Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ravioli al branzino

I love ravioli in all their variations, larger, smaller, in different colors and textures. Given that the filling should be the focus of the dish, I prefer my ravioli with lighter, simpler sauces than what I would use on plain pasta. Unfortunately making ravioli is more involving and messy than boiling some dried pasta, but then again it's fun and ful-filling (pun intended!), and you can freeze them for another treat!
Mostly, ravioli are filled with ricotta cheese and spinach or various meats. I opted for a lighter, more subtle sea-bass ravioli, to be enjoyed with a flavoursome clam and fish sauce.

I therefore grabbed my motivation and decided to prepare some sea-bass ravioli this morning. Before heading out for my shopping, I prepared the dough using:
  • 200g semolina flour
  • 100g plain flour
  • 3 medium eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • a tablespoon of water 
Mix all the ingredients well and knead until smooth (I used an electric mixer), then roll into a ball, wrap in cling film and let rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

While the dough was resting, I went out to buy the following ingredients:
  • 1 fresh sea bass
  • Some breadcrumbs, or a slice of bread which you will soften in water or milk
  • 1 egg
  • Some herbs. I used parsley, fresh oregano and chives.
  • Pink peppercorns, crushed

Steam the sea bass until cooked, remove the skin and separate out the meat. Finely chop the herbs, then mix with the sea bass meat, the egg, the breadcrumbs (or softened bread), and a pinch of salt. Mash gently using a fork, until you obtain a mixture that can be scooped into your ravioli.

Pull out the dough from the fridge and roll into thin sheets using a pasta machine. These need to be thinner than you would roll if you were making tagliatelle, as you don't want your ravioli to feel "doughy". I used a raviolatrice (see picture) to fill my ravioli, but you can easily make them one by one by hand, it just takes a little longer.

I made the accompanying sauce with a 50-50 clam and fish stock reduction as I had these two ready made in my freezer. Make the sauce by mixing in equal parts clam and fish stock in a frying pan together with a few tablespoons of tomato water and reducing on medium heat with a lemon zest and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs. Reduce until the sauce reaches the right level of thickness, then remove from the heat.

Tomato water: to make tomato water, blend a couple of fresh tomatoes, wrap the blended pulp into a cheese cloth and place onto a colander on top of a bowl. The tomato water will slowly drip over an hour or two.
Clam stock: simply sauteé the clams until they open up and release their juice, then separate the clam juice out.
Fish stock: Simmer the bones and of the fish over slow heat together with an onion, a stalk of celery, some button mushrooms, and preferably some fennel and fresh parsley. The stock will be ready after about 40 minutes.

Finally, boil the ravioli for a couple of minutes in a large pot of water, drain them out of their water and place on high heat into the frying pan together with the sauce. Sauteé for a couple of minutes, basting them with their own sauce, then remove from the fire and top with some delicate extra virgin olive oil. The ravioli are ready to be served.

Monday, August 6, 2012

CookForFamily - Branzino alle erbe

Here we go, onto the second part of the CookForFamily event. After the fusilli with clams, I cooked a baked seabass with herbs in foil. I love the delicate, tender and juicy meat of seabass when it's cooked just right. Baking it in a foil allows you to maintain the flesh moist while capturing the fragrance of the seasonings over a slow cooking process. Everyone loved this recipe as it's healthy and the medley of herbs infuses natural flavors into the meat and juices of the fish. This is convenient to make, since you can prepare this fish in advance, refrigerate it, and put it in the oven just 30 minutes before serving.

For this recipe, I used the following ingredients:
  • 1 medium fresh sea bass
  • 1 lemon sprigs of thyme, sage, rosemary, some lemongrass
  • olive oil
  • assorted peppercorns
  • Slice the lemon into 3mm thick slices
  • Wash all the herbs, and break them into smaller chunks
  • Clean the fish, remove the innards and fins, score it and pat dry
  • Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper on both sides and inside, then massage it with olive oil throughout
Cooking process:
  • Bring a drizzle of olive oil to the heat on a large frying pan
  • Place the slices of lemon, and fry them until nicely browned on both sides
  • Remove them from the heat
  • Clean the pan, then repeat the same for the fish. Make sure that the oil is well hot before placing the fish, as what you want is a crispy skin on both sides. All you need is about 40 seconds on each side. Make sure not to break the skin as you maneuver the fish.
  • Scatter the herbs and lemon slices on some aluminium foil, then place the fish on them and repeat the same pattern on top of the fish. Wrap and seal the aluminium tightly, and store it in the fridge until ready for cooking. 
  • Heat the oven up to 180C, then place the whole wrapped fish on a tray and cook it for about 30 minutes, or until the fish is ready.
  • It will be easy to check if the fish is cooked by carefully opening the foil and checking through the scoring cuts
I transferred the parcel onto a plate, opened up the foil and served the whole fish at the table portioning chunks of flesh and a few of the herbs and lemon slices for decoration, for the enjoyment of the family!

