The Little Black Dress of Italian – A Menu of Wild Mushroom Crostini & Sicilian Muffaleta at Black Skirt, Part II

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*** (This is Part II of my 2-part post series on Black Skirt’s Italian and Sicilian meats, cheeses, antipasti, pasta, and more.  For Part I, click here! ***

While there are a number of fabulous Sicilian and Italian dishes to choose from in the menu, Black Skirt primarily has a focus on three things: cheeses, meats (marinated, cured, braised, and slow cooked), and pasta.  In addition to their dine-in, sitdown menu, Black Skirt offers a deli meat and cheese bar where people can go in and buy by the gram.  The list of meats and cheeses is HUGE and there are so many items that you just cannot get at your local supermarket.  Sure, they have meats and cheeses such as genoa salami, mortadella, provolone, and havarti, but they also have Italian piave, crotonese, soppressata, and pecorino.  If you don’t know which ones are cheeses and which ones are meats, I’ll let you have fun figuring that out!

Olives and antipasto such as grilled artichokes, sundried tomatoes, eggplant, and cherry hot peppers are also sold by the gram and off to the side are shelves of dry pantry items, pasta making tools, and other Sicilian specialities.  And thanks to my dear friend Andrea who is Italian, I learned this all from her!  The selection of  specialty grocery items reminds me of Fusaro’s Kitchen on Spadina and it’s here that you can find some really special things you wouldn’t normally be able to find at other places.

This focus on cheeses, cured meats and antipasto (and pasta) also extends into their dine-in menu: marinated octopus, anchovies, and mackerel, daily cured meat panini sandwiches, braised veal shank (classic osso buco), crostini with fontina cheese, fresh ricotta, shaved parmigiano reggiano, goat cheese, rigatoni, ravioli, spaghetti, and SO MUCH MORE.  Prices vary depending on the type of dish your ordering, but generally speaking, antipasti range from $4-$10.50 (with the exception of the large sharing platters), paninis from $10-$12, pastas from $10-$18, and dinner mains from $20-$27.

For my first Black Skirt Italian meal, I enjoyed a wild mushroom crostini antipasti and the muffaletta sandwich and I loved them both.  The wild mushroom crostini were served on three grilled breads with oyster, portobello, and cremini mushrooms with melted fontina cheese and the pairing of the two was fantastic.  The fontina cheese was so buttery and savoury with a slight nuttiness to it (a far cry from more mild cheeses like mozzarella) and it matched the intensity of the meaty, juicy portobellos and creminis perfectly.

I was really, really excited about the muffaletta though.  After seeing chef Stefano Faita make a muffaletta sandwich on his cooking show months ago, I was ecstatic to have an authentic Italian one.  Hailing from Sicily, the muffaletta is made with a giant round of crusty bread with a soft interior.  The top portion is cut off and the insides of the bread round are scooped out, thus making somewhat of a bread bowl.  Then, Italian meats, cheeses, olives, and marinated, pickled, and cured goodies are layered, spread, and added one after another until the entire round is filled.  The top portion that was cut off in the beginning is then placed back on top of the round and the sandwich is then sliced like a cake.  What results is a delightful sandwich with layers and layers of meats and cheese and olive goodness.

I don’t even like olives, but I love them in a muffaletta (and sometimes on pizza) and they added this wonderful briney, saltiness to it that gets completely soaked up and absorbed in the bread.  The muffaletta is amazing because you get so many different flavours ping ponging all over the place it all works because none of them compete and the bread acts as the blank canvas, soaking in the flavours and allowing fresh bites to come through your mouth after every bite.

Black Skirt’s muffaletta is made with a mix of mortadella, capocollo (both of which I’ve had from my local Italian bakery and deli), hot and sweet soppressata (Italian dry salami), provolone cheese, giardiniera (Italian pickled topping of peppers), and a sundried tomato and black olive tapenade paste.  Provolone is one of the best cheeses to have in a sandwich because it has this incredibly nutty, sharp taste to it that complements crusty bread and contrasts with cured, spicy meats.  It’s one of those amazing thick cheeses that holds up to anything (this stuff does not melt at the drop of a hat) which makes it perfect for meatier sandwiches like the muffaletta.  The muffaletta that you see in the photos is actually a half portion as I was sharing with my boyfriend, so really, a full portion is a big, half wheel sandwich with a green spring mix salad on the side.

