MARK DeWOLF: Canada’s Food Island cookbook is a love story of PEI

Prince Edward Island is a gastronomic mecca. The diminutive province boasts an incredible terroir perfect for spuds (potatoes), wild blueberries and is increasingly known for its beef. While PEI potatoes and daily products get no shortage of food lovers’ attentions, it is its coastal water, and all the fresh seafood it contains that draws most food lovers to the province. The province is so tied to its food economy, that it ranks first in the nation in terms of the percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) derived from its food industries. As many as 20,000 islanders rely on it for their income. Consider the province only has 165,000 residents, that’s a significant percentage of the population that depend on its agricultural and aquaculture industries for their livelihood.

The recently released Canada’s Food Island (Figure 1 Publishing) tells the story of the people and places behind the province’s world-renowned food items. Crystal MacGregor of the Food Island Partnership, the organization behind the book, says “we think this is more than just a cookbook. It’s a love story of PEI, who we are, and what we do best! Canada’s Food Island combines nearly 100 inspired seasonal recipes with homegrown stories and beautiful photographs to capture the essence of the Island’s unique food culture – a blend of people, place, and locally sourced fresh, natural ingredients. You’ll learn how mussels, oysters and lobster are sustainably raised and harvested, why Island beef is so flavorful and what makes wild blueberries so special.”

The recently released Canada's Food Island cookbook celebrates Prince Edward Island's fisher people, farmers and the seafood, they produce.  - Contributed
The recently released Canada’s Food Island cookbook celebrates Prince Edward Island’s fisher people, farmers and the seafood, they produce. – Contributed

While the book is beautifully written and photographed, there is an attainability to the dishes featured, although recipes aren’t simply homey or traditional. According to MacGregor “the goal of this book was to allow readers to join our fishers, farmers, and makers, on a year-round journey of life and food on the East Coast which has been proudly labeled Canada’s Food Island. We wanted to show everyone how to recreate some of our best recipes easily at home – whether it be cooking a lobster for the first time (our easy how-to’s) can show you how, to making chef worthy recipes to impress friends and family, we believe we have something that will satisfy everyone’s cravings”

The book is also a glorious postcard from the Island, inviting readers to want to make a road trip to PEI. Let’s be honest, in how many places in Canada can you see, as evidently as the Island, your food literally being grown, harvested, as you soak up the beautiful seaside scenery as you drive by picturesque cows grazing freely in pastures alongside fields of lush green and red potato fields. MacGregor adds “we pride ourselves on our “terroir” the salty sea air, combined with our iron rich soil, to the potatoes that are used to finish our certified island beef – all impacting our beef’s distinctive taste of our happy, healthy, and humane cows. We’ve been known for having some of the best seafood thanks to our “merroir” the distinctive flavor of the immaculate waters that surround us – making PEI’s lobster, oysters, and mussels some of the world’s best.”

While PEI’s famous Fall Flavors Festival, which features local and national celebrity chefs and the Island’s best flavors has come and gone for another year but there is never a bad time to explore this culinary gem of Canada. As we enter November, I asked Crystal for some of her favorite recipes from her from the cookbook to enjoy this time of year.

Lobster, Mussel Chowder with Baby Red Potatoes

6 to 8 servings

1 medium onion, halved
1 garlic clove, smashed
2 cups white wine
1 bay leaf
½ tsp black peppercorns
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups water, divided
1 ½ – 2 lbs PEI lobster
1 can fish stock (398ml)
2 lb PEI mussels, rinsed and bearded
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 leeks, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced ​​(white and pale green parts only)
1 fennel bulb, outer leaves removed and thinly sliced
1 lb PEI baby red potatoes, halved
1/2 cup 35% cream
freshly ground pepper
Smoked paprika, for garnish
1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley
Baguette, for serving

Directions: Combine onion, garlic, white wine, bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme and 1 cup of water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add lobster, cover, reduce heat to medium and steam for 12 minutes. Remove lobster and set aside to cool. Add remaining water, fish broth, bring to a simmer and then add mussels, cover the pot and continue cooking until mussels begin to open, 5 – 6 minutes. Strain and reserve the broth, set mussels aside to cool. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat, add leeks and fennel, season with salt. Cook until soft, about 6 – 8 minutes. Add potatoes and strained broth, bring to a simmer and let cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. While potatoes are cooking, remove lobster meat from its shell, discard shells. Cut tail meat into small chunks. Carefully slice claw meat in half lengthwise. Set aside. Remove mussel meat from shells, discard shells. Once potatoes are tender, add tail meat and mussels to the broth. Simmer gently until the shellfish is warmed through, about 1 to 2 minutes, stir in cream. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle the chowder into bowls. Garnish each bowl with half a lobster claw, a sprinkle of smoked paprika and parsley. Serve with crusty baguette.

Cheesy Beef Mac & Cheese

6 to 8 servings

1 lb shell pasta
1 lb PEI ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 green bell pepper, medium dice
½ lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
6 tbsp unsalted butter, divided, plus extra for buttering ramekins
¼ cup flour
4 cups whole milk
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 cups grated cheddar, divided
1 cup panko
2 green onions, finely sliced

Directions: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, cook pasta until just before al dente, 6 – 8 minutes (pasta will continue to cook in oven). Heat a large heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat, once hot, add ground beef, cook for 4 – 5 minutes, until cooked through and browned. Add onion, cook for 5 – 6 minutes until softened, stirring often. Add garlic, green pepper and mushrooms, cook 3 – 4 minutes, season with salt and pepper. Remove mixture from the pot and transfer to a large bowl, set aside. In the same pot over medium heat add 4 tbsp butter, once melted add flour and cook for 1 – 2 minutes. Whisk in milk, bring to a simmer, once simmering add Dijon and 2 ½ cups cheddar. Whisk until cheese has melted and sauce has thickened, 4 – 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in cooked pasta and beef mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Melt remaining 2 tbsp of butter in a small bowl, stir in panko.
Transfer pasta to 8 buttered ramekins or a buttered 9” x 13”-inch baking dish. Top with remaining ½ cup grated cheddar and sprinkle over panko. Bake ramekins on a tray at 400°F for 25 – 30 minutes or until bubbling and top is golden. Remove from oven and garnish with green onions.

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