a good margarita or daiquiri.

All three cocktails are unbelievably refreshing, and the lemon's bite primes the palate for the dinner bell. They have just enough gin to wash away the day's troubles, but won't knock you over the head like a martini. These drinks are dead easy to make, and make them you should, to savour the dying days of summer.

A note about the recipes:

Lemon juice for cocktails is always fresh squeezed, preferably passed through a fine strainer to remove pips and pulp. Simple syrup is equal volumes water and granulated sugar heated and stirred until the sugar dissolves. As for gin, I experimented with various brands and found both Beefeater and Plymouth consistently worked best in all three drinks. Do remember to chill your glasses before mixing, as it makes all the difference.

Tom Collins

Ice cubes
2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Soda water, chilled
Orange slice and cherry, for garnish (optional)

Step 1: Chill a 12-oz. highball glass. Fill with ice.

Step 2: Pour gin, lemon juice and syrup into a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake. Strain into prepared glass. Top with soda. Give a light stir. Garnish with orange and cherry, if desired. Serves 1.

Sloe Gin Fizz

Ice cubes
1 oz. sloe gin
1 oz. gin
3/4 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup
Soda water, chilled
Lemon slice, for garnish (optional)

Step 1: Chill a 12-oz. highball glass. Fill with ice.

Step 2: Pour sloe gin, gin, lemon juice and syrup into cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake. Strain into prepared glass. Top with soda. Give a light stir. Garnish with lemon, if desired. Serves 1.

South Side

5 mint leaves
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Ice cubes
1 small mint leaf, for garnish

Step 1: Chill a coupe or martini glass.

Step 2: In cocktail shaker, muddle mint and simple syrup. Add gin, lemon juice and ice. Shake. Fine strain into glass. Garnish with mint leaf. Serves 1.

Photo credits:
1-3. Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

A gin and tonic is a very personal drink. There is no "best" recipe or "perfect G&T." I like a one-to-two ratio of gin to tonic, but others will find that too potent. I also prefer a G&T with lime, but in the U.K. they often use lemon. I’ve broken it down into its two basic components and given a couple of recipes to get you started. But if you enjoy this libation as much as I do, I would encourage you to delve deep into the subject and create a gin and tonic that makes you go "Hmmm."

Gin

Compared to the great wall of vodka, the gin shelf at most liquor stores is anemic. That’s slowly changing as an increasing number of premium bottlesmuscle in on the classic bar brands.

Gin is essentially vodka (i.e. a neutral spirit) flavoured with an array of botanicals, the defining one being juniper berries. There are no good or bad gins; only ones you like. My go-to brand is Hendrick's, a Scottish gin distinguished by an infusion of Bulgarian roses and cucumber. It's higher in alcohol than the average gin, so I use a little more tonic to compensate. I'm also a big fan of Bombay Sapphire: its juniper is front and centre, and there is a complimentary note of liquorice. Finally, Dillon's, a new micro-distillery in Niagara, Ontario, makes a unique gin that's unfiltered, floral and complex.


Tonic

Most gin and tonics in this country are made with either Canada Dry or Schweppes, a pair of tonic stalwarts available at grocery and corner stores from coast to coast. If you want to up your G&T game, there are two lesser-known brands worth seeking out. The first is Fentimans, a century-old British soft drink maker, whose tonic comes in an old-timey, brown bottle straight out of a Victorian apothecary. It's on the sweet side with a floral, citrusy flavour profile that it gets from lemongrass and lime leaf. It's delicious on its own, and goes extremely well with Dillon's gin. Also from the U.K., Fever Tree has become my house tonic. It's smooth, balanced and herbaceous with a lovely liquorice kick, complimenting both Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick's. Fentimans and Fever Tree are expensive, but, in my opinion, worth it.

Recipes


Eric's Gin & Tonic Recipe

Ice cubes  
2 oz. Bombay Sapphire
gin  
4 oz. Fever Tree tonic water, chilled  
1 lime wedge

Step 1: Chill a 10-oz. Collins glass.

Step 2: Fill glass with ice. Pour in gin. Top with tonic water. Give drink a light stir. Garnish with lime wedge. Serves 1.


Hendrick's & Tonic Recipe

Ice cubes  
2 oz. Hendrick’s gin
6 oz. tonic water, chilled
3 thin slices cucumber

Step 1: Chill a 12-oz. highball glass.

Step 2: Fill glass with ice. Pour in gin. Top with tonic water. Give drink a light stir. Garnish with cucumber. Serves 1.

Get more drink recipes.

Photo sources:
Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

To complement "Catch of the Day", our East Coast food feature in the July 2014 issue (available on Eastern newsstands June 2nd and Western June 9th), I want to delve more into the wine and cheese being produced by the Atlantic provinces. This, by no means, is a definitive round up. For the sake of brevity and user friendliness, I'm sticking with the stuff that has some national availability. For more info on East Coast wines, visit Wines of Canada, and for cheeses, check out the Canadian Cheese Directory.

The inclement weather and short growing seasoning make farming grapes a real challenge in Atlantic Canada. There are, however, a few terrific wineries along the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Benjamin Bridge in the Gaspereau Valley (see photo above) is one of them, a sparkling specialist with a devout following. Their entry-level Nova 7, a fizzy, pink Moscato-style wine, has brilliant sweet-sour tension that is terrific with piquant cheeses or with spicy food. Their new 2009 Brut, which was aged three years on the lees, is a tight, tangy sparkler that would go well with oysters or gooey, washed-rind cheeses like brie. Finally, their Brut Reserve — I have tasted both the 2005 and 2007 — is aged for five years on the lees, and is a magnificent bottle of bub that can go toe-to-toe with French champagne in the same price range. It should be cellared and saved for an august occasion.

