Category Archives: Italian

Firenze – September 2018

It’s been along time between visits to Italy and especially Florence. I think as I have gotten older I appreciate the slower pace of this city more. I love the proximity of the city to where food is grown as well. We contemplated a week staying on a farm in Tuscany, but I think at heart I am a city girl and I need to be able to have access to a cafe in the mornings.

I also just feel … at home … in Italy. I can’t quite explain it, but I feel genuinely happy when I am here. There is warmth from the locals and I even feel less self conscious about my attempts at speaking Italian than say Spain or France.

Florence (and in general Italy) to me, is all about comfort food. Of course there can be refinement – but moreso it’s about a generosity with the bounty of fresh ingredients they have access to.

And having lived now in Singapore for 11 years, where mostly everything is imported, fresh is really a treat.

We stayed at an Airbnb literally just off the Ponte Vecchio across the river from the main part of town. Florence is small – and living on he less touristy side of the city means that you are eating with Florentine locals.

Just down the road from us was Il Santino, a tiny and always busy wine bar serving snacks. Before you even get to order your glass of prosecco you are given small bits of crostini with grilled pecorino cheese and thin slices of Parma ham sitting on top, melting lightly over the hot cheese. It’s a tight squeeze I side and often patrons spilled out on to the roadside but everyone was warm and friendly.

“Coronets” or croissants with a slice of prosciutto

Coffee and breakfast at Ditta Atigianale

It’s tough being a tea drinker in Italy. The coffee in any establishment (we had ones in cafes in piazzas, in the shopping area, even near train stations) is fantastic. Robust and rich, almost creamy – not the horrible dishwashing liquid of Starbucks or in any of the coffee chains in Singapore. Add small bites of food like this simple croissant with Parma ham, and that’s your caffeine-fueled breakfast!

Quickly dipping the crusty roll in to the beef broth before adding the bollito in our panini

Markets are still our favourite go-to’s in any city and the Mercato Centrale has had a bit of a face left since we last visited Florence. Upstairs is now bustling with food stalls, bars and cafes and piped with funky tunes for visitors to enjoy. Downstairs of course there is still old favourites like De Nerbone, which sells panini lampredotto (tripe) or bollito. Cheap cuts of meat that have been slowly cooked over hours gives the most flavoursome and tender meat you can imagine, with a bright salsa verde and a spicy piccante sauce, encased in a crunchy bread roll that has been first dipped briefly in to the beef broth. Always a queue, always worth the short wait.

We of course had to reward ourselves with a truffle sandwich at Procacci – a small wine bar in the middle of town – with a glass of prosecco to wash it down. Indulgent treat!

Kneading our pasta dough

Our tagliatelle

Our simple zucchini and ricotta and mint-filled ravioli tossed in a some sage butter emulsion.

This trip we signed up for a pasta cooking class. Pasta is the one thing that is common across the country. Truffles are from Alba, fresh cheese from Puglia, Parma ham from Parma, but pasta, in all it’s various shapes, is truly just Italian. Again, simply prepared – 100g of plain flour mixed with some semolina flour (for “roughness”, to make sauces stick to the pasta) to one egg. Simple. It takes a lot of effort to knead the dough to get it to that smooth stretchy texture and it was to finally feel the dough get to the right texture. I will admittedly probably make pasta at home in my Thermomix but at least I know what the texture needs to be.

Our stunning view from the Ponte Vecchio

D came down with a 24 hour bug and I took the time to wander around the streets with my headphones and ended up standing by the Duomo and felt myself get quite emotional.

Lunch overlooking the spectacular Antinori vineyard

Weather-wise we had perfect weather. Crystal clear azure skies with an almost Arctic wind which kept the temperatures down. Which was perfect for visiting the Antinori vineyard, where we had a tour of the vineyard that ended with a wine tasting (hic) and lunch overlooking the spectacular vineyard. The place is enormous – Antinori is Italy’s largest wine producer with over 140 labels. It really is a big business – expensive videos screened theatre-style – although still family run. A stark comparison to the small, also family run Zenato vineyard near Verona. Both were thoroughly enjoyable days drinking Italian wines in the Italian countryside.

62 degree egg

Tagliatelle

Coffee mascarpone

And what is Italy in autumn without the white truffle?? After getting lost before finding out the restaurant was tucked away inside a hotel we found Savini Tartufi where we basically had white truffles shaved over all three courses. First was a 62 degree cooked egg, second was over a simple tagliatelle and finally dessert was over an airy mascarpone cream which was divine.

