The writing on the paper says it all.
MAKING PASTA for Italians is like hitting your head with the biggest rock you picked up on a leisurely stroll on Orchard Turn. It sounds like a recipe for disaster but you do it just the same,
Not one to back down from a self-imposed challenge, I, along with Kiddo, whipped up an Italian lunch of pasta and risotto for our four dear Italian compadres Michele, Paolo, Claudio and Michele last Saturday. (Yes, two Micheles.)
We intended to hit a home run – or, going by Italy’s favorite sport – make a goal, so we asked (okay, more like forced) Claudio if we could have the lunch at his place. I thought, it could’ve at least imbibed by now the essence of the Italian spirit – the flavors borne on the sun-kissed Mediterranean, smacked with the temperament that can only come from the boot-shaped peninsula and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily where the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate meet.
If everything went well, I could charge it to the golden green extra virgin olive oil and the perfumed goodness of basil. If from the initial sizzle created by garlic hitting hot oil everything went downhill, I would allude to the considerable seismic activity, characteristic of the country, which could wreak havoc on even the best-laid plans.
The planned menu reads prettily on paper and speaks boldness on the part of two Asians who for the most part could’ve just very well been tinkering with one of the most recognizable cuisines in the world.
TheBrenDarryl (recipe here) – Australian Baby Wild Arugula Salad with sliced Green New Zealand Granny Smith Apple and Green Argentinian Pear, topped with shaved Parmesan Cheese and served with pan-grilled honey-glazed Prawns on the side, in my now-signature Honey–Calamansi Dressing.
Angel Hair Pomodoro (recipes here)
Farfalle alla Genovese (recipe here or here)
Risotto Zafferano (recipe by Kiddo)
To start the meal, we passed around a loaf of ciabatta from a “Milano” bakeshop in Takashimaya, and for dessert, we couldn’t have gone more traditional and Christmas-y than with panettone which I sliced and served with three kinds of gelato – crème brûlée, coffee and vanilla. Three bottles of red wine were popped through the course of the meal, their origins being a veritable testament to globalization – one came from Chile, another from Australia, and the third one from France.
The day started quite early as Kiddo, Claudio and I agreed to do the groceries at the Cold Storage at Takashimaya the morning of. What was initially planned to be a dash-and-go turned out to be a surprise gathering as we bumped into Paolo (there for groceries) and Michele (there for breakfast and some takeaway bread).
What did you know. We first bumped into Paolo. Then on the way out, we saw Michele.
Michele says HI to the camera!
Now, let’s try a proper photo. Hehe.
Together, we took that leisurely stroll back to their serviced apartment and I kept my eyes wide open for the biggest rock I could pick up and hit my head with. Haha!
I fell in love with the lobby of their apartment from the first time I saw it. The chandeliers are nice. Simple lines, wrought iron work, and individual lights that evoke images of votives. Like sending prayers to heaven.
Lovin’ the high ceiling and the skeleton globes.
The place is all dressed up for Christmas already. I love that tree.
A part of me expected Martin Sheen to show up at some point.
Once there, Kiddo and I proceeded with all the prep work – peeling, cutting, and slicing – while at the same time turning on all four burners to heat pots and pans, some of which had to be borrowed from Paolo’s and Michele’s places.
Whenever I cook at other people’s places, I always get this kind of shot. How does this happen? Someone calls out for you, you turn around to acknowledge, then the shutter is set off. I like this one.
First thing I always do regardless of where I’m cooking is lay down all the ingredients. I pick what I need as I move along with the cooking. The steaks were for Paolo as he doesn’t eat seafood.
The mushroom ragout for the Farfalle alla Genovese is done. The two pots on the left are water for the pasta – one for the farfalle, one for the angel hair.
The food has landed on the table!
Kiddo’s Risotto Zafferano
Angel Hair Pomodoro, made with only fresh tomatoes. In deference to Claudio’s sensitivity to “uncooked” cheese, I didn’t sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.
Farfalle alla Genovese
The third bottle of red wine that was opened was French.
I loved how the label verbiage described the wine. “The wine is expressive and full-bodied yet unpretentious…” Could’ve been describing a person. Haha! Michele did a fine job reading the description in French.
I think lunch went okay. Haha!
