Sunday, September 20, 2009

La Cucina Zuccotto Recipe Redux

Zuccotto is an Italian dessert with origins in Florence. Our popular version of Zuccotto is a dome-shaped, semi-fredda, made with liqueur-soaked vanilla sponge cake and a trio of flavoured whipped creams.Zuccotto can be kept frozen, then thawed before serving.The shape is said to have been inspired by it's resemblance to Florence's Duomo. Others allude to its shape as closely resembling a cardinal's skullcap. This delicious Tuscan-inspired bombe was a signature dessert at my former restaurant, La Cucina, on King Street in London Ontario in the early 1990's.

Another variation of Zuccotto is made with layers of homemade ice cream and is known as a Bombe glacée or simply a Bombe in English. Escoffier gives over sixty recipes for bombes prepared in spherical moulds in Le Guide culinaire. Variations of the bombe have appeared on restaurant menus since 1882.


Vanilla Sponge Cake (recipe below) and bake in a 13"X9"X2" pan. Cool. Cut into strips 13" X 1-1/4". Line 2-1/2-3Qt. mixing bowl with plastic film. This helps the frozen Zuccotto release from the bowl when frozen.

Vanilla Sponge Cake


3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 6 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
flour and unsalted butter for pans

Method for Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of one 11-by-17 rimmed baking sheet,line with parchment paper and butter again. Flour the pan and set aside. In a small bowl, sift flour and cornstarch together; set aside. In a bowl, beat egg yolks, vanilla, and sugar on high until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Wash and dry mixer attachments. In another bowl, combine egg whites and salt; beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes. With mixer running, slowly add the remaining 6 tbsp of sugar. Continue beating until stiff and glossy, about 1 minute. Fold egg-white mixture into egg-yolk mixture. In three additions, add the reserved flour mixture to the egg mixture. Transfer two-thirds of the batter to the baking sheet, and the remaining one-third to the round pan. Smooth the top of the batter with a spatula. Bake until light golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, approximately 20 minutes.
Transfer the cake pan to a wire rack to cool; turn out the cakes, remove the parchment paper, and wrap in plastic until ready to use. The cake can be made ahead, cooled, and frozen for up to two weeks.

Sugar Syrup

1/2 cup (60 grams)granulated sugar
1/2 cup (118 mls)water
1 cup (237 mls)sherry

Mix the above together until sugar is dissolved. Line bowl with strips of cake then spoon syrup mixture over the cake. Reserve enough syrup for final cake layer.


4 cups (946 mL)35% whipping cream
3/4 cup (85 grams)icing sugar - sifted
1/2 cup (118 mL)orange liqueur
10 oz. pkg frozen raspberries -thawed & drained
3 tbsp(15 mL)brandy
3 tbsp (20 grams)unsweetened cocoa
3 tbsp (15 mL) hazelnuts - chopped
3 tbsp (15 mL) candied orange peel,finely chopped


Combine 1/3 whipping cream and 1/3 powdered sugar and 1/2 orange liqueur. Beat until soft peaks form. Fold in drained raspberries. Spread evenly over cake in bowl.

Combine 1/3 whipping cream, 1/3 powdered sugar and brandy. Beat until soft peaks form. Fold in cocoa and chopped hazelnuts.
Spread evenly over raspberry layer.

Combine remaining whipping cream, powdered sugar and orange liqueur. Beat until soft peaks form. Fold in candied orange peel.
Spread evenly over chocolate layer.

Dip remaining cake strips into syrup, cover entire top of Zuccotto with cake, trimming as necessary to fit.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Pine Nut and Fresh Sage Butter Sauce

This is the classic butternut squash dish, also often made with hubbard squash or fresh pumpkin.. You can also substitute canned pumpkin if you’d prefer, but we love the flavour and the texture of fresh butternut squash.

How to Make Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta is made with 1 lb. 2 oz. of flour and 5 whole eggs. In many regions of Italy only 4 eggs and a little water are used; in others, 2 eggs and more water. In some regions only the egg yolks and a little oil are employed. Regardless of these regional variations, the dough must be well kneaded – that is, until little bubbles are visible in the dough – before being stretched with the rolling pin.


1 lb. 2 oz. flour
• 5 whole fresh eggs
• semolina for sprinkling on pasta (optional)

Pour the flour on a pastry board in a cone-shaped mound. Break the eggs into the center of the cone and blend the yolks with the whites, using a fork or fingers, then begin gradually mixing the egg with the flour.
When the dough has a thick texture, so that it is no longer possible to use a fork, the egg will no longer be liquid and about half of the flour will be incorporated. Continue to work with your hands, pushing the dough up from all sides, taking in as much flour as possible. Keep kneading the dough for about 15 minutes.

