Tag Archives: pasta

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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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!

Garlic and brocolli pasta

In the middle of one of my twice annual detoxes, I was in the mood for a simple pasta dish. I’ve found some really good organic brown rice pastas and also buckwheat pastas, which are detox-friendly, as well as having the added bonus of being gluten-free.

This dish is so quick and simple – perfect weekday dinner or double the quantity and you can have the leftovers as a pasta salad for lunch the next day.

Ingredients for one serving – adjust accordingly for more

  1. 3/4 cup dry spiral organic brown rice pasta
  2. 1/2 cup broccoli florets – no stems
  3. 2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (I love garlic so feel free to use less)
  4. good squeeze of lemon
  5. salt and pepper

Method

  1. Cook pasta according to packet directions in salted water
  2. When pasta is almost cooked, add the broccoli for a 30 seconds and drain – save about half a cup of the pasta water
  3. Sautée the garlic in a hot pan with some oil till soft
  4. Add the drained pasta and broccoli and toss in the garlic and oil – add a few spoons of the pasta water to help loosen the pasta up. The starchy water will help to give the pasta a nice silky texture
  5. Squeeze the lemon juice, and add salt and pepper to taste
  6. Serve hot for dinner
  7. If you want to keep the leftovers for lunch the next day, add a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and pop into the fridge for a yummy pasta salad

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)


Basil pesto

A wonderfully fresh and versatile sauce that you can simply toss through some pasta, or add a touch of cream to tszuj up pan-fried chicken. One jar will keep in the fridge for two weeks. Easy-peasy as pie to make as well.

Ingredients makes enough to fill a jam-sized jar

  1. 60g basil leaves
  2. 60g toasted pine nuts
  3. 60g grated fresh parmesan
  4. 1-2 garlic cloves
  5. 1/2 – 3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
  6. Generous pinch of salt

Method

  1. Pop the basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan and garlic into a food processor and slowly add the olive oil to help loosen the mix until you have a thick sauce consistency
  2. Season to taste with salt
  3. Store in a airtight jar in the fridge or freeze portions so you always have something fresh and green when you want

Pappardelle with braised pork belly

A slight variation on my usual pork belly in red wine, this just takes a few hours on the stove. I finished the sauce with a few nobs of butter to give it a silky texture that coats the pappardelle.

Ingredients for two

  1. 200g pork belly
  2. 1 onion, finely diced
  3. 1 small carrot, finely diced
  4. 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  5. 1 tomato, roughly diced
  6. 2 glasses red wine
  7. 2 cups chicken stock
  8. fresh thyme
  9. 1 bay leaf
  10. couple of nobs butter
  11. Pappardelle pasta

Method

  1. Brown all edges of the pork belly in a hot pan. You want to get the natural sugars in the meat caramelising. Remove from pan and set aside
  2. In the same pan, add some oil and gently sweat the onions, carrots and celery until they are tender
  3. Add the pork belly back into the pan along with the wine, tomato, herbs and enough chicken stock to just cover the meat
  4. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the temperature to a simmer. Let lightly bubble away for 2 hours. The liquid will reduce a bit so you may need to check now and then that the pork is still covered. I started to shred the pork after about an hour so that every bit of the pork gets to release its flavour, and also  take on the flavours in the pan. Season to taste
  5. After a couple of hours the liquid in the pan should have reduced by about a half and the pork tender enough to shred into meaty chunks.
  6. Cook pappardelle until just cooked in salted water. Reserve some of the cooking water before you drain the pasta – that starchy salty water helps to make the sauce loose and helps the pasta from sticking
  7. While the pasta is cooking, add a few nobs of cold butter to the sauce. It really gives another dimension to the sauce, making it silky and helping to coat the pasta
  8. Pop the pasta into the pan with the sauce, adding a few tablespoons of the cooking water to help the sauce really coat each ribbon of pasta
  9. Serve hot with a good handful of freshly grated parmesan

12 Apostles

Prosciutto with black truffles and parmesan with confit red peppers

On this trip, we fell in love with Verona. Forget all the Romeo and Juliet stuff – it’s fictional after all, and all a bit tacky for me – Verona is charming and just very very pretty.

We managed to eat at so many places this trip and this restaurant is the only one where we went back twice it was that good.

Just around the corner from our our hotel (the wonderful Gabbia D’Oro), 12 Apostoli got its name from the 12 tradesmen who used to meet every day after work back in the 1700s when it was an inn. In was only in the early 1900s that it became a restaurant but still serves simple food, stunningly prepared.

I have to say that it was a bit more formal than I expected, but the staff there were so cheeky in a totally professional way that it lured us back a second time. On recommendation, we started with shaved prosciutto with black truffles and parmesan on a bed of rocket, with red pepper confit. I don’t really need to say any more, do I 🙂

shaved salami on grilled polenta

We also had a traditional Veronese dish, shaved salami on top of grilled polenta. The Italians don’t seem to season their polenta at all but the saltiness of the salami took care of that.

Mains we both stuck to pasta – D had the beef tortellini tossed in butter and sage and I had the papaline (which amusingly is translated to “skullcaps”) filled with marscapone and olives.