CookForFamily - Fusilli alle vongole

As part of the CookForFamily initiative, I have prepared this dish for my family this Sunday. It is a revisited version of the classic "spaghetti alle vongole". In the classic recipe which you would find in most books, the clams are sauteé'd in olive oil with white wine and parsley, and finally the pasta is added to the pan. The issue with this sort of recipe is that the flavor of clams tends to be too subtle and get lost. Also, the sauce will be too liquid and lack in depth. My version on the other hand has greater depth in flavour due to higher density of the sauce and concentration of the flavour. My additional touch is the ginger and lemon zest, which provide a boost of freshness to the dish. Although linguini or spaghetti are the best match for this sauce, my family is quite bored with those classics, so I picked something a bit different, with rougher textural qualities.

This is what I used to make this pasta:
  • 1 inch of ginger
  • A pack of white clams (you can find these in FairPrice or Cold Storage)
  • A bunch of Italian parsley
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 Zucchini
  • 1/2 glass of white wine
  • 1 Fennel bulb (this can be bought at FairPrice, or replaced by celery)
  • Chili as required (I used 2)
  • Some breadcrumbs (I use Japanese panko)
  • 15ml of Light extra virgin olive oil (suitable for fish)
  • A few cherry tomatoes (I used aged pomodorini del Piennolo, but these cannot be found in Singapore)
  • For the pasta I used long fusilli (180 gr x 2/3 people), however you can use linguini or spaghetti.
Preparation steps:
  • Wash the clams in ice water, then rinse them and set them aside. Save a few of them for decoration.
  • Cut the fennel bulb into 4 pieces
  • Peel the lemon and keep the zest
  • Peel 1 inch of Ginger and slice it into 3
  • Cut the zucchini into Julienne strips
  • Chop half of the parsley
Cooking steps:
  • Heat up some olive oil in a medium pot, then add the clams and cover over high heat.
  • Once they open, add the white wine and let evaporate for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the fennel, ginger and lemon into the pot, and top up with hot water to almost cover the ingredients. Reduce the heat to medium or low, just letting the stock bubble slowly for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the unchopped parsley and reduce for another 5 minutes.
  • Strain the stock with a fine colander and pour it into a large frying pan. Bring to a slow boil, add some more lemon zest and the chilies if you like a bit of spice, as well as a pinch of breadcrumbs (about a tablespoon).
  • Let it reduce down to a third, or until the sauce is slightly dense (probably about 15 minutes).
  • As you will keep the sauce going waiting for the pasta to be ready, you need to maintain it at this level of density, so add a tablespoon of boiling water from the pasta pot if required.
  • In the meantime, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and put in the pasta (no salt required).
  • Put the spare clams into the saucepan and cover. Wait until they open, then set them aside.
  • 2 minutes before the pasta is ready, add the zuccchini and the cherry tomatoes to the sauce and cover.
  • Remove the pasta 1 minute before its cooking time, and put it straight into the frying pan, quickly tossing it into the sauce together with half of the chopped parsley as well as 1/4 of teaspoon of salt.
  • Toss for about a minute or until the pasta is "al dente", adding water if required to loosen the sauce.
  • Remove from the fire, then top with extra virgin olive oil and mix it into the sauce.
  • Plate into individual portions, decorating with the parsley, extra clams and cherry tomatoes.
The skill is to time everything so that the pasta will be perfectly cooked when the sauce will have the perfect density. This may require a few attempts for beginners.

It is a family tradition for us to cook at home every Sunday lunch, but I came up with this particular pasta just for the CookForFamily event. It came out perfectly and was extremely well received by the family! There was not a single droplet of sauce left on the plates, and I was asked to repeat it again next week. There is nothing more fulfilling than a new dish being so appreciated by your own family. Why not try this yourself for your own family next Sunday?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Paccheri alla polpa di granchio

While visiting London a week ago, I took the opportunity to take some Italian ingredients back to Singapore. I managed to get hold of these wonderful "Pomodorinmi del Piennolo del Vesuvio DOP", preserved by San Nicola Dei Miri, Gragnano. This a very homemade production from an area where some of the best tomatoes can be harvested. It is really not an industrial type of processing, so much so that each jar is numbered by hand.