I've also had the pleasure of trying a few wines from Gaspereau Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley. Their L'Acadie Blanc, made from an all-Canadian grape of the same name, is a crispy, dry, citrusy white that has the lean charm of Petit Chablis. It's a knockout with shellfish.

Now you may be surprised to learn that Newfoundland produces wine, as the Rock is not exactly known for sunshine. While the province does not grow grapes for vinification, there is a bounty of wild fruit on the island, and Rodrigues Winery transforms it into award-winning elixirs. Their blueberry wine is more off dry than sweet with a good zing of acidity. Served well chilled, it would be terrific as an aperitif with goat cheese, or for dessert with any of Atlantic Canada's myriad of berry desserts. It also happens to be kosher.

Atlantic Canada is definitely more suited to cheese making than vinous agriculture, and a rapidly grown range of artisan wheels and wedges are making headway in market dominated by Ontario and Quebec.

P.E.I.'s Cow's Creamery may be more known for its chain of ice cream parlours, but among turophiles, it is the maestro of cheddar. Their Scottish-style Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar won a first prize at the 2013 Canadian Cheese Gran Prix, the Oscars of the dairy world.

From New Brunswick, look out for La Bergerie aux 4 Vents at your local cheesemonger. Their Gaie Bleu is a buttery raw cow's milk blue, and Le Sieur de Deplessis is an earthy, nutty tomme-style wheel made from raw sheep's milk.

Finally, from Nova Scotia, I am quite enamoured with the cheeses from That Dutchman's Farm. Their goudas are excellent (see photo above), and their unique Dragon's Breath Blue lives up to its name.

The next time you're putting together a wine and cheese party, don't forget about Canada's East Coast.

(For more East Coast inspiration, tour a pretty P.E.I. waterfront cottage.)

Photo sources:
1. Applehead Studio
2. Gaspereau Vineyards
3. Rodrigues Winery
4. Nova Scotia Tourism Agency

Author: 

Eric Vellend

I'm here to make a case for mushy broccoli. Yes, mushy. While most of us have been taught to cook broccoli quickly so it's bright green and al dente, there is an Italian method for braising it low and slow to the point where it falls apart at the mere suggestion of a fork. It's called stufati, and it is the most delicious preparation of broccoli imaginable.

Stufati translates to "stewed" or "smothered", and while broccoli cooked in this manner is not as pretty as a verdant stir-fry, it develops such a deep, earthy flavour over the long cooking time that you'll never crave another crunchy floret again. It's excellent served hot off the stove or at room temperature, and if you're lucky enough to have any leftovers, they are terrific on garlic-rubbed toasts (aka crostini) the next day.

This recipe is adapted from my tattered copy of More Classic Italian Cooking, published in 1978, by the late, great Marcella Hazan. Mrs. Hazan, who passed away last year, has mentored me through her cookbooks since the early '90s, and I continue to be inspired by her delicious recipes and unwavering integrity. She is known as the Julia Child of Italian cuisine for good reason.

Broccoli Stufati with Red Wine & Pecorino

1 large bunch broccoli
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 anchovy filets, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano to taste

Step 1: Cut the broccoli into large florets. Peel the stems. Slice the stems ¼” thick. Set aside.

Step 2: Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned and softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and anchovies. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Make an even bed of broccoli stems and florets on top of onions. Pour in wine. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover. When mixture is simmering, reduce heat to low. Cook, without stirring, 45 minutes.

Step 3: Remove lid. Raise heat to medium-low. Cook, without stirring, until most of the moisture has evaporated, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with cheese. Serves 4.

Photo sources:
Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

From tortillas to saltines, there is a whole wheat option for just about everything made with flour. Pizza is no exception: the slice joint near the office has up to four pies made with whole wheat crusts, and my local supermarket has blobs of raw whole wheat pizza dough alongside white. If you're looking a healthier twist on the dough in our pizza feature (in the March 2014 issue, available on Eastern newsstands February 10th and Western stands February 17th), here are some tips on making whole wheat pies.

The general rule is to replace 25 per cent to 50 per cent of the white flour with whole wheat. (Personally, I go with the sweet spot in the middle.) There is a good reason why you don't want to go beyond 50 per cent: whole wheat flour forms less gluten strands than white and will not rise as high. Too much of it will also dominate the pizza with its earthy flavour, and the texture will be decidedly gritty. I was once subjected to a pizza with a crust made with 100 per cent whole wheat flour, and it was about as delicious as the box it came in.

Once you've committed to a whole wheat crust, toppings need to be considered seriously. Personally, I don't like the combination of whole wheat and tomato sauce. The earthy flavours work better with white- (aka bianco) or no-sauce pizzas especially with members of the brassica family on top. I did some experimenting, and here are two winning combinations.

This lovely pie is topped with blanched brussels sprouts cut into wedges and lardons of pancetta that were cooked in dry pan until the fat rendered off and the meat crisped up. The gooey base is Appenzeller, a nutty cow's-milk cheese from Switzerland that melts beautifully. You could also use Gruyère or Fontina. If I were to make this again, I would use double smoked bacon instead of pancetta for a hit of campfire flavour.

This pizza was superb. It started with a thin base of lightly whipped cream, a clever trick from LA chef Nancy Silverton. (It's basically instant white sauce and is lighter, not to mention much easier to make, than roux-thickened béchamel.) I put a little diced mozzarella – about one ounce – then topped it with roasted cauliflower, capers and sliced green onions. When it comes out of the oven, it gets an herbaceous hit of flat-leaf parsley. The piquant, verdant flavours of the toppings worked so well with whole wheat that I bet it would be a lesser pie made with a white crust.

Photo sources:
1-3. Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

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