This food experience has made me appreciate the subleties in Italian cuisine so much more and I’m even more excited now to explore this huge world of amazing food.  There are some real gems around the city that I’ve had my eye on for quite some time and Black Skirt was one of them.  I’m so happy that I enjoyed the food, menu, and feel of the space as much as I did and I can’t wait for my second time around.

*****

Black Skirt is located at 974 College Street in the west end of Toronto, in between Dufferin Street and Ossington Ave.  The Italian eatery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-10pm.  Along with their permanent menu, Black Skirt offers a dinner menu for 5pm onward and daily specials every day including a daily soup, daily special Italian meat and cheese panini sandwiches, and pasta.

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The Little Black Dress of Italian – Meats, Cheeses, Antipasti, and Learning Italian Food at Black Skirt, Part I

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Even though I love Italian food, I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about the cultural nuances and regional differences in Italian cuisine.  I can rave on and on about how much I love mozzarella di bufala and pappardelle but I can’t tell you what specific region they originated from or where these delights are most commonly produced – and no, Googling doesn’t solve everything!  Yes, much of this information can be looked up with a few keyboard taps, but that’s not the same as really knowing your craft because you’ve genuinely examined those nuances. 

This lack of regional knowledge is something that I want to change very much, not only because learning about food is good in general but also because I’m genuinely fascinated by differences in cuisine within the same country.  I would quiz my dad for hours about the regional cuisines of China and I would dig into my childhood memories, recalling everything I could about the different types of Chinese food I would eat with my grandparents and my aunt and uncle.

        

It’s so easy to lump food under one monolithic, ethnic umbrella to “simplify” things.  I know Italian cuisine can be one of those misnomers in the restaurant industry where any place that serves spaghetti is considered Italian and I’m sure this drives many Italians and foodies absolutely crazy.  I know it drives me up the wall when people associate fried rice and chop suey with Chinese food and nothing but.  Thus, we end up rendering the most interesting, fascinating aspects of a regional cuisine invisible and inaccesible when this happens.  Just think, we have the regional cuisines of Tuscany, Sicily, Bologna, Naples, and so many others to explore and I really hope I’ll be able to flush some of this knowledge out within the city and learn as I go along.  This is learning experience and curve for me so if you know it all, humour me, and if you don’t, join me!  We can learn on this food journey together and it’ll be jolly good and delicious fun!

Black Skirt, located on College Street in the west end, is a lovely Sicilian restaurant that is part rustic, part shabby chic, and part bistro and wine bar all rolled into one.  While the back end is much more conducive to intimate dining, the front half of Black Skirt exudes that warm, comforting, homey glow that makes you feel so happy and relaxed when you eat.  You can see yourself sitting by the front table bar by the sunny window with the newspaper, sipping a coffee drink and enjoying a crunchy, grilled panini or crostini; you envision yourself having a lunch date with a friend, admiring the exposed brick wall and the mouthwatering salads and sandwiches; and you imagine sharing forkfuls of antipasto and steaming plates of fresh pasta with your loving significant other on a wonderful night out.  This is what I think of when I think about going back to Black Skirt.

I loved my first time here – so much so that I wanted to come back the next day so I could down a delicious plate of pasta!  That, or a panini.  Or another antipasto plate.  There’s a lot of wonderful food here.  And there are daily specials every day for both lunch and dinner to switch things up, including special Italian meat and cheese paninis and pasta dishes that aren’t offered on their permanent menu.  In hindsight, I should have taken advantage of one of the daily special pastas (pistachios!) because it sounded amazing, but there will always be future meals here (you can count on it) and I’ll just have to cross my fingers that I’ll come across it again.

Continue reading about my Black Skirt experience in my Part II post here where I discuss their all-over-the-Italy map menu, and their wild mushroom crostini and Sicilian muffaleta sandwich among Italian eats!

*****

Black Skirt is located at 974 College Street in the west end of Toronto, in between Dufferin Street and Ossington Ave.  The Italian eatery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-10pm.  Along with their permanent menu, Black Skirt offers a dinner menu for 5pm onward and daily specials every day including a daily soup, daily special Italian meat and cheese panini sandwiches, and pasta.