La Vita è Bella

10 12 2012
Italian Lunch - Group 04 THANKS Original

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 gelatocrème 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).

Italian Lunch - Group 05 Cold Storage

What did you know. We first bumped into Paolo. Then on the way out, we saw Michele.

 

Italian Lunch - Group 06 Cold Storage

Michele says HI to the camera!

 

Italian Lunch - Group 07 Cold Storage

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!

Italian Lunch - Apartment 00 Chandelier

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.

 

Italian Lunch - Apartment 01 Ceiling

Lovin’ the high ceiling and the skeleton globes.

 

Italian Lunch - Apartment 02 Lobby

The place is all dressed up for Christmas already. I love that tree.

 

Italian Lunch - Apartment 03 The West Wing

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.

Italian Lunch - Solo 01 Cooking

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.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 00 Ingredients

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.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 01 Mushroom Ragout

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.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 03

The food has landed on the table!

 

Italian Lunch - Food 06 Risotto Zafferano

Kiddo’s Risotto Zafferano

 

Italian Lunch - Food 05 Angel Hair Pomodoro

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.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 02 Farfalle alla Genovese

Farfalle alla Genovese

 

Italian Lunch - Food 07 French Red Wine

The third bottle of red wine that was opened was French.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 08 French Red Wine

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.

 

Italian Lunch - Group 08 Lunch

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.

Italian Lunch - Group 00 Mahjong

For most of us, it was time to learn mahjong! Chin Eik, Paolo, the very lovely Shook Yee, Michele, eNTeNG and Kia Leh (Kiddo).

 

Italian Lunch - Group 09 Mahjong

Soon enough, the Italians were making a killing at the game. Haha!

 

Italian Lunch - Friends 00 Claudio Michele

Michele and Claudio celebrate a win by singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions”. Haha!

 

Italian Lunch - Mahjong 00 Fave Tiles

My favorite mahjong tiles

 

Italian Lunch - Mahjong 01 Almost Win

An almost win for me

 

Italian Lunch - Mahjong 02 Win

Finally, a win for me!

 

Italian Lunch - Mahjong 03 Cheat Sheet

We had a cheat sheet written on the mahjong paper, courtesy of either Shook Yee, Chin Eik, or Kiddo.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 09 Panettone

Panettone, the traditional Italian Christmas cake, the dessert of choice courtesy of Claudio.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 10 Panettone with Gelato

Panettone with Gelato Three Ways, ready to be served.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 11 Panettone with Gelato

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.

Italian Lunch - Group 05 Elevator

On the elevator ride down, on our way to Takashimaya for a little shopping, coffee, and dinner for me. Haha!

 

Italian Lunch - Food 12 Beanstro Menu

The BeanSTRO Menu

 

Italian Lunch - Group 02 CBTL Beanstro

The gang at BeanSTRO by CBTL at Takashimaya

 

Italian Lunch - Food 15 Beanstro Pasta

My Roast Chicken and Tomato Concasse Pasta

 

Italian Lunch - Food 16 Biscotti

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.

Italian Lunch - Solo 00 Christmas Tree

Of course I’ve got to have a photo by the Christmas Tree at the lobby.

 

Italian Lunch - Group 01 Christmas Tree

By the same Christmas Tree, here with Michele, Claudio, Shook Yee, and Kiddo.

 

Italian Lunch - Solo 02 Lobby

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.

Copyright © 2012 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved





One day I farfalle*

17 12 2010

 

“FARFALLE ALLA GENOVESE?”

Iron Man furrowed his brows and looked back at me, parrying my seeming inappropriate question with an expected questioning look.  Expected because I threw in my question right smack when he was negotiating a stringy portion of lechon (roasted pig) he was served.  As for me, I’ve totally sworn off lechon, allowing me time to pester the superhero to my right.  I caught him mid-bite, my question throwing him off from all the concentration he had focused on a yummy piece of meat.

I motioned to him to carry on.  Besides, the question was rather rhetorical.  And Iron Man knew exactly what I meant.  It’s amazing how, between friends, thoughts and intentions can be reduced to one line.  And in this case, reduced to the name of a pasta dish asked like a chant-like intoned prayer – “Farfalle alla Genovese?”

Iron Man, a reflection, and Brother

We were actually at the reception of a good friend’s son’s christening – yeah I know, all the more that my question reeked with insensitivity – but soon enough, I did get my prayer answered.  And before long, off Iron Man and I went to Town to meet up with Brother for a movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1) and, you guess it right, Farfalle Alla Genovese!

Where else but in Cibo!

Checking the time at Cibo

When you’re like me who can get obssessed with a dish for months on end, you would want to ask for it right away the moment you get comfortably settled in your seat.  But I have to admit, whatever little gastronomic propriety is left in me, it tells me to still ask for at least a starter.  For this dinner, we decided on the Spinaci Zola (spinach and gorgonzola dip), served with toasted and soft melba toast rounds.  I swear by Funghi Praga, a recommendation of Friendship’s, but in deference to Brother’s restrictions, “bawal ang pork!”

Bread and a fabulous dip took care of the necessary formality, and I didn’t allow any other – soup or salad – to get between me and my farfalle!  Oh, I spoke too soon.  There was Iron Man, with whom I shared the family sized-serving of this wonderful al dente bowtie pasta tossed with a fresh wild mushroom cream sauce and basil pesto, topped with a fresh grating of the best parmesan cheese and a few grinds of the pepper mill.  For someone like me who favors tomato-based sauces over cream ones, Cibo’s farfalle alla genovese is the foremost exception.

Farfalle Alla Genovese!

 

First serving of the pasta for Iron Man.

 

Brother, ever the carnivore, opted for the Costolette D’Agnello, a duo of well-done (his preference) grilled lamb chops, doused with a sauce of red wine reduction perfumed with mint, and served alongside a parsley rice pilaf.  I’ve often heard that nothing beats tasting Italy in springtime than with the tenderness of lamb, grilled to perfection as the classic Costolette D’Agnello.  I couldn’t vouch for that.  But Brother could, evidenced by whatever remained – or didn’t – on his plate.

Costolette D'Agnello

 

Brother let me have the grilled zucchini that came with the lamb.

 

Brother prefers his meat well-done. And these chops are well-done and yet still tender and flavorful.

 

See what I mean? This is one of the things that I love having dinner with Brother. We're both such "enthusiastic" and "appetizing" eaters!

 

Iron Man and Brother loaded up on anti-oxidants by way of red grape shakes!

 

Of course I had my favorite Tomato Juice! Lycopene-loading!

 

*For five nights in a row, I’ve been putting “Moulin Rouge” on.  On a couple of nights, to send me to deep slumber.  But on the others, to put the “Your Song” clip into heavy rotation – singing along all the time.  For this blog post, the song “One Day I’ll Fly Away” came to mind and inspired the title above.

Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.