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Truffle Gourmet, Monte Carlo, France

Fresh white truffles over fried eggs

What’s a trip to the French Riviera without a visit to Monte Carlo in Monaco ?

Living in Singapore where it costs US$60-70K to just have the right to own a car, we haven’t driven in the last seven years. So how better could I surprise D for our tenth anniversary than to book D in for a few hours of driving around the French Alps in a Ferrari ? (And yes, I scored massive brownie points as “best wife” for this one ;))

Full disclosure – I am such a non-sports person that I didn’t even know that the hotel where we would be picking up the car was the famous Fairmont Hotel, over the Monaco F1 track !

OK so I’m going off topic here.

More truffly goodness over a simple homemade pasta

The other thing that we wanted to do while in Monte Carlo was to visit a place called Truffle Gourmet. The name says it all, really, doesn’t it ?

At the tail end of the white truffle season, we figured, if we were going to get truffles, it would be there.

I had a slight case of initial confusion (happens more than I’d like to admit) when we started to chat to the chefs: why are they speaking in Italian ? Then my brain caught up and realised how close we were to the Italian border.

The best way to enjoy truffles is to let them shine. Simple food, with fresh truffles shaved over always makes me smile. So when the recommendation of “over some eggs, and maybe over some fresh pasta ?” came, we just nodded vigorously.

The eggs were a little overcooked – the yolks had almost cooked through, but the pasta was just perfect. The aroma of the generous shavings of white truffles filled the air. Bellissimo !

Truffle Gourmet has coincidentally recently opened up a branch in Singapore. It’s a restaurant more than a counter-cafe but at least we will be able to enjoy truffly goodness locally.

Truffle Gourmet
15 , place d’ Armes, 98000 Monaco
Tel: +377 97 77 19 19


Pizzeria Mozza

Pizzeria Mozza has been around since 2011 – the first collaboration in Singapore between bread making extraordinaire, Nancy Silverton, Joe Bastianich and Mario Batalli.

One half of the two part restaurant (the other being Osteria Mozza), the pizzeria is equally as relaxed, but with a brighter decor that complements the bustling crowd. This isn’t meant to be a place to linger – order your pizza, eat it, vacate your table for the next hungry customers. There is also usually a mad rush before and after showtimes as the restaurant is directly opposite the Marina Bay Sands theatres.

The menu is actually very comprehensive, with a wide selection of antipasta, cured meats, salads, breads, desserts, and, of course, pizza. The pizza menu features traditional Italian meat and vegetable toppings, (and thankfully no seafood, which I continue to think have no right to be on a pizza), featuring housemade cheeses like burrata and mozarella.

And the pizza is why you go there. For that crust. Oh my goodness, that crust. It wouldn’t matter what you topped it with – the crust is amazing.  Dusted with semolina, the crust is crunchy, light and thin – but substantial enough to hold the topping.

The toppings are light – don’t expect the pizza to be loaded on top. A tiny bit on the salty side for me – although to be fair, I did order a margherita with anchovies – but easily one of the best pizzas you can get here.

Pizzeria Mozza
#B1-42/46 Marina Bay Sands
10 Bayfront Avenue  SINGAPORE 018956
Tel: +65 6688 8522

Open:  daily 17:30 – 23:00


Beetroot Risotto

Inspired by Frugal Feeding’s gorgeous golden beetroot risotto, here’s my red beetroot risotto, which is adapted from Maggie Beer’s recipe. That gorgeous brilliant colour that beetroot imparts in dishes, also likes to stain, so make sure you have gloves handy unless you want pink stained fingers. Make sure the stock you add is hot – you need it to continue to cook the rice as soon as it hits the pan, and regular stirring will bring out that wonderful creaminess from the grains.

Ingredients makes 4-6 servings

  1. 1 medium beetroot
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1/2 cup Arborio rice, uncooked
  5. 2-3 cups hot chicken stock
  6. good handful of grated Parmesan cheese
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  8. Wedge of lemon and chopped flat leaf parsley to serve
  9. Optional: horseradish to serve

Method

  1. Cook the beetroot first. In a saucepan of cold water, cover and bring the water to boil. Lower temperature and simmer until beetroot is tender – approximately 20-30 minutes
  2. Once the beetroot is cooked, grate and set aside. Reserve some of the cooking liquid
  3. Saute onions in some oil on low heat until translucent
  4. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes
  5. Add the uncooked rice and stir well to coat the grains with the fragrant oil and cook for a few more minutes. This will give you time to make sure your stock is hot
  6. Add the stock, a ladle at a time, and stir, stir, stir, until it is absorbed – you can also use some of the reserved cooking liquid
  7. When you have added 3/4 of the stock, stir in the grated beetroot
  8. Continue till the rice has a rich, creamy texture, taste for seasoning
  9. Serve hot, topped with the grated Parmesan, the flat leaf parsley and a good squeeze of lemon – these add depth and freshness to the earthy flavour of the beetroot and really bring the dish alive
  10. Optional – serve with a dollop of horseradish

