Most people wouldn't be that keen to cook for friends on their own birthday, but foodies would see it differently... so we ended up arranging a prolonged, 7 course lunch on a Sunday afternoon, the day of my birthday.
I would call this 'flavours of Italy'. What's more typical than a caprese as an Italian starter? This is yet another version. I got the inspiration for this dish when I saw these beautiful Italian tomatoes being sold (for quite a price) at Quattro Stagioni, the Italian delicatessen in Liang Court. When they made me taste one of these tomatoes, it suddenly reminded me of what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. It's sad that there is no local equivalent to this. So I bought 2 tomatoes for each guest and also some luscious burrata to go with them.
I made some basil oil with my homegrown basil, skinned the tomatoes and halved them, chopped the burrata in coarse pieces and arranged it with the halved tomatoes and baby basil leaves on the plate (I used an elongated tile for this). I topped the dish with some Murray river salt, drops of basil oil onto the tomatoes, and a balsamic vinegar reduction. This was probably one of the most memorable capreses I had in years. The tomatoes talked for themselves, and the burrata never fails to surprise. A classic combination of simple but striking Italian flavours. Accompanying wine: a great chilled Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008.
Going slightly off the Italian theme, this is a dish I saw on the Momofuku recipe book, and it's a more savoury approach to the classic sashimi. I made this edamame paste from dried edamame beans I bought in Japan, which I soaked for 10 hours and peeled off the thin skin one by one. I then blended them with their own boiling water, some soy sauce, sugar and wasabi. The hamachi and chutoro fillets were cured for 3 hours with crushed coriander seeds and szechuan peppercorns, salt and sugar.
One of the most disappointing things is eating sea urchin pasta in any Italian restaurant in Singapore. It's totally pointless. If you are lucky enough that they can cook the pasta, they are still so short and stingy of the sea urchins, to the point that you can't see it and taste it. This was my opportunity to make a proper sea urchin pasta that tastes and feels like it. The creamy uni texture could be distinguished at every bite. Accompanying wine: a Chateau Duhart-Milon 1999. This was an outstandingly smooth and complex wine. Memorable.
These spaghetti contadini are a simple combination of oven dried tomatoes that I prepared in advance with some local tomatoes, some dusted bottarga and freshly grounded pepper. The intense flavour and meaty texture of the tomatoes are what makes the dish work.
This rack of lamb with Gorgonzola sauce was a very successful experiment to introduce an Italian touch to a classic lamb dish. The rack of lamb was seasoned with salt and pepper, pan fried and then cooked in the oven for about 13 minutes. Once coated with mustard, I dusted the lamb into a mix of breadcrumbs, thyme, rosemary, parsley and Pecorino cheese, and cooked it for a further 5 minutes. I made the sauce by deglazing the pan with Marsala wine, adding lamb stock and then a small amount of Gorgonzola. The aroma of the Gorgonzola which was not dominant but stimulating, was unanimously appreciated. The washed our palate with a powerful Italian Barolo Morando 2001.
A classic closure to any Italian meal, a large portion of freshly made (1 day in advance) tiramisu. Mascarpone, savoiardi biscuits, eggs, sugar, coffee and Marsala wine. Some cocoa powder dusted just before serving. Mild, creamy and tempting...
We finished off with a Cape Mentelle Cabernet Merlot 2007, and we called it a night. Thanks to the Tays for the wonderful wines (and wine glasses)!