One Friday night a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to work under the tutelage of Bruce at his Saltspring Island restaurant. Although I tell people, tongue-in-cheek, that I used to be a chef in an Italian restaurant when I was younger, the truth is that I was just a lowly pizza cook, burning my forearms daily on the oven door and reeking of pepperoni for minimum wage and free pizza-by-the-slice. Since then, pizza has never held the same appeal. I was expecting a similar kind of hell at Bruce’s Kitchen, but was pleased to find a professionally run, familial kitchen where gourmet meals were prepared using only fresh and local ingredients. I’d expect nothing less from an eatery on Saltspring Island, a Gulf Island eden that is so sheltered from most western commercialism that the mere mention of an impending McDonald’s franchise would spur locals to chain themselves to bulldozers and burn clown effigies in protest.
Bruce takes pride in all aspects of his food, from farm to table as his slogan proclaims, and his attention to detail is astonishing; even the most basic condiment, such as mustard, mayo or vanilla extract, is made painstakingly from scratch by Bruce himself. For anyone ignorant of the sustenance that feeds them, they need only pass an afternoon in Bruce’s Kitchen watching its namesake chef hard at work.
I was there to help Bruce with his renowned Friday night dinners, for which menus were prepared using clever and creative themes that changed on a weekly basis. That night’s menu was of a children’s literary theme, drawing as its muse such works as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (hand-ground lamb meatballs stuffed with fire-roasted red peppers, served on a bed of creamy polenta), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (chocolate espresso mousse) and the classic Green Eggs and Ham (kale ravioli).
It was this last dish that I aimed to duplicate at home, it was so good. I have used my pasta maker previously to make ravioli, but the pasta turned out bland and misshapen by the time it landed on my plate. To remedy this, Bruce used a ravioli cutter or pastry crimper to properly shape the ravioli; so I took note and picked up my own afterwards. To liven up the taste and colour of the pasta, he mixed in chopped kale. I couldn’t remember the exact recipe, a few weeks after the fact, but trial and error gave me a finished product that I was pleased with. Thanks for the inspiration, Bruce, and for your patience with my endless questions.
My parents are liars. I just found out that they used to feed me spaghetti squash when I was a kid under the guise of it being pasta. What trickery! All that I believed to be true in this world has been shaken and questioned. What other facts of my life, once the foundation of my existence, are also untrue? Was my dad’s famous Chicken Cacciatore really just cleverly disguised rutabaga? Was he really a boiler Engineer by day as we were all led to believe, or was he an international spy or arms dealer?
I don’t yet have children, but I wonder if I’ll perpetuate the same little white food lies in the name of tricking young, picky palates with healthy foods – a kind of veggie Trojan Horse to lower their irrational defences. I probably will, as I’ve been told we all fall prey to the same devices as our well-meaning parents. I forgive you, Mom. Had I known your were trying to feed me a vegetable, I would probably have feigned insult or nausea and fallen out of my high chair in disgust. I know my childhood diet of Lucky Charms cereal and Captain Highliner Fishsticks must have been difficult to overcome.
It’s easy to see how my unsuspecting brother and I could have been so easily duped. Spaghetti Squash is true to its name in that it really does pass for pasta. Italian children, likely possessing a more evolved appreciation for pasta, would probably smell the ruse a mile away and push their plates away with a haughty air – “Ma-ma, what eez zis sporcizia?!” (unfortunately, all my ethnic impersonations end up sounding Parisian).
When prepared right, the taste is uncanny and offers a healthy, low carb alternative to pasta. When cooked, its flesh falls away like strips of spaghetti. Last weekend I witnessed this firsthand during a family visit to Saltspring Island, where my mom and I prepared this healthy squash casserole. No matter how you cook it though, you may still want to call it spaghetti if serving to kids. And don’t forget to hide the peas in the mashed potato, while you’re at it.
Cutting strips of pasta by hand - a little like zen sand art
Preparing fresh pasta by hand will likely be one of the more pleasurable cooking activities you’ll experience. Not only is this easy to make at home, but the fresh pasta will taste like it’s being served directly from a family kitchen in Italy. Molto Bene!
I’ve made pasta two different ways: by hand (more difficult and challenging to cut) and using a pasta machine (this is my preferred option, though you’ll need to pick up a machine – not to worry, Christmas is coming). If rolling and cutting by hand, the pasta will still taste great; it will usually just leave you with pasta strips that are thicker than you would get from a machine. Either way you make this though, this is much more impressive to dinner guests that emptying a store-bought package of pasta into a pot of boiling water.
Two summers ago when I was training for my first Marathon I became addicted to eating pasta. I was hungry all the time and needed constant carb-replenishment. It only took a week and a half of eating spaghetti, however, until I my body had enough and all of my white shirts had been stained with pasta sauce. I came up with this recipe in attempt to redeem pasta’s reputation at my dinner table; it is a lighter alternative to tomato-based sauces and will please the fussiest of eaters who normally wouldn’t eat a lot of vegetables. This has become one of my favourite dishes that I enjoy cooking up at least once a month. Continue reading