The Pomodorini del Piennolo are one of the best varieties of Italian tomatoes, originating from the
National Park of Vesuvio. These famous Vesuvian tomatoes called "del Piennolo" are grown on small pieces of land 150-450mt above the sea level. The volcanic terroir and plenty of sun benefit the flavour of these tomatoes. They have a sweet and lightly sour flavour, due to the particular concentration of sugars and minerals derived from the terroir where they are grown. They are particularly good when rapidly cooked, lightly tossed with the sauce and then served with pasta. This is exactly what cannot be done with tomatoes bought in Singapore, which require long cooking times before any flavour is released.

This was the perfect opportunity to pair a batch of Paccheri di Gragnano I have been storing for some time, with these beautiful tomatoes, grown form a nearby area.

I used a few simple ingredients:
  • 8 pomodorini del Piennolo DOP
  • 200g crab meat (defrosted)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic (squashed)
  • half glass of dry white wine
  • 150ml lobster stock
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 10 large leaves of basil
  • 180g Paccheri di Gragnano
I decided to use lobster stock purely because I had it in my freezer. It's a leftover from a lunch with friends we had 2-3 weeks ago, and this is surely not an ingredient that goes wasted. You can of course use other stock like fish or even better shellfish stock that you can make on the fly in 15 minutes.
Heat some olive oil in a frying pan, and add the squashed garlic and bay leaves (I also added some chilli flakes for a bit of heat). Once the garlic is golden, carefully add the crab meat, lightly toss it for 30 seconds, then add the white wine and let evaporate. When the crab meat is cooked, remove it from the pan together with the garlic, which you will discard. Set the crab meat aside in a small bowl. In the meantime, you will have boiled and salted some water for the pasta. Put the Paccheri in the boiling water, as they will need about 12 minutes to cook.
Add half of the stock to the sauce and reduce, then add a couple of the tomatoes and the rest of the stock and break them into a pulp to thicken the sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes.

Finally, add some of the basil leaves together with the remaining tomatoes, salt as needed and lightly toss for a couple of minutes. Add the crab meat and the remaining basil, followed by the Paccheri pasta when ready, and sauteé all together for a few seconds. Top with a dash of light extra virgin olive oil and serve with a fresh basil leaf.


This European fine dining restaurant is located in the National Museum of Singapore and has been open for a few years, but although I have been willing to try it out for quite some time, due to its location it always gave me the wrong impression of being a "touristy" restaurant.
This time, looking to try somewhere new, I made the move and stepped into the place. The ambiance gave an instant impression of sophistication, and the dining room is breathtaking: spacious, stylish and classic and benefits from an impressive double height ceiling.

We were soon given a Lunch Set Menu, with either 2 or 3 courses and a choice of about 4-5 dishes per course. The bread soon followed, and it wasn't the best thing we were served, as I prefer traditional crusty bread to the soft, brioche style one which tends to remind me of BreadTalk.

I was a lot more impressed by the amouse bouche, which was a crab meat based soft mousse, with a combination of beautiful flavours and textures. There was even some refreshing soft tofu right at the bottom of the jar to settle the palate.

Together with the amouse bouche, the waiter placed a couple of pretty cards right in front of us to announce the next dish, which we selected out of the set lunch. This was without a doubt a beautiful idea, as it prepares you mentally to what's coming and entertains you with the history and composition details of the dish. I much prefer this approach to the typical waiter babbling some hard to understand long memorised description when the dish is served.

The young Young Beets Salad with roast beets, spinach, hazelnuts, pear and blue cheese was well balanced and a way apart from what you would get in a regular café.

I ordered a Reinvented Vitello Tonnato, which was a brilliant variation on the classic Italian dish, still staying truthful to the original. The slices of veal were topped with some tomato marmalade and tuna tartare, and a few scattered large capers. In my case, the creamy tuna sauce was served separately, as the waiter gathered that I don't like "creamy stuff" while doing my orders. I was in fact enquiring about the risotto, which  he told me contains cream, and I didn't choose for that reason. He asked me if I can't eat dairy products, but I explained that I actually just don't like food with a lot of cream. The kitchen was, from then on, very careful with adding too much cream to my dishes. This was a sign of excellent, attentive service and good partnering work between kitchen and serving staff!

Next, was the Venison Loin with coffee jus, Jerusalem artichoke paste, and almond powder. The dish was well presented and the venison just right, although I personally found that it was too "gamy", and it needed something either herby or acid to cut through that smell. This could be improved upon.

The Seabass from Italy was served on a potato brandade, green asparagus, and a capsicum sauce. The fish was well cooked, the skin was crispy, and the capsicum sauce was an unusual but great accompaniment to the fish.

