Chef’s challenge


Chef Tim O’Connor rose to the challenge of making a delicious dish with the three ingredients his friend hated: cottage cheese, peas and warm salsa.   Photo: Tim O’Connor

By Tim O’Connor

I was leafing through the recipes I’ve written and found one I created after a friend – let’s use the initials MB – told me she hated cottage cheese, peas and warm salsa. Any dish with those ingredients must be awful, MB declared. I took it as a chef’s challenge and made a dish with all three ingredients just to prove she was wrong.

Admittedly, I made some tweaks, but the spirit of MB’s ingredient “anti-list” remains. I haven’t seen her in a while and she’s never tasted the dish, so with any luck she’ll see this and make it herself.

First, instead of cottage cheese, we make our own ricotta, which I think of as Italy’s cottage cheese. I use milk, buttermilk and a bit of cream. Instead of buttermilk, you can use vinegar or lemon, though the latter is best suited if you’re using the ricotta in a dessert.

Next, we roast potatoes. I enjoy the small, red-skinned potatoes, which you can get at the Ottawa’s Farmers’ Market at this time of year. When roasted, there’s a nice textural contrast between the soft insides and crispy skin.

To assemble, put the ricotta on the bottom of your plate, then put the potatoes on top.

For the peas, we add a lot of butter and cream and use a fork to gently mash them until they have a guacamole-like texture. Spoon over the potatoes.

I wracked my brain about the warm salsa, and people are going to say, “you made a jam.” Yeah, but it has everything salsa in there – jalapeño, tomato, onions, lime juice and a bit of sugar to boost the tomato flavour. Leave out the cilantro, as it doesn’t fit with other flavours in our dish, but basil on top would go well.

Finally, we cook crispy shallots, which crown this dish. Slice the shallots as thinly as possible, like Pauley razor-blading garlic in Goodfellas.

I imagine MB telling someone how “my annoying friend Tim said I was wrong and created this dish for me, and it’s not quite cottage cheese, and less salsa than tomato jam, but I love it and I make it all the time and so I hate him.”

Everybody wins.


4 cups homogenized milk
2 cups 35% cream
1 cup buttermilk

Mix all in a pot and hold at 208 F for 30 minutes. Cover and allow to set for 30 minutes. Carefully lift out curds (which should rise to the top) and set in cheesecloth to drain.


1 cup peas
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 garlic, chopped
1 tbsp chives, chopped
1 lemon, juiced

Melt butter in pan and add peas and garlic.  Cook peas until bright green. Smash with a fork until they start to break. Fold in crème fraîche and return to heat to add a bit of warmth. Finish with chives and lemon juice.

Salsa Jam

2 cups tomato, chopped
1 tbsp sugar
1 red onion, chopped
3 clove garlic, chopped
2 limes, juiced
1 jalapeño, chopped
4-5 basil leaves

In a pot with a bit of oil, sauté the garlic and add tomato. Reduce heat and allow tomato to simmer and start to break down, 5 to 10 minutes. Add sugar. Allow to simmer a bit longer until you have a jammy consistency
Add red onion, jalapeños and basil.
Finish with lime juice.


Boil thin-sliced shallots in water three times, straining and cooling with cold water between boils. Dry and then fry in oil until crispy. Put on top of dish.

Tim O’Connor was born and raised in the Glebe and is head chef at Flora Hall Brewing.

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