Araxi: Seasonal Recipes from the Celebrated Whistler Restaurant
By James Walt
Published by Douglas & McIntyre 2009, hardcover, $45; 250 pages

I’m hungry and dinner is still several hours away.

I’ve been reading Araxi Executive Chef James Walt’s cookbook and drooling over photos of some of the dishes by photographer John Sherlock, who could make Dayglo KD look good (did I say I was hungry?).

Araxi is easily Whistler’s top restaurant, a judgment reinforced by that master of judgment, Gordon Ramsay, who has declared it the best restaurant in Canada. The book’s timing is good, as the world turns its attention to February’s Olympic Games, with Whistler playing the role of beautiful princess to Vancouver’s brawnier prince. Let the Games begin. Araxi is ready.

And in this book, Walt has produced a tribute to the fabulous farms in the Whistler/Pemberton area as much as he offers a mouth-watering reflection of an upscale restaurant’s devotion to local and seasonal products. The reality for many winter destinations is that there are ever only two seasons: summer and winter, and that’s how the book is divided. Walt builds his dishes on the fresh abundance that spring and summer bring, but the true depth of his cooking comes through in the winter section, when Whistler wakes to its full glory.

Keep in mind that this is a chef’s book and you will be faced with finding crosnes (pronounced “crones”), also known as Chinese artichokes, a funny-looking little root vegetable that is all the rage among trendy restaurants right now; salsify — also called oyster plant because it has a faint flavour of oysters — which looks like beige or purple carrots, depending on the type; parsley root; and sweetbreads (the thymus gland of young calves or lambs) for some of the recipes here.

And these are true chef’s recipes, often requiring three or more components to bring the dish to its ultimate splendour. For example, Walt’s Black Forest Cake with Brandied Cherry Ice Cream takes five pages and has four components to complete. But it sure looks yummy and no doubt tastes spectacular.

Other dishes that got my juices flowing included Nova Scotia lobster with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Couscous, Crispy Duck Confit with Lentils and Honey-roasted Carrots, and Braised Beef Short Ribs with Cauliflower Purée and Pickled Mushrooms. Walt’s love of seafood is reflected in many recipes featuring local seafood (the lobster notwithstanding), such as tuna, arctic char, oysters, mussels, clams and crab.

So if you’re an adventurous and skilled cook, you’ll enjoy playing with such dishes. The rest of us can only  hope for an invitation to your table.

Here’s a recipe from the book which is relatively easy to put together. It calls for fresh pasta and I’ll include that recipe, too. Walt’s version is an eggy wonder, much better than store-bought. But if you’re not sure you can handle that, buy fresh pasta from the best source you know.

FRESH NOODLES WITH MANILA CLAMS, SWISS CHARD AND KALE

Says Walt: “The Swiss chard and kale really make this dish — their earthy flavours are fantastic — but be sure to use only firm leaves. Add more chilies if you like spicy foods.”

1 recipe fresh pasta dough (below)
4 tbsps. olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 small bird’s eye or jalapeno pepper, minced
1½ lbs. manila clams
¼ cup dry white wine
2 cups mixed kale and Swiss chard, stems removed and roughly chopped
2 tbsps. unsalted butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Make pasta (recipe follows) and let dry at least 30 minutes before cooking.

When ready to begin cooking, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add about 1 tsp. salt for every 4 cups water.

In a large shallow pan fitted with a lid, heat 2 tbsps. of the olive oil on medium heat. Add shallots and peppers and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to soften them. Increase the heat to high, then add the clams and white wine. Cover and allow clams to steam for 2 minutes. Add kale and chard and cook for another 2 minutes.

Drop fettuccine noodles into the pot of boiling water, stir it once and cook for exactly 2 minutes, no longer. Drain pasta, then add it to the clam mixture. Once all the clams have opened, add remaining olive oil and butter. Discard any clams that do not open. Toss gently to combine.

To serve, divide pasta among individual bowls, being sure to evenly share the slams and greens. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

FRESH PASTA DOUGH

The recipe calls for “00” flour which is durum wheat flour that works very well for pasta and gnocchi, says Walt. If you cannot find it, substitute all-purpose flour.

6 ½ oz. eggs (about 4 large)
4 oz. egg yolks (about 5 large)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/8 lb. Italian “00” flour
1 tsp. salt

Combine eggs, egg yolks and olive oil in a large bowl and mix gently with a fork to break the yolks.
Place flour and salt in a food processor and blend for 10 seconds to aerate them. With the machine running, slowly pour in the egg mixture and process just until combined. Turn dough out onto a clean work surface. Bring dough together with your hands and knead it for 5 to 7 minutes until it is smooth. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe. (Will keep for up to 2 days, tightly wrapped and refrigerated.)

For the above recipe, divide pasta dough into 3 equal portions. Following the instructions on your pasta machine, roll each portion of dough into a sheet with the thickness of a quarter. Use your machine’s cutter attachment to cut the pasta sheets into fettuccine.

Place a wooden broomstick across two counter tops or set up a pasta drying rack. Hang the fettuccine over the broomstick (or drying rack) and allow to dry for at least 30 minutes. Proceed with rest of recipe, above.

– From Araxi