Fettuccine Carbonara

We are in the middle of sorting out the 1000+ photos we took during our trip to the UK and Spain and all the gorgeous food we ate, so in the meantime, I’ve been on a cooking binge, and used my handmade egg pasta to make all sorts of simple pasta meals, like simply stirring through some pesto.

Apart from many fond memories and photos, we brought back with us about 3kg of sliced Jamon Iberico Bellota, the best ham in the world – aged five years. The store we bought from also sold diced off-cuts in vacuum packed bags which we bought a few for just this sort of dish. How to make a simple fettucine carbonara simply decadent.

Ingredients

  1. pasta – use whatever you have – dried or fresh
  2. 1 egg per serve, beaten
  3. 1 – 2 rashers of bacon, sliced per serve (0r 50g diced Jamon Iberico Bellota !)

Method

  1. Cook pasta till a little under al dente – it will cook more in the pan – drain and set aside and keep about 1/4 cup of the starchy water
  2. While the pasta is cooking, fry your bacon/jamon until crispy and the fat has rendered
  3. Turn off the heat and remove your pan from the stove – you want your pan to calm down from “screaming hot” or you’ll just end up scrambling the eggs instead of turning them into a sauce
  4. Add the drained pasta and a few tablespoons of the starchy water and mix
  5. Then add your beaten eggs to the pan and gently coat the pasta and ham
  6. Add a few more tablespoons of the starchy water so you have a silky sauce – the pasta continues to absorb liquid so before it leaves the pan it should almost be too liquidy or you’ll end up with sticky lumps of pasta by the time you want to serve/eat
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste – remember to taste as the ham/bacon will already add salt to the dish
  8. Serve immediately

Fresh egg pasta

Success ! My fresh egg pasta

I’ve had a pasta machine for a while now. My first experience was a complete disaster. My kitchen counter was too thick, so I had to end up experimenting with various sized books to try to clamp the machine to, none of which were heavy enough. The recipe I used was too dry and I wasn’t experienced enough with doughs to understand what consistency I was looking for. And I hadn’t planned ahead and had no where suitable to dry the pasta once it was rolled out. I made such a mess, ended up with horrid dry pasta, and the machine promptly went back in the box and stored.

Call it stubbornness – today I faced my fears and I conquered the machine !

My recipe is a combination of many others (including Jamie Oliver, Bertolli and Mario Batali) – I also had to consider that I am making my dough in hot and humid Singapore, so I think it’s just important to work the pasta dough until it’s the right consistency, adding flour and/or water as necessary, to make it a smooth, elastic dough. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to rest the dough, it becomes so soft and workable once the gluten has had a chance to relax. I have to admit it sure is easier and faster to just used dried pasta, but fresh pasta tastes so different, and making my own pasta gave me such a sense of satisfaction and was so much fun that I’m sure that made it even more tasty.

Ingredients makes enough for 2 hungry people

  1. 200g plain flour
  2. 2 eggs (I use really small eggs (60g) so if you have larger eggs then you’ll need a little more flour)
  3. 3 tablespoons iced water

Method

  1. Place the flour on your counter and make a well in the middle
  2. Crack your eggs in the middle, mix them and then slowly start incorporating the flour from the inside edges of the well
  3. Add the water and continue to incorporate until you can bring the dough together with your hands
  4. The dough at this stage will be very grainy and feel quite dry. This is where you get to channel all your frustrations and anger into the dough as it needs to be kneaded – a lot. There’s no real time I can give you (it took me 10 minutes) but you need to work the gluten so that you get a firm textured pasta, and you’ll know when to stop when the dough suddenly becomes smooth and elastic. I carried on kneading a bit more at this stage for good measure.
  5. Divide the dough into 4 small rounds, wrap in cling film to stop them from drying out, and let rest for at least 30 minutes
  6. Once you are ready and have your pasta machine clamped firmly onto something heavy (preferably your kitchen counter – for me it was my “Toys for Chefs” book!), and also have somewhere ready nearby that is suitable for drying your pasta (trust me you don’t want to have to worry about this when you have a handful of sticky pasta ribbons), set the machine to the first setting, and roll through one of the dough balls
  7. Fold it over and run it through on the first setting and repeat about ten times more. This helps to work the dough more and helps you get that lovely stretchy texture in your pasta
  8. Continue roll the dough through the various numbers on the machine until you have it at your desired thinness. I made fettucine and I like my pasta thin, so I rolled it till it reached maximum setting (9). You may want to have it thicker if you are making something that needs to be a bit more robust, like a lasagna sheet or rag pasta
  9. Dry the pasta ribbons on a floured rolling pin or other surface so that they don’t stick together. You have to work relatively quickly here because the pasta dries quite quickly
  10. When you’re done with all four portions of dough, you’re ready to cook the pasta. As the pasta is unseasoned, you need to heavily season the water you are cooking it in – it needs to taste “like the sea”
  11. What you do with the cooked pasta is entirely up to your imagination (I made a pesto pasta) and I guarantee you it will taste better than you imagined!