The dough must be thick and rather stiff, or it will be difficult to roll out. Wrap the dough with a dry cloth and keep it under a weight for half an hour. This allows the dough (particularly the gluten in the dough) to relax. It will be less elastic and much easier to roll out after a short rest.
When the dough is ready, cut into thirds or quarters. Work with one piece at a time but remember to keep the remaining pieces covered.
Roll out on lightly floured surface pasta dough, beginning from the center, to a thickness of 0.3 cm (1/8 in).

Butternut Squash Stuffing

5 tbsp (75 mL) unsalted butter
¼ tsp (1 mL) crushed red pepper flakes
1½ cups (375 mL) cooked and mashed butternut squash
½ tsp (2 mL) freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste
2 egg yolks
½ cup (125 mL) grated Parmigiano-Reggianno Cheese
½ cup (125 mL) fresh good quality bread crumbs


1. Melt butter in a pot with red pepper flakes. Add butternut squash, season with salt and mix well. Purée mixture and let cool. Add egg yolks, Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated nutmeg and bread crumbs and stir to combine.
2. Divide your pasta dough into 4 parts. Roll the dough, one part at a time, into a rectangle about 12 X 10 inches Drop the butternut squash mixture by 2 level teaspoons onto half of the rectangle, about 3 inches apart in 1 row of 6 mounds. Moisten the edges of the dough and the dough between the rows of pumpkin mixture with water. Fold the other half of the dough up over the butternut squash mixture, pressing the dough down around the squash. Trim the edges with a pastry wheel or knife. Cut between the rows of filling to make raviolacci; press the edges together with a fork or cut with a pastry wheel, sealing the edges well. Repeat with the remaining dough and butternut squash filling. When finished, Raviolacci can be frozen on a tray and transferred to a covered plastic container.

Pine Nut Sage and Butter Sauce


½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
12 sage leaves, torn
2 tbsp (25 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp (25 mL) pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup (125 mL) grated Parmigiano - Reggianno
Additional sage leaves for garnish.


1. In a hot pan, melt the unsalted butter. Add the sage and pine nuts. Heat the sauce until hot; reserve, keeping it warm while the pasta cooks.To make sauce, melt butter in a hot pan over medium heat. Add sage leaves and pine nuts and sauteer for 2 minutes or until butter is a light brown colour. Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss pasta and sauce together, plate and garnish with sage leaves. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese just before serving.

2. Cook ravioli in 4 quarts of boiling salted water (2 tsp of salt) until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes; drain carefully. Transfer the ravioli to the pan with the warm butter, sage and pine nut sauce. Turn the ravioli over gently with a slotted spoon to coat both sides in the sauce. Carefully remove the ravioli from the pan and place it on the serving plate. Spoon over remaining sauce and serve immediately

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Whatever Lola Wants…

Tania Auger’s Lola’s Lounge in Sarnia

By Cecilia Buy and Bryan Lavery

Drive down Christina Street in Sarnia, and you can’t miss it: a narrow building, with the front of its second floor covered by the outsize signage, “Lola’s Lounge” in flowing neon script, voluptuously crimson. Red is Tania Auger’s signature colour, and the owner of Lola’s has put her unmistakable stamp on every facet of her restaurant, from furnishings to food, from the window treatment to the wine list.

The bones of the old building show through. Operating continuously since the thirties, the shade of the former diner lingers. The swivel stools at the counter have been replaced with metal-framed barstools, but the curved bulkhead above the liquor shelves remains, now backlit with red neon that casts a speakeasy glow over the bottles and Tania’s collection of vintage Canadian and Italian art glass.

Down one side of the room are the original booths, seats now reupholstered, each booth with its own coat and hat rack. On the other side of the terrazzo floor (laid in diagonal stripes of light and dark), the booths have been replaced with tables and chairs. While the room seats seventy, it feels more intimate, that sense enhanced by the large coloured-glass lamps suspended over each table and a jungle of shiny sequined decorations that dangle from the ceiling, with swinging lamps over the bar. Tables are set with bread plates, cutlery and glassware, and a rainbow of cloth napkins. The upbeat music is played to be noticed and enjoyed as part of a high-energy dining experience. Even with the bright sunshine pouring through the large plate-glass window, the ambience is less of lunchtime than “afternoon at the seraglio” / fifties cocktail lounge.

