– Story and recipes by Ellie Shortt Photography by Lia Crowe
I have unwavering wanderlust.
Often at this time of year I’m lost in blog posts, reviews and suggested itineraries, planning my next big adventure. Wherever I’ve decided to journey consumes my thoughts and frames my days as I eagerly anticipate that sweet moment when the bags are packed, the alarm set and I’m one too-excited-to-sleep night away from takeoff.
Of course, the pandemic paradigm of the past year has meant globetrotting plans are on hold as borders remain closed to non-essential travel. Missing the feeling of having a boarding pass between my fingers, I’ve found myself scrolling wistfully through past vacation photos. I yearn for cobblestone strolls, gelato in hand and an espresso buzz pushing me through a jet-lagged daze. I long for breakfasts on picture-perfect patios; daydream about picnic lunches consisting simply of fresh bread, meat and cheese, as English-free conversations trickle in and out of the background soundscape. I ache for drawn-out dinners in hidden gems where the generous and wine-soaked owner keeps producing unordered courses of his favourite seasonal dishes. What I could give to eat my way through markets or sip my way through cafes. The things I would do to be fumbling through unfamiliar currency in front of a food cart in the middle of a buzzing summer’s eve festival.
Wandering a bit too far down memory lane, I’ve pulled myself back through appreciative acknowledgment of the place I’m lucky enough to call home, and the realization that some of those experiences can be recreated literally in my own backyard. I am beyond fortunate to live in beautiful British Columbia, one of the most desirable destinations in the world—a place where we have access to so much beauty, as well as some of the most exquisite ingredients a professional chef or amateur cook could dream of.
So now, as we trudge through another season of pandemic living with no chance of recreational travel for the foreseeable future, I encourage you to evoke vacation vibes even if just for an evening. Put on the music, treat yourself to some special ingredients, take your meal outside and enjoy it the way you would while on holiday—fully and completely immersed in every mouthful as you indulge in the most mindful form of exquisite escapism.
Panzanella with Grilled Peaches, Prosciutto & Honey Toasted Walnuts
For our honeymoon, my husband and I spent three romantic weeks in Italy. We started in Rome, popped over to the Amalfi coast and then finished things off in Tuscany, where we enjoyed panzanella in the garden terrazzo of our family-run lodgings. If you’re unfamiliar with this dish, it’s an unassuming yet immensely satisfying Italian bread-based salad.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions seem to be a mainstay, and thankfully, these staple veggies also grow in abundance throughout BC in the summer. Italians may also add in whatever else is in season regionally, whether that’s asparagus in the spring, roast eggplant in the fall or peaches in the summer. I suggest enjoying this dish al fresco on a sunny summer evening, along with a bottle of Toscana Rosato, while Caterina Bueno’s sultry vocals serenade you in the background.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Makes about 4 servings
1 to 2 loose cups baby arugula
1 to 2 loose cups mixed baby greens
2 mini cucumbers, sliced
1 lb cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ to ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
3-4 medium Okanagan peaches, cut into wedges
8 oz rustic bread, cut into large chunks
1 tsp dried oregano
200 g mozzarella, cut into rough chunks
100 g prosciutto, cut into pieces
1 cup crumbled walnuts
1 tbsp local honey
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 loose cup fresh basil, chopped
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small mixing bowl, toss the walnuts with the honey and about 1 tbsp of olive oil until evenly coated. Spread the walnuts on the paper-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with a small amount of salt and roast for 10 minutes, until just starting to get golden brown in places. Remove from the oven and set aside allowing to cool completely.
While the walnuts are toasting, heat a grilling pan on medium high. Brush the peach wedges with olive oil and grill for one minute on each side. You want them to be soft and sweet, but not so overdone that they fall apart and stick to the pan. Transfer the peach wedges to a plate and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, heat a large pan on low-medium and coat the bottom with olive oil (about 2 tbsps).
Toss in the bread chunks, a bit more olive oil to fully coat them, a sprinkling of salt and the oregano. Continuously stir and flip the bread bits until all the pieces are just starting to get golden brown, adding more olive oil as needed. You want them to be crispy on the edges, but still a bit soft in the centre. Transfer the bread chunks to a plate and set aside to cool.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and gently toss with olive oil (2 or 3 tbsps) and balsamic vinegar (1 tbsp). Transfer to a serving plate or bowl, garnish with a bit more basil, walnuts etc. and enjoy!
Slow Roast Lamb Shawarma
Israel is a small country, but it’s bursting with culinary delights. The mélange of cultures culminates in gastronomic brilliance as many international traditions combine to create unique flavour profiles. I’ve been to Israel four times and one of my favourite experiences is exploring the night markets in Old Jerusalem with a shawarma wrap in hand.
