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A great big slice of Italian passion in Victoria B.C. - Il Covo Trattoria · 18 September 2015 by colin newell

Il Covo Trattoria James Bay - Italian spirit in Victoria B.C. Canada

My wife and I have a few go-to places for celebrating special occasions – like Fridays, or a Wedding Anniversary, a successful shopping trip or the first rainy day in September after a long drought.

And considering that Victoria B.C. is a city flush with imaginative restaurants, there are really only a handful (in my estimation) of food places that consistently deliver passion, authenticity, love and great taste in equal measure.

Il Covo Trattoria at 106 Superior Street in James Bay near Fishermans Wharf is one of those places. I have a soft spot for Italian cuisine (my mother grew up in an Italian enclave in Montreal in the 30’s and 40’s…) and I was raised on rustic interpretations of Northern Italian classics. So, it’s in my blood and in my memories. And if your momma cooked Italian, getting that experience in a restaurant is a tall order.

Il Covo Trattoria seems to make it effortless. Their location in historic James Bay – Victoria, not far from Fishermen’s Wharf and a short walk from the Inner Harbour and some of the cities finest hotels could be just as easily located in the heart of New York City, Rome or Montreal. Passing through the grand entrance into the care of the hostess, one is transformed into another time and place. A big part of a restaurants charm is unquestionably its ambiance and Il Covo has certainly nailed the European experience.

Ii Covo is large enough for expansive families and intimate enough for couples on an important or romantic date. Service is attentive, informed and engaged without being worrisome. What I love about the eating experience here is the dedication to authenticity and focus on regional ingredients – all impeccably fresh and balanced according to the season.

Andrea and I started our culinary adventure with a martini and one of Il Covo’s brilliant Northern Italian inspired cocktails.

Il Covo - James Bay - Victoria - click on IMAGE for large view

Our opener from Chef was a salad of rare tuna, chick peas and arugula – perfectly tart and balanced to set the palate up for our mains.

Click on Map Photo for the Big View

This evening my wife had the signature Lasagna – which she rates as the best in North America – and trust me, she has sampled this straight forward dish from coast to coast. I had the Papardelle pasta with Prawns and fresh asparagus in a Pernod sauce – delicious, fresh and so satisfying.

If you have room for any dessert, the cakes, creme brulee, panna cotta and tiramisu are amazing – I know. I have had them all. Coffee is great too!

Il Covo, for us, is a place filled with love of family, friends and dedication to the most positive food experience – it is as close to eating in an Italian village as you can get without actually being there. Top marks to the Il Covo team! Bravo!


Victoria home cooking - Slow roasted garlic and tomato marinara · 30 August 2015 by colin newell

Home cooking Victoria B.C. Marinara sauce

As Fall and harvest comes upon us, it is time to start making some of those tasty sauces that we will start enjoying throughout the fall.

Most of our best tomatoes are now ready and they are being converted to sauce for pasta dishes in the future. One of our favourite building block sauces: Marinara – it cannot be beat. It scales up well and you can add nothing to it or your favourite protein.

Let’s go!

Necessary ingredients: Tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt and ground black pepper, 1 medium onion,
2 medium celery ribs, 1 medium green bell pepper, basil, oregano, fennel seeds, chili flakes, 1/2 cup red wine or vegetable stock,2 bay leaves, 2 Tablespoon tomato paste, bunch of fresh parsley…

Take 3 pounds of Roma tomatoes.

Boil some water. Trim the stem end of each tomato and then cut a 1/4” X at the blossom/stem end.
Drop the tomatoes a few at a time into the boiling water for 60 to 90 seconds OR until the skin starts to loosen. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes to a bowl to cool for a few minutes.

Pull the skin off of each tomato.

Preheat your oven to 225 degrees (F).
Line one or more large baking pans with parchment paper.

Cut all of the tomatoes in half. Set a fine sieve over a bowl. Squeeze out all the seeds over on and onto the sieve. Keep the juice that comes out! We will use this later.

Place these tomatoes onto the parchment paper.
Mix together 1/4 cup of olive oil and 3 to 5 garlic cloves crushed and minced.
Paint this oil/garlic mixture onto the tomatoes. Put a twist of fresh ground pepper and salt onto each of the tomatoes.
Roast the tomatoes on the parchment paper in the oven for 2 hours.

Put all of these roast tomatoes into a bowl and add the reserve juice from the earlier seed removal.
Puree this mix with a hand mixer to medium fine puree eliminating all the lumps and clumps. Personal preference kicks in around here.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. Add onion (diced), celery (diced) and bell pepper (diced).
Simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.
Add 1 teaspoon or more of basil (fresh or dried) and oregano (fresh if you have it), a 1/4 teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds (use a rolling pin — releases the aromatics), a pinch of chili flakes and cook for another minute.

Added the pureed tomatoes, wine or stock, bay leaf and tomato paste and simmer, stirring occasionally for 35 minutes or so.

Discard Bay leaves and add chopped parsley (1/4 cup chopped)

Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Makes around 10 cups of sauce.

Bon apetit! This is one of our favourites and mirrors one of our all time favourite sauces from Victoria restaurant Zambri’s. Original recipe by Eric Akis of the Times Colonist.


Grilled spicy Lamb burgers on the old Weber · 1 July 2015 by colin newell

Grilled Lamb burgers on the old Weber

Andrea and I made these from fresh ground Island lamb and fresh herbs from the garden – much like regular beef burgers but with a kick – and they are lamb.

