On a recent visit to Toronto’s historic St. Lawrence Market, we learn of the demise of one of the institution’s long-term characters. Rubin Marcus, who manned his rice and beans stall in the basement for more than 40 years, and from whom I first learned about quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), had died just a few days before. The last time we stocked up on this miracle grain from South America, Rube the Rice Man served me himself, still working at 92. Harp, his son-in-law, and Aida now run the store and we discuss the black quinoa I’m planning to serve for our next dinner party.
Over at Seafront Fish, Pina, her husband and brother are another long-time market family. Pina assures me the Chilean sea bass is wild caught and sustainable. The real name for this fish is Patagonian toothfish, but in the 70s a clever marketer changed the name, which has stuck in North America. In England it’s called icefish and Japan mero. Pina cheerfully cuts my sea bass steaks to size.
Ponesse Foods, where we buy fresh fruits and vegetables, has been in the north-east corner of the market since 1903. Now run by Mario, Phil and Marco they’re always helpful and rush to get something you can’t find. When I lived around the corner on The Esplanade, I would shop for fresh veggies daily. Now it’s a bit more of an expedition, but the produce is still, I think, the biggest and best selection in the market, if one gets there early enough. Today, I’m picking up fresh Ontario asparagus, berries, pineapple, pomegranate seeds, figs, tarragon and chives from the fresh herbs rack, as well as some staples.
Unlike a supermarket, visiting the old market keeps us in touch with real people when we shop. They love to talk about food, and anything else if they’re not busy. It’s a place where we get ideas for new foods to try. If I can’t find what I want at one stall, I’ll usually be able to find it at another. There’s lots of variety. Now that we have stopped eating red meat, we sadly no longer visit our friends at the butcher, although I still buy fresh turkey from Brown Bros, cheese from Alex Farm Products and made pies and truffles from Eve’s Temptations. This is where I buy Chudleigh’s apple pies in the fall, the best I’ve ever tasted. Except on Saturdays, when it gets crazy busy and the tourists flock in by the bus load, the atmosphere is bright and cheerful. Bustling through the crowds makes shopping fun rather than a chore that has to be dealt with. If we get peckish, there’s half a dozen take out hot food stalls and sit-down service at Paddington’s Pump, which is also licensed. Isabel, who has been working there 23 years, serves our all day breakfast with amazing speed, helped out by a bevy of young women, all smiling. If I need more toys for the kitchen there’s the best kitchen store in the city, right in the middle of the market. I never try and find anything, but ask one of the helpful owners. This day they even have a kettle scale collector.
The dinner I’ve planned will be for six, but in the following recipes I’ve cut the portions back to four people. I’m planning a cold soup to start, the aforementioned Chilean sea bass for mains, with sides of black quinoa, colourful veggies, and a wonderful new strawberry and pineapple dessert to close.
The table will be laid with one of our new custom sewn table coverings. Diane came up with the idea of making them from ultra-suede. It’s a very clever alternative to cloth, as it washes easily and needs no ironing. We have sets in creamy ivory, tan and dark chocolate brown, in round, one leaf oval and two leaf oval configurations so we can seat four, six or eight people comfortably and 10 at a squeeze. As summer seems to be peeking around the corner we’re going to brighten up the table with green ceramic chargers and a flower arrangement of green and white, to go with the silver candlesticks, white candles and starched white linen napkins.
Chilean sea bass
Preparation time 20 min
Marinade time 1 – 2 hr
Cooking time 20 min
4 6-8oz sea bass filet steaks
Juice of ½ lemon
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp capers (drained)
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsely
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Whole red bell pepper
Preparation and cooking
Wash and pat the fish filet steaks dry. If the fishmonger hasn’t already cut them to size for you, use a very sharp thin knife and slice them into equal portions between 6 and 8 oz (200 g), keeping the skin. Place them into a baking dish so that they fit tightly together.
Prepare the marinade in a bowl: mix the freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, drained capers and chopped herbs together well and spoon over the top of the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably two.
Preheat the oven to 390°F/200°C and bake the fish uncovered and in the marinade for 15 – 20 min. The fish is done when a knife slides into the flesh easily.
While the fish is baking, prepare the topping. Wash the bell pepper, cut out the stalk, break it open and rinse out the seeds and dry. Then chop into ½ inch squares. Put the chopped pepper into a small covered saucepan and soften it only with some olive oil or butter.
Lift the fish out of the baking dish with a spatula, being careful not to break the steaks. Scoop up any remaining marinade and spoon it onto the top of the fish, then spoon some of the peppers onto the top of each fish. Garnish with some long chive stalks.
Vegetable suggestions: black quinoa, with pine nuts and mint served as an alternative to starch, a much healthier option; I steamed small organic carrots, leaving some of the stalk on for effect, organic green beans and miniature multi-coloured individual cauliflowers.
Preparation time 5 min
Cooking time 15 min
1 cup black quinoa
1 ½ cups water or vegetable stock
2 tbsp pine nuts
8 mint leaves
Olive oil or butter
Preparation and cooking
It is very important to rinse the quinoa thoroughly. Put the loose grains in a sieve and spray with cold water for 3 min. Then tip them into a saucepan. When you are ready to cook, add the water, bring to a boil and simmer for 12 – 15 min until all the water is absorbed. For more flavour replace the water with vegetable stock.
Gently toast the pine nuts in a pan with a very little olive oil.
Wash the mint, remove all the stalks, chop roughly.
When ready to serve, toss the pine nuts and mint briefly into the cooked grain and fluff with a fork.
PS: Please leave a comment if you like these recipes, or if you have your own variations to share.