Shawarma is technically the way the meat is seasoned, even though most people associate it as a pita-wrapped street-food hero. For a fun and interactive dining experience, I like to serve it with a big spread of hummus, labneh or thick yogurt, roasted or pickled peppers, greens, Israeli salad (basically just chopped cucumber, tomato, onions and parsley or cilantro, dressed in a simple drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon juice) and then pita or rice to enjoy it as either a wrap or bowl. Create that Mediterranean night market vibe with some string lights, a cold beer and lively Middle Eastern dance hits (Omer Adam’s Tel Aviv comes to mind) as you feast upon a build-your-own shawarma adventure.
Prep time: about 5 hours
Makes about 6 servings
3 lb leg of lamb
1 medium onion, roughly sliced
1 cup of water
8 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp sumac
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sea salt
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Place marinade ingredients in a food processor and pulse into a paste, scraping down the sides as you go. Arrange the onion slices in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Coat all sides of the lamb thoroughly with the paste. *Tip: if you have time and plan ahead, cover and refrigerate overnight to let the marinade really soak in.
Pour 1 cup water into the Dutch oven, cover with a heavy lid and roast in the oven for 2.5 hours. Uncover and continue cooking for 1 hour. At this point, check the roast and if the pan seems dry, add another ½ cup of water. If the crust seems like it’s getting too dark, cover lightly with foil or even just the lid. Continue cooking until the lamb pulls apart easily with tongs or forks (possibly another hour). If it’s still feeling tough, continue cooking until it’s tender, making sure the top is not burning or that the pan is not out of liquid in the bottom.
Let stand a few minutes before serving with rice or pita, Israeli salad, hummus, labneh or yogurt sprinkled with za’atar, roast or pickled peppers, schug, greens, etc.
Tarte au Citron with Local Honey and Lavender
Fresh out of journalism school I took myself off to Paris to do a culinary program. Run by the iconic Marie-Blanche de Broglie, the course covered classic French recipes including many tart iterations. While we never made lemon tarts in the program, some of my fondest memories of that glorious time include spending many delectable hours after class on café terraces, rewriting sauce-stained notes into a Moleskine while making love to sumptuous spoonfuls of French delicacies, including tarte au citron.
My garden at home is bursting with lavender in the summer, so naturally I sprinkle dried lavender petals in almost anything that warrants it. Using local honey in the lemon curd adds a deliciously dynamic layer of flavour that plain old sugar simply doesn’t provide. I suggest enjoying your tart au citron in some romantic garden with perhaps Piaf or Gainsbourg humming the background, and let your taste buds transport you to La Tour Eiffel or even Provence as you daydream away each summery bite.
Prep time: about 30 minutes plus cooling time
Makes 6 individual tarts
For the filling…
2 tbsp lemon zest (about one large lemon’s worth)
6 large eggs
½ cup of local honey
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup unsalted butter
Zest the lemons, squeeze the juice and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, and set aside. Heat a pan on medium low, and melt the butter. Once melted, add in the rest of the ingredients, stirring constantly so the egg doesn’t overcook and get lumpy. Be patient—this takes a little while. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture has thickened and is just beginning to bubble ever so slightly. Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve into a bowl, or you can also whir it up quickly with an immersion blender to make it extra smooth.
Set aside and let cool before filling the tart crusts.
For the crust…
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cane sugar
½ tsp sea salt
½ cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into chunks
1 large egg yolk
1 to 2 tbsp ice water, as needed
1 tbsp dried lavender petals
Preheat your oven to 350 F and lightly grease six 4-inch by 7.5-inch tart tins with removable bottoms (this is not necessarily needed if they’re non-stick). In a mixer, food processor or by hand, mix together the flour, salt and sugar. Cut in the butter until crumbly, either using the pastry attachment (mixer), pulse mode (food processor) or a pastry cutter (hand). Add the egg and mix until well incorporated (the mixture will still be slightly crumbly). Slowly add the water until the dough holds together for rolling.
Divide the dough into six even-sized balls. Shape your first dough ball into a disc and place onto a sheet of floured parchment paper. Cover the dough disc with an additional sheet of parchment or wax paper, and roll it out to slightly larger than your tart tin, and about one-eighth to one-quarter-inch thick.
Remove the top piece of parchment paper and slip your hand gently under the bottom paper to flip into a tin, carefully peeling back the paper as you press it into the pan. Don’t worry if it breaks apart a little, you can always press it back together with your fingers. Pierce the bottom all over with a fork and set aside. Repeat with the remaining dough and tins and arrange them on a baking sheet.
Bake the crusts for about 15 minutes, until they’re just starting to look golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely. Once cool, carefully remove the crusts from the tins, place on a baking tray or serving platter and fill with the lemon curd filling.
If you’d like your curd filling to set more (be less runny), you can place the tarts in the fridge to cool. Otherwise, enjoy as is!