They are around 3/4” thick – I grilled them at around 375 to 425 for 5 minutes on the first side
and 2 minutes on the second side.


1½ pounds ground lamb
2 tablespoons tightly packed finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon moroccan spice mix
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

4 kaiser rolls, split
Thinly sliced red onion

2 tablespoons mayonaise
2 heaping teaspoons fresh mint sauce

Served with lettuce and red onion – and any salad on the side you might desire.

Grill with crumbled feta on top.

Pairs well with a robust Red wine.

Comment [1]

Dinner hour - Bucatini All'Amatriciana · 31 May 2015 by colin newell

Bucatini Alla Matriciana

This is one of my wife’s favourite meals at a local restaurant named Zambri’s – using our own tomatoes from the garden as well as many other fresh ingredients, we created the Marinara (which is basically Tomatoes, onions, finely diced celery, carrots, 1/2 cup of red wine, garlic etc – full recipe to follow). The Marinara is the foundation for many classic Italian recipes and we will give it its own blog entry shortly!

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 oz. thinly sliced pancetta (or bacon)
1/2 red onion – cut lengthwise in half – and 1/4” half moons
2 teaspoons mince garlic
1 heaping teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups home made marinara sauce
freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
2 servings Bucatini pasta

Put water on to boil with salt
Meanwhile in a saute pan combine olive oil, pancetta, onion, garlic and red pepper flakes.
Cook over medium low until the onion is softened and the pancetta has rendered much of its fat – about 12 to 15 minutes.

Drain away all but 1/4 cup of the fat from the pan.
Add the marinara sauce.
Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer.
Allow to simmer for 6 – 7 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the Bucatini in boiling water for about 12 minutes or as directed by pasta cooking instructions – looking for “very firm” – drain.
Add the pasta to the simmering sauce and toss for about 1 minute to coat.

Divide the pasta among the plates (two servings) dress with grated cheese.


House Guest - A left coast road trip. · 13 April 2015 by colin newell

Chef Lisa from SoBo

Celebrated Tofino Chef Lisa Ahier brings her SoBo Cookbook to Spinnakers to launch new Victoria dinner series; Houseguest. a​nd E​AT Magazine present a three part dinner series and industry outreach program featuring edible highlights from Tofino, Portland and Vancouver at a rotating host of local venues in an exciting pop-up format on the third Sunday of each month.

It started with a road trip down the coast. Then a ​scenic drive through the Pacific Northwest to enjoy the culinary highlights of a nearby city. Inspired by a warm welcome and a unique local connection with our new friends. We decided to invite them to visit us back home.

The idea was simple. Our group of industry professionals will curate a guest list of exciting talent from the west coast with presenting partner, EAT Magazine. A ​pop-up style program, serving as a catalyst for edible journeys to the coastal communities within reach of a road trip along the Left Coast.

Houseguest ​is a new series that will challenge diners to discover the hidden treasures close to home, build new creative culinary partnerships in nearby markets and showcase the quality of the burgeoning Vancouver Island culinary scene.

Read the entire media release below!



Good Eats - Masala Lamb meatballs. · 17 February 2015 by colin newell

Masala lamb HOT - from EAT Magazine

We shared a 1/2 lamb with my sister and brother-in-law – and with that package came from great ground lamb. This was the perfect recipe for lamb. This is a fascinating mixture of spice with an intriguing Mediterranean flavour and a nice bite. This recipe was inspired from the latest issue of EAT Magazine in Victoria B.C. Canada – but we mixed it up just a little bit. You can serve it with polenta, rice or pasta. We chose pasta. Overall, it takes about an hour to prepare so make sure you have a glass of red wine in your hand while you work!

3 Garlic Cloves chopped
1 Onion chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon Cumin seeds
28 ounce canned plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt


2 green onions shopped
2 eggs
1 slice brown bread
1/4 table cream
2 pounds ground lamb
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Feta cheese.


In a food processor, puree 3 garlic cloves with one chopped medium onion and
1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in Dutch oven on medium heat.
Add 1 tablespoon cumin seeds and heat until they start to sizzle. Then add onion/garlic mixture.

Stir often until mixture softens and is translucent. Reduce heat to medium-low to prevent browning.
Cook 8 – 10 minutes.


Puree canned plum tomatoes with 1 tablespoon garam masala and 1 teaspoon ea. Turmeric, Cayenne and Salt. Pour into pan with Onion and Garlic mixture. Stir in one cup water. Simmer 20 minutes to blend flavour.


For the meatballs, in a food processor puree two chopped green onions with two eggs, one slice of brown bread torn into pieces and 1/4 cup table cream.
Turn this mix into a large bowl – add 2 pounds of ground lamb. 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground cumin and cinnamon. Add a pinch of salt. Gently mix until blended. Then shape into balls. Aim for a chubby golf ball size.

Makes about 20 meatballs.


Bake meatballs on baking (cookie sheet) brushed with oil. Broil until brown (6 – 8 minutes)
Then reduce heat to 375.


Add meatballs to sauce in Dutch oven. Cover and bake until sauce is bubbly and meat balls are cooked through. 10 – 15 minutes.

Finish with fresh mint and crumbled feta cheese.

We served over Penne pasta. Serves 4 – 6.