Tania Auger was born a bon vivant and knew from an early age that she and the hospitality business were made for each other. She arrived in London in her late teens, charisma already flowing, to fill a vacancy at the Lamplighter Inn, working as a bartender. This was followed by stints at Howard Johnson’s and much longer stretches at John and Ingrid Blanke’s Gabrielle’s Next Door. Not long after, she became the barkeeper/doyenne at Singapore. Located downstairs from the ultra chic Asian-inspired Sorrenti’s restaurant, Singapore was an instant hit under Auger's direction. The intimate bar was an oasis of smoky cosmopolitan seduction and sophistication with an adjoining secluded back room complete with two Moorish-inspired tented booths. The bar boasted a menu of classic cocktails: stingers, manhattans, rusty nails, Rob Roys and martinis, as well as original concoctions that cemented Auger’s reputation as bartender extraordinaire. At the time, Auger was also making her name designing and handcrafting her own collection of avant-garde jewellery.

In 1988, Auger’s entrepreneurial streak continued to surface, and she leased the Ritz Hotel in Bayfield where she opened the Shark Inn. After a very successful season, the building was purchased by Joan Ivey, who bought out the lease and paved the way for Auger to return to London and transform a longtime lunch counter into the legendary 99 King. Auger’s high-energy approach, design sensibility and idiosyncratic style went a long way into helping to turn a derelict part of King Street into the restaurant mecca it has become. The restaurant and lounge eventually expanded into three buildings in the premises now occupied by the Cello Supper Club. In the second year of operation, Auger upped the ante and hired uber-chef Jacqueline “Jackie” Shantz for the long-run period.

All good things come to an end, and after a lengthy and successful run, in 1997, much to the dismay of a large and diverse clientele, the doors of 99 King were closed. Tania returned to her hometown, Sarnia, and after a brief hiatus opened a new enterprise, the tony Smoked Oyster, and a second restaurant/nightclub, Red Tango. Following the events of September 11, 2001, Sarnia, like other Canadian border cities, felt the effects on trade. The locals, sophisticated American customers, Point Edward Charity Casino’s high rollers, and the tourists along Sarnia’s stunning riverfront district stayed away in droves. Undeterred, and never one to look backwards, Auger “bit the hair of the dog” and opened Lola’s Lounge in the summer of 2002.

“When I first opened, I was trying to do funky comfort food ‘cause I still had the Red Tango. I was trying to keep the Tango as the dressy place and this as the more comfort… I finally said, ‘Okay, forget it!’ and painted the place red (gotta have red), raised the bar, and put the mirrors in,” recalls Auger. “People were mad at me for closing the Smoked Oyster. It was not easy. People wouldn’t even come. It took at least a year to get things going again.”

Seven years later, Lola’s has seen some changes and permutations in style, staff, and cuisine, but seems settled in for the long run. Giselle Dennis, Lola’s manager, has been by Auger’s side every step of the way, doing the books at 99 King, four years at The Smoked Oyster and the last seven at Lola’s.

Despite a current trend to simplicity and seasonality, Auger, who appreciates the “local” philosophy, does not follow trends, she sets them. Her menus have a distinct personality consistent with the Tania Auger brand, the imprimatur, retro-chic with a continental riff on the traditional. Hers is an anthology of rehabilitated classics like escargot forestière, crispy frogs’ legs, oysters Rockefeller, clam chowder and iceberg lettuce (but this incarnation served with beef tenderloin, blue cheese, boiled egg and avocado). It is food that is brash, sensual and sexy, food that borders on the hedonistic with big flavours. Menus denote exotic locales, diverse flavours and ingredients. The irony of items such as Mama Mia Meatballs with major mozza & baguette and Fashion Forward Cold Seafood Extravaganza reference what is both camp and kitsch.

Lola’s rack of lamb is a culinary legend with its spicy maple bourbon sauce, whose ingredients came to Auger fully formed in a dream, and Chef Shantz perfected during the 99 King years.

Auger has always paid homage to the American bar and grill sensibility and its culinary traditions, especially martinis, big 10- and 12-oz. steaks, and the freshest fish and seafood. Lola’s fresh fish is sourced locally from Purdy’s Fish Market, which is one of Southwestern Ontario’s hidden gems, operating since 1900 in Point Edward. There is also a location in Grand Bend, and Purdy’s sells its offerings at the Sarnia Farmer’s Market at the corner of Ontario and Proctor Streets on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon.

Turns out, you can go home again. Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets. And little man, little Lola wants you. Make up your mind to have no regrets. Recline yourself, resign yourself, you’re through....

Lola’s Lounge
110 Christina St. S.
Sarnia, ON
519 336-8088

Monday to Saturday: 11 a.m. to close.
Sunday: 5 p.m. to close