Gaia – one the best Italian in Singapore

Antipasta – stracciatella with vine ripened tomatoes and San Daniele ham

Who can resist the wonderful simplicity and generosity of Italian cuisine ? Luckily there are a few great Italian restaurants in Singapore where you can go for a great meal – Valentinos, No Menu, Bistecca, Il Lido – just to name a few.

We discovered a great new Italian restaurant – Gaia at the Goodwood Park Hotel. It doesn’t have the home-grown family-run charm of Valentinos or No Menu, but this slick restaurant has knocked the crown off those both for me for the best Italian in Singapore.

The menu screams of the freshest and best ingredients and I started with an antipasta plate of proscuitto ham from San Daniele – slightly less salty and more sweet than Parma ham, stracciatella – cheese made of torn pieces of mozzarella and cream and used as stuffing for burrata and the most amazing vine-ripened tomatoes. Ham, cheese and tomato. Perfect combination and elevated to the next level using three simple ingredients to which the response to each mouthful was “oh. my. god.”

Mushroom consommé palate cleanser

After they cleared our starters, we were served a palate cleanser. I was thinking sorbet, fruit, a shot of calvados, and they pour us a small cup of what I thought was tea, but ended up being a mushroom consommé. Odd, yet a perfect palate cleanser – clean and refreshing that tasted amazing in your mouth and no aftertaste.

It sure worked for me to prepare myself for the next dish, especially as I had ordered off the special truffle menu – handmade pasta with shaved black truffles. I mean, how can anyone go past that ?

Handmade pasta with black truffles

The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente – a little thicker than normal but clearly made without the use of a pasta machine, with just the right amount of thinly shaved black truffles draped over the warm pasta, filling the air around me with that wonderful, heady aroma of truffles.

Dessert was the flan di cioccolato – described as an “oven baked chocolate cake with a liquid heart”. The fondant had that gooey runny chocolate centre, with the richness of the chocolate balanced with a light vanilla sauce and fresh berries.

Seriously good stuff. Any other suggestions for great Italian in Singapore ?

Gaia Ristorante and Bar
Goodwood Park Hotel
22 Scotts Road, Singapore
Tel: 6735 9937

Open:
Lunch – 12pm – 2.30pm (Sun – Fri)
Dinner – 6.30pm – 11pm (Mon – Sun)


Lobster night at Blu, Four Seasons, Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

Sardinian style marinated lobster, tomatoes, onions and olives

Work has finally died down to a point where I have my weekends back (yay!) and I’m writing my posts a bit backwards, so this post is from our recent trip to the Maldives.

There were four restaurants at the Four Seasons featuring various cuisines from Arabian, to Chinese, to Italian and a simple grill.

Blu was our favourite restaurant I think simply because it was where we started many of our evenings, enjoying cocktails at the bar. Sipping your cocktails with the Indian Ocean in front of you, surrounded by decor that exactly matched the perfect blue of the ocean is the only way to go daahlings 🙂

Chilled pea and mint soup with lobster

On Monday nights Blu serves a lobster degustation menu. We figured that lobster when you’re on an island in the middle of the ocean might, just might, be kind of spectacular.

First course was a lobster salad with Sardinian style marinated lobster, tomatoes, onions and olives. I often find lobster can be heavy and even tough, but this was poached perfectly so that it retained the sweetness and the flesh was light and tender.

Second course was a chilled pea and mint soup with lobster. Beautifully presented at the bottom of a chilled martini glass, the soup is poured over the lobster at the table. The freshness of the pea and mint soup was refreshing in the relative humidity of the evening.