More than anything, Kiddo and I wanted to keep the time as much as possible. It would be a shame to keep guests waiting. When the clock hit 1:00 PM – the appointed time on our invitation – I closed my eyes for one brief moment and imagined in my head the voice of Padma Lakshmi saying, “Hands up! Utensils down!” This meant slashing the salad off of the menu simply because I had yet to assemble the individual plates.
We sat down like one big happy family, expressed our appreciation for the food we were about to share, and just dug in. Before we were about to finish, Michele and Claudio started asking for the speeches from “the chefs.” I kept glancing at Kiddo and kept making sheepish grins thinking those would get me off the hook. But our guests were serious about wanting to hear speeches. Claudio, having already heard me deliver one at an office event, just wouldn’t let me get away with it scot-free. I had to speak.
So with an iPhone5 trained at my countenance, I spoke. It’s always just a good thing to keep on remembering the two lessons (among countless others) from my childhood that have never left me: I was raised to never talk to strangers. And to never ever be afraid to express how I feel (in my heart) and what I think (in my head). So I spoke. I had to. I couldn’t put up with pretending not wanting to speak my mind. Hehe.
Eventually, the Italians responded with their own “speeches.” The one thing I could never forget from what they said was that by sharing a meal with us – me, Kiddo, and our other Asian friends (Chin Eik, and then Shook Yee, were there too) – they actually express their respect for us and their willingness to be our friends. I paraphrased but that was essentially it.
After lunch was cleared, it was time to move on to a more pressing concern – to learn to play mahjong. While Shook Yee, Chin Eik and Kiddo coached Michele, Paolo, Claudio and Michele, I proceeded with preparing the dessert course. The panettone and gelato were store-bought (Cold Storage Specialty) but they didn’t have to be served looking like they did. So I reached for Claudio’s pristine bone china pieces from the cupboard, set on each a thinly sliced wedge of panettone, and three rustic scoops of gelato, one each for the crème brûlée, coffee and vanilla.
For most of us, it was time to learn mahjong! Chin Eik, Paolo, the very lovely Shook Yee, Michele, eNTeNG and Kia Leh (Kiddo).
Soon enough, the Italians were making a killing at the game. Haha!
Michele and Claudio celebrate a win by singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions”. Haha!
My favorite mahjong tiles
An almost win for me
Finally, a win for me!
We had a cheat sheet written on the mahjong paper, courtesy of either Shook Yee, Chin Eik, or Kiddo.
Panettone, the traditional Italian Christmas cake, the dessert of choice courtesy of Claudio.
Panettone with Gelato Three Ways, ready to be served.
Each dessert portion is a thin slice of panettone, with a rustic melange of crème brûlée, coffee and vanilla gelato.
By the time each finished his or her share of cake and gelato, we looked at the leaderboard in shock and awe that one of the Italians, very new to the game, made us bite dust. Paolo made an unprecedented three-win streak. Michele (Kuya) chalked up two wins (celebrating one with a rendition of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” together with Claudio), as well as Chin Eik. I don’t recall how the others fared. But I do know that Shook Yee won the last game. And somewhere in between, I walked away with a win too! Haha!
We spent another hour talking about all things Italian – everybody in the guest list has been to Italy except me – before heading off to Takashimaya for dinner at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s Beanstro. Around past 11:00 PM, we went on our way back to their place for the final nightcap.
On the elevator ride down, on our way to Takashimaya for a little shopping, coffee, and dinner for me. Haha!
The BeanSTRO Menu
The gang at BeanSTRO by CBTL at Takashimaya
My Roast Chicken and Tomato Concasse Pasta
We brought back some Almond-Chocolate Biscotti from CBTL.
Needless to say, on this third leisurely stroll on Orchard Turn done in the space of one fine day, I was hoping against hope to find the biggest rock to hit my head with. What was my business making pasta for Italians? Then I realized I needed not a reality check because in their kind words that peppered the day’s many conversations, I recognized gratitude, appreciation for effort beyond the fruition of perfection, and a tolerance for what one’s best can offer.
I can’t wait for the next get-together.
Of course I’ve got to have a photo by the Christmas Tree at the lobby.
By the same Christmas Tree, here with Michele, Claudio, Shook Yee, and Kiddo.
Anywhere there is a mirror. Haha!… As you can see, we had the lobby all to ourselves. This was one of the best late night conversations I have had in a long time.
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