Dessert was a total revelation for me. I’m familiar with dessert carts, but not three. It was such a thrill being surrounded by so much sugar ! And we usually had eaten so much that we had no space for dessert but that night, we had three between the two of us. And there were two winners which I would never have dreamed I would even order let alone love.

Traditional Sicilian cassata

The first was a cassata. Now my knowledge of cassata is vanilla ice-cream with dried candied fruit that you can order in Italian takeaways back in Australia – not all that appetising. Apparently that is a type of cassata but the version that we were served that night was the traditional Sicilian version – sponge cake moistened with liquer, layered with ricotta cheese and covered with a shell of marzipan and topped with candied fruit and peel. It was absolutely gorgeous. Light, with no overpowering flavour of marzipan (which I don’t really like the taste of), just delicate and somehow worked beautifully.

Sliced orange with candied orange peel

The second dish was “an orange”. I mean, that makes it sound so .. dull, but essentially it was peeled sliced orange with candied orange peel. That was pretty much it. But the zing of flavour in that orange made all the tastebuds in your mouth sing. Honest.

We had to almost roll ourselves out of 12 Apostles that night but not before we made a reservation for dinner on our last night in Verona. Perfect way to start a visit to this lovely city.

12 Apostoli
Corticela S. Marco 3,
37121, Verona, Italy
Tel: +39 045 596999
Email: dodiciapostoli@tiscali.it

Closed Sunday and Monday evenings


Osteria Enoteca San Marco

Caprese salad

Wandering around through the streets of Venice near St Mark’s Square you are bombarded with high-end labels, Venetian glass baubles and masks. Choosing where to eat lunch can also be daunting, with so many choices – D and I ended up picking a place that looked the least like Italy. The modern interior appealed to us and by chance we seemed to pick a touristy restaurant that also happened to serve super good food.

Wild mushroom with fresh pappardelle

Osteria Enoteca San Marco offers a selection of delicious fresh pastas with the added bonus of a great selection of wines by the glass – from prosecco to a Brunello di Montalcino, which we took advantage of 🙂

Buffalo ricotta and scarmoza ravioli with tomatoes

There was the beautifully presented caprese salad, bursting with tomatoey, mozarella-ey and the all important basil goodness, a ravioli with buffalo ricotta and scarmoza (a lightly smoked cheese) and tomatoes, and a simple wild mushroom pappardelle angling for attention on our table with the wines.

D and I swapped the dishes we ordered – he loved the smokey cheese ravioli and I loved the simpleness of the mushroom pappardelle.

And so ends our Venetian eating adventures…next…on to beautiful Verona !

Osteria Enotica San Marco
San Marco 1610 – 30124 Venice
Tel: +39 041 528 52 42


Salmon pasta

A deliciously creamy pasta that is freshened by a good squeeze of lemon.

Ingredients: (for two)

  1. 1 onion, diced
  2. 1 glass of white wine
  3. 200g hot smoked salmon, flaked (you can also use normal smoked salmon)
  4. 150g dried pasta – I like to use spaghetti
  5. 200ml cream
  6. Salt and pepper to taste
  7. Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus extra to serve
  8. Handful fresh dill, chopped – other herbs that would work if you can’t get fresh dill would be chervil or flat leaf parsley and you can also use dried dill if your supermarket is like mine and always seems to have the fresh herbs you don’t need that night

Method:

  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the pack
  2. While the pasta is cooking, sweat the onions until translucent
  3. Turn the heat to high, add the white wine and cook for 3-4 minutes to cook off the alchohol
  4. Add the cream and cook on medium heat for another few minutes until thickened
  5. Season to taste – remember that the salmon will add salt
  6. Add the salmon
  7. Add the lemon juice and herbs
  8. Add the cooked pasta (should be juust al dente as it will continue to cook a little in the sauce).  Reserve some of the salted water that you cooked the pasta in and you can add that to thin out the cream sauce to make it silky and coat the pasta.
  9. Serve with lemon wedges and a sprinkle of chopped fresh dill

Pesto Alfredo

After recently watching chefs travel through Italy making various pasta dishes, I woke up this morning with pasta on my mind.  I’d recently had a delicious penne alfredo at Il Lido, and decided to try to recreate that dish for lunch – firm tubes of pasta coated in a silky cheesy cream sauce.  I also added some thin strips of ham (mainly because that was what I had in the fridge).  It would also go well with peas or mushrooms.

Ingredients (for two hungry people for lunch)

  1. 1/2 onion, minced
  2. 60g cup butter
  3. 2 tbl plain flour
  4. 1 cup hot milk
  5. 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  6. handful thin strips of ham
  7. 200g penne pasta

Method

  1. Cook pasta in salted boiling water while you make the sauce
  2. Melt butter over low heat and gently fry onions until translucent
  3. Add flour and cook to make a roux
  4. Slowly incorporate the milk in batches until you have a thin bechamel sauce
  5. Add the ham and cheese and stir till cheese melts
  6. Drain cooked pasta, add to the sauce  – add a few spoonfuls of the salted pasta water to help thin the sauce so that it just coats the pasta
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste – I make sure this is done only at the end because the butter I use is already generously salted and also you add salted pasta water
  8. Serve immediately