From Italy to Canada to the Caribbean and over my 17-year culinary career, I’ve had access to unique ingredients from all over the world. During my time as a chef in Canada, Grand Cayman and the U.S., I’ve chosen to explore regions primarily by taste. I’ve absorbed as much as possible about the culture around me by visiting food markets and eating at local restaurants.
And while many home cooks believe that you can only taste a perfect oricchiette Calabrese in Italy or find a true Jamaican festival bread in the Caribbean, I insist you can recreate any of these global dishes with the right mindset and a little creativity. Of course, certain dishes may not taste exactly the same—hey, when you’re on vacation, everything tastes better. But I know you can travel the world, and once back in your own kitchen, armed with a few key ingredients, a little elbow grease and the memory of a place (and food) you love, you can recreate those great flavors at home.
Case in point: A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Naples. Being of an Italian background, the subject of food always inspires a passionate response in me, but when my friend remarked that “the flavor of the tomatoes, aroma of the basil and freshness of the mozzarella is unmatchable here in the States,” I had to interrupt. A delicious, Napolitano pizza can absolutely be made in the U.S.
All you have to do is visit a local farmers market for fresh basil, parsley, oregano and plum tomatoes. Then head to a cheese shop for freshly made mozzarella, preferably a mozzarella di bufala. For the dough, which is the indispensable and often overlooked foundation of a good pizza, head out to a specialty supermarket to pick up “doppio zero” flour, also referred to as “00 flour”. Finally, make sure to grab a fine extra virgin olive oil from Puglia.
Still unconvinced, my friend told me she’d have to see it to believe it. The next time we got together we made a rustic and assuredly Napolitano pizza. Paired with a bottle of Gamay from the Niagara region, we managed to combine the tastes of Canada, Italy and the U.S. at one dinner table. A pie and a bottle of wine was all it took to demonstrate to my friend that it’s not where you cook but what you use and how you combine high-quality ingredients that will take you back to your favorite food and wine experiences.
So, while it takes a bit more effort, in today’s global society it is entirely possible to have your Caribbean goat curry and eat it too. I’ve had some of the best jerk chicken ever in Toronto and one of the best pizzas ever in Grand Cayman. And when those cravings from a far-off place hit me, I turn to a couple key sources: ethnic specialty stores, local fish mongers and butchers and fresh-grown produce.
Worldly Wine Choices
“For a naturally sweet and creamy dish like our striped bass with avocado mousse, I like a Long Island Gewürztraminer, which has floral hints and flavors of exotic spices.
For a savory dish like beef, raisin and olive empanadas, try pairing it with a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo Valley.
And for a Napolitano pizza, a Gamay from the Niagara region of southern Ontario is the best way to go.”
Toronto-born Massimo De Francesca has worked in esteemed restaurants in Grand Cayman, Canada, Washington, D.C., and New York. De Francesca is currently executive chef of Manhattan’s Silverleaf Tavern and Nios, connected to Kimpton hotels.
Try this Jamaican bread recipe from Massimo De Francesca!
Jamaican Festival Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1½ tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup milk
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
Extra vegetable oil for shallow frying
Combine the all-purpose flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder in a bowl and mix well. Add the milk, water and oil, and stir until dough forms. Cover with plastic and let rest at room temperature for one hour.
After an hour, add a few drops of oil to your hands and shape the dough into a small ball, about 2 inches in diameter. Lightly dust with flour and allow balls to rest on a plate or tray.
Meanwhile, heat oil (2–3 inches deep) in a medium sauce pot. Take each ball and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand, then drop the dough into the oil for 3–5 minutes. When the dough ball floats to the top, flip it over and fry the other side. Once golden, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool before serving. Yields 20–30 bread balls.