Here are a couple of recipes from the cookbook that Catucci says are particular favourites.
Annie Buttus of That Little Place by the Lights in Huntsville, Ont., turns out amazing homemade gnocchi and lasagna from an electric stove in the basement of the small restaurant she owns with her husband Loris. He ran a gelateria outside of Venice before they emigrated to Canada and now churns out delectable frozen treats using fresh ingredients.
"That was one of my favourite places that I shot at," Catucci says. "I had gone to the cottage in Huntsville a few times and we stopped in that little restaurant. It's tiny. From the outside I wasn't expecting much. But when you got in you could smell the tomato sauce cooking right away and you kind of knew that it was the real deal."
30 ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) butter
1 onion, chopped
500 g (1 lb) ground beef
5 ml (1 tsp) each crumbled dried rosemary, dried oregano, dried parsley, dried basil, dried thyme and chili flakes
1 l (4 cups) canned plum tomatoes
1 l (4 cups) tomato puree
1 can (369 ml/13 oz) tomato paste
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 medium baking potatoes (unpeeled)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour (approx)
Sauce: In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil and butter. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Add ground beef and cook until brown.
Stir in rosemary, oregano, parsley, basil, thyme and chili flakes, then add tomatoes, tomato puree and tomato paste. Fill each empty can halfway with water and add to sauce. Cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours or until your preferred thickness. Season with salt and pepper.
Gnocchi: Boil potatoes until they are easily pierced with a fork. Drain and let cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and mash.
Turn mashed potatoes out onto a lightly floured work surface. Make a well in the centre and fill with eggs and salt. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, start mixing in potato from the sides of the well. When all the potato is incorporated, knead dough, adding as much flour as needed to make a firm dough.
Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Dust work surface lightly with flour. With your hands, roll each piece into a rope about 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick. Cut each rope into 1-cm (1/2-inch) long pieces and shape. Place on a baking sheet dusted with flour.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Use a bench scraper to scoop up gnocchi and drop into boiling water. When gnocchi rise to surface, they are ready. Using a slotted spoon or wire strainer, transfer to a bowl.
Toss gnocchi with sauce and serve.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Maple Fried Oatmeal
This recipe comes from Diner Deluxe in Calgary, a restaurant Catucci says is synonymous with brunch. The oatmeal is made traditionally, then spread on a pan and cut into squares when cool. After it's fried, chef James Waters drizzles it with maple syrup, pours rich homemade vanilla bean cream sauce over it and tops it with a dollop of lemon curd.
"It works. It works so well," says Catucci. "It's so, so delicious. They serve it in the skillet and then they add that lemon curd on top of it too. The whole meal was great."
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
5 egg yolks
Zest and juice of 5 lemons
250 g (1/2 lb) cold butter, cubed
500 ml (2 cups) apple juice
125 ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
50 ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice
2 vanilla beans or 45 ml (3 tbsp) pure vanilla extract
2 l (8 cups) whipping cream
1 l (4 cups) quick-cooking rolled oats
50 ml (1/4 cup) brown sugar
45 ml (3 tbsp) unsalted butter
30 ml (2 tbsp) salt
5 ml (1 tsp) cinnamon
2 ml (1/2 tsp) nutmeg
125 ml (1/2 cup) dried cranberries
15 ml (1 tbsp) unsalted butter
125 ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
Lemon Curd: In the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, egg yolks and lemon zest and juice until well combined. Whisk over simmering water until a ribbon of mixture is visible for a few seconds after whisk is lifted.
Remove from heat and whisk in cold butter, a few pieces at a time, whisking until butter is melted and mixture is smooth and cool. Cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Vanilla Cream: In a medium saucepan, combine apple juice, maple syrup and lemon juice. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds into saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in whipping cream and return to a gentle simmer. Do not boil or the cream will curdle. Simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Oatmeal Squares: Lightly butter or line with parchment paper a 23-by-15-cm (9-by-6-inch) baking pan.
In a medium saucepan, bring 1 l (4 cups) of water to a boil. Stir in oats, brown sugar, butter, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring mixture back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until oats are cooked, 7 to 10 minutes.
Stir in dried cranberries, then spread mixture on baking pan. Let cool. Slice into 8 equal bars.
Assembly: In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Gently fry oatmeal squares until lightly browned on bottom. Flip squares and cook until golden on second side. Transfer to plates and top each square with 15 ml (1 tbsp) maple syrup, 125 ml (1/2 cup) vanilla cream and 15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon curd.
Makes 8 servings.
Source: "You Gotta Eat Here! Canada's Favourite Hometown Restaurants and Hidden Gems" by John Catucci and Michael Vlessides (Lone Eagle Entertainment; published by HarperCollins Canada, 2012).
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