[Food & Drink Scene]

Foraging Ahead With Albert Ponzo

Long a proponent of sustainable, locally sourced food, Albert Ponzo brings his talent and his passion to Prince Edward County

Foraging for wild morels amongst decaying leaves along the edge of the woods and cutting nettles from the hedgerows is a far cry from the pressure cooker life that chef Albert Ponzo led for 15 years as the executive chef at one of Toronto’s best known restaurants.

In 2017, Albert, his wife Marlise and their three children moved from the city to 65 acres of fields, forest and marshland near Ameliasburgh in the County. The move was less of an escape from the city and more of an opportunity to further his under – standing of the land and its sustainability – and an opportunity to incorporate that understanding into his cuisine.

Albert Ponzo is a perfectionist, an intense but gentle man who focuses his energy on the craft he loves. His intensity fires his curiosity and it is that curiosity that drew the urban ex-pat to the County. What better place to deepen his understanding of the land and assimilate the products foraged or sourced locally, into his menus. As spring ramps up you’ll find Albert and Marlise wandering their property, hunting for morels – nuggets of mushroom gold – or filling their baskets with the prickly stinging nettles that will be the stars at Albert’s next meal.

Imagine how lucky we felt when we received an invitation to enjoy the fruits of their spring foraging. When we arrived, Albert was channeling his Italian heritage as he made fresh pasta triangoli for our luncheon – stretching the verdant pasta on the cool marble countertop, then feeding it through the stainless steel pasta roller until it became almost translucent. Marlise, a sommelier and vivacious hostess, poured us a glass of chilled Pinot Gris from The Grange of Prince Edward. Amber in colour, fresh and crisp, it paired beautifully with the pasta triangoli that was stuffed with fresh ricotta, sautéed garlic and stinging nettle purée.

What we tasted that afternoon – nettle triangoli, topped with sautéed morels and bright green asparagus and a salad of spring greens and radishes – spoke to the season. It was simply delicious.

Our lunch conversation turned to Albert’s newest endeavour. He’s working with Greg Sorbara and Sol Korngold, who are reviving The Royal Hotel in Picton, slated to open in 2020. As executive chef at The Royal Hotel, Albert will be sourcing ingredients primarily from Edwin County Farms, owned by the Sorbara family. The new restaurant at The Royal will embrace the farm-to-table philosophy and sustainability model that Albert believes are the future of the food industry.

We left Albert and Marlise Ponzo’s home, having shared food, wine and laughter in the company of two special people who are committed to their life in the County and their community.

Albert Ponzo’s Nettle Triangoli

Often considered a weed, stinging nettles are actually a source of nutrients. You can forage for them along the edges of fields and fencerows – all you need is a pair of pruning shears, a basket and protective gloves. The nettles die back in the summer heat, so make sure you try these beauties this spring.

Pasta Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 4 cups flour
  • 140 grams stinging nettle leaves
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt

Making the Pasta

  1. Wearing gloves, strip nettle leaves from their stalks.
  2. Sauté the stinging nettle leaves in a hot pan with olive oil, lightly salt and cover. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender. If they appear too dry before they finish cooking, add a touch of water.
  3. Once cooled, squeeze out excess water. Transfer to a blender with the eggs and purée until smooth.
  4. Sift flour and salt onto the table in a mound and create a well in the middle. Add the egg/nettle purée. Starting with a fork, work the purée into the flour until amalgamated. Then begin kneading the dough until it is stiff. The pasta will look rough at first but will smooth out as it rests. If you find the pasta is not coming together, you can moisten your hands to help persuade the dough to become a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes. If resting longer, refrigerate dough.

Filling Ingredients

  • 1½ cups La Cultura Buffalo ricotta drained
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 200 grams stinging nettles leaves cleaned from stem
  • 1 egg
  • salt to taste

Making the Filling

  1. Repeat steps 1 and 2 from making the pasta section to prepare the nettle leaves.
  2. Once cooled, squeeze out all the excess water from the nettles. Roughly chop them in 1 inch pieces.
  3. In a clean bowl, mix together the drained ricotta, nettles, salt, egg, and garlic. Season with salt. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Filling the Triangoli

  1. Roll the pasta through a pasta sheeter until you reach the lowest setting. Cut 7cm. x 7cm. squares and place a small mound of filling in the centre of each square, leaving a 2cm. border. Egg wash the border and fold the square, corner to corner, gently sealing around the filling to let out any excess air.
  2. Dust the completed triangoli with flour and place on trays between parchment.

Putting it together (for 4 people)

  • 400 grams nettle triangoli
  • 1 handful morels
  • 8 spears asparagus
  • ½ cup butter, cubed
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp. parsley, torn
  • 4 tbsp. parmesan, grated

Serving it up

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil
  2. Clean morels thoroughly by soaking in cold water. Drain and cut into ½ inch rings.
  3. Quickly blanch the asparagus in the boiling, salted water for 1 minute or until barely cooked. Cut them into 1 inch pieces.
  4. Boil the triangoli for 3-5 minutes until the pasta is al dente.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Once the butter starts to brown, add the shallots, garlic, and morels. Add the white wine off the heat and stir quickly to ensure the wine doesn’t boil over. Once the bubbling subsides, return to the heat and add the asparagus.
  6. Remove the triangoli from the cooking water with a spider or a slotted spoon, and add to the pan. Add some pasta water to make the sauce, as well as grated parmesan, parsley and test for seasoning.
  7. Evenly divide the triangoli onto 4 plates or bowls.
  8. Garnish the plate with more parmesan and any spring edibles you may have foraged. You can substitute the garlic for young green garlic, or the shallots for wild leeks. Serve and enjoy.

Sources: Albert picked up the fresh buffalo ricotta at La Cultura Salumi. Many thanks to The Grange of Prince Edward Estate Winery for their Isabella Block 2016 Pinot Gris, Loyalist College for a loan of their pasta roller and the Goodwin Learning Centre for their loan of the pasta skimmer. Flowers on the table are from Quinn’s Blooms & Greenery, ceramic plates are courtesy of Caitlin O’Reilly of Cylinder Studio.

Story by:
Stephanie Campbell

Photography by:
Johnny C.Y. Lam

[Spring 2019 departments]