Now this was the most awaited part of the meal, since the description of this chocolate dessert sounded very intriguing. The Valrhona Chocvolate Test was described as 33% areated mousse, 55% soufflé, 66% sorbet, 72% warm custard, 85% dehidrated chocolate. The chef did a great job at playing with temperatures and textures, all around the same chocolate. I liked the dehydrated chocolate the most, and the warm custard reminded me of an Italian budino.

Soufflé is perhaps my favourite dessert these days, and I am always seeking for the "best soufflé", so I didn't let this opportunity slip, and I ordered the Apple and Calvados soufflé with Chocolate ice cream. I wouldn't rate this soufflé very highly, primarily because it was very spongy, almost like a cake, while I prefer soufflés to be light and airy. Also, what was advertised as an ice cream was actually a mousse (which was the best part). Between the two desserts we ordered, I would recommend the chocolate test.

The cost of the set lunch was S$40 per person for 3 courses or S32 for 2 courses, and the total bill for two including water was S$100. We had a very good experience overall, since the ambiance is extremely pleasant, the service was impeccably attentive, and the food was very good value for money. I would be curious to try the dinner menu, which was actually not available for lunch, even upon request.
NOVUS Restaurant
National Museum of Singapore
Tel: 6336 8770

Sunday, January 22, 2012

La Barca

It's normal for food bloggers to come across unfortunate encounters". This is sadly the case with La Barca. I was excited to try this place, since it's located near me, and also because the Chef is heavily advertised for his Michelin Star, which he gained in Italy in 2009 in his restaurant in Siena, Tuscany. I was therefore eager to try his cooking, hoping it would match some of the superb Tuscan cuisine I had on my last trip over there, especially in Siena.
I must say the place is quite a hidden find, tucked away in the Goodman Arts Centre. Once you get there, the interior is very pleasantly spacious and elegant. There was a $35 lunch menu which included starter of mozzarella and tomato Caprese, Paccheri with broccoli sauce, and apple tarte as dessert. I didn't chose this option since it was not that compelling, so we both ordered a la carte.
The Roasted Capsicum Flan with Fresh Tomato Sauce was nothing incredibly exciting. The presentation was quite sloppy, and the texture quite stodgy and polenta-like. It did taste of peppers, but I thought overall it was lacking in something. It was basically like eating a pepper-flavoured polenta. This was the best dish of the lunch, and we only went downhill from here.
My Raw White Fish Fillet served with a Tomato Flan and Basil Pesto looked so similar to the other starter, that I was initially confused about which one was which, as it looked like both of us ordered the same dish. The two flans looked exactly the same and had the same texture, except mine tasted of tomato. I was puzzled trying to pair the flan with the fish, since they really didn't match. But the most dramatic aspect of this sterter was the fish itself. As I attempted to eat it I could smell it. And even worse, as I ate it, it was mushy and it lacked of taste. There was nothing to "cut" the fishiness of the fillet (such as vinegar, lemon juice or mustard). The condiment was in fact just oil and "basil oil" - yes, the old friend basil oil, back from the 80's. The last time I had seen this old school condiment was when I ate at yet another "unfortunate encounter": Bontá. It's sad that those remote memories re-emerged during the meal.
I was still hopeful that my gnocchi would turn out nicely. After all, how can you get wrong something as simple as gnocchi? Now I know the answer to the question. You can screw up the texture of the gnocchi, and of course, the sauce! And in this case I found them both a disappointment. The gnocchi were mushy and had no bite (they were sort of "dead"). Even compared to my own Gnocchi alla salsiccia, draw your own conclusion. And I am not a Michelin star chef. The sauce was basically some local fresh tomatoes, chopped and sauteéd for a few minutes, with a bit of salt. No flavour nor texture whatsoever were identifiable in this dish. I left it and returned it almost intact.

Finally, the meat: Grilled Pork Fillet with Wild Fennel and Vegetables in Tomato Sauce. I thought meat is something a Michelin starred chef should definitely get right. Once again, no flavour, and unpleasant "porky" taste throughout. Basically, although the meat itself was cooked well, it lacked of herbs and seasoning to bring out the flavour.

The $123 bill was something to be pretty upset about, thinking that if I had cooked any of these dishes, I would have considered them a miss, and also that I know of a few good Italian restaurants in Singapore where I could eat like a king at the same cost. It's never joyful to feel ripped off. Good luck to "La Barca", but I believe the days that you can get away with expensive, sloppy Italian cooking in Singapore are gone.

La Barca
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