Lobster with reginette pasta, asparagus puree and thyme

Pasta was next with lobster with reginette pasta, with an asparagus puree and thyme. The pasta was perfectly shaped to hold the delicate tomato-based sauce,

Lobster gratin with parmesan and black truffle sauce, wilted spinach and baby carrots

The main course was a half lobster gratin with parmesan and a black truffle sauce. It almost seemed a shame to top off a fresh lobster, served in it’s half shell with parmesan but with classic flavours like that, it was the killer dish of the evening.

Coconut risotto with passionfruit puree and shaved chocolate

Dessert was a coconut risotto with passionfruit puree and shaved chocolate. The combination of the creamy, rich, warm risotto and the tartness of the passionfruit with the melted chocolate was both surprising and delicious.

The food at all four restaurants was just delicious, mainly because they served beautifully fresh seafood, usually very simply prepared. Add the warm hospitality of all the staff, and dining out each evening was just such a joy.


Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse

Open just three months, Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse on Mohamed Sultan Road specialises in authentic Tuscan cuisine, including bistecca fiorentina – charcoal-grilled T-Bone steak that weighs in at more than 1kg.

The deliciously tender fillet steak

I’d like to go with a huge group of people, just so that we could order everything on the menu. There are plenty of options for non-steak-lovers, but both of us were in a beefy mood, so we decided on the fillet steak instead of the bistecca. We could then order our steaks as we preferred (mine was medium rare, D medium). The beef is organic, dry-aged Australian Wagyu-Holstein. Highly marbled, the thick fillet steak came out perfectly cooked, and so tender you could have used a butter knife to cut through it. And it tasted so good that you didn’t either of the two condiments that each steak comes with. The steaks don’t come with anything – we were recommended the mashed potatoes but decided on char-grilled asparagus with lemon oil which came out as five thick spears, perfectly cooked so that they still had some crunch to them.

Char-grilled asparagus with lemon oil

We shared a starter of heirloom tomatoes, rocket, burrata and parma ham. I think tomatoes are one of the basics that any good restaurant should have access to, and the heirloom tomatoes in our starter tasted like they had just been plucked off a vine basking in the Southern Italian sun. The acidity and sweetness from the tomatoes was perfectly balanced with the creaminess of the burrata, the pepperiness of the rocket and the saltiness of the parma ham.

Chocolate lava cake with candied orange peel

We wisely shared the first course, because we then had space for dessert. I had the chocolate lava cake with candied orange peel and D had the chocolate mousse tart with salty caramel. A small and beautifully sweet way to end a splendid meal.

Chocolate mousse tart with salted caramel

A true taste of Italy that took us back to our recent trip to Florence, this is definitely a place we’ve earmarked to go back to for more.

Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse
25 Mohamed Sultan Road
Tel: +65 6735 6739


Casa Tartufo

Tajarin – Piedmont-style thin egg noodles with fresh winter black truffles

Any restaurant that features truffles is a winner in my eyes, and we had a chance to sample some of Casa Tartufo’s signature dishes during Restaurant Week. As you walk into the restaurant, you are enveloped by the scent of truffles – always a good thing.

We started with their burrata with a truffle heart, imported from Puglia. Burrata is becoming increasingly popular in Singapore. And to be honest, all the burrata I’ve had tastes incredible whether it is imported or made on-premise (for example at Osteria Mozza). But this is the first I have had with a truffle heart. So when you cut open the burrata, what oozes out the centre is a thick cream of buffalo mozarella and flecks of black truffle. Impossibly good, but a large starter, so I’d recommend it to share, just so you have enough space to fit in more of the food on offer.

Main course was a tajarin – Piedmont style thin Egg-noodles with truffles. Fresh pasta with truffles is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite dishes. If the pasta is done right (which this one was), it acts as a wonderful canvas that can be vividly coloured with the simple addition of truffles. In this case, slices of fresh winter black truffles. This dish differs from the usual pasta with parmesan cheese and truffles in that it came in a broth base. Very different, but universally loved at our table.

Truffle ice-cream with hazelnuts and chocolate

To end the meal we were served truffle ice-cream. Vanilla ice-cream infused with truffles (trust me, it works) on a bed of hazelnuts and chocolate, dusted with crushed cookies. Delightful way to end the evening and tantalising enough for us to want to try to the rest of the menu soon.

Casa Tartufo
Forum Shopping Mall, #01-17
583 Orchard Rd, Singapore 23884
Tel: +65 68364647

Open every day
Lunch: 11.30am to 2.30pm
Dinner: 6.00pm to 10.00pm