pasta

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino

Some say the simplest dish is the hardest dish to master.  I was asked recently what my favorite Italian dish was and I answered aglio, olio e peperocino with no hesitation.  I think the person who asked this question was disappointed with my unimaginative answer.   

But do hear me out though…  I chose this dish for a number of reasons and they are just as simple as its ingredients.  This pasta is quick and easy to make.  It doesn't require a bankroll and it certainly doesn't require a lot of utensils or crazy steps.  And sage, for some odd reasons, was so much easier for me to find in Hong Kong.  The entire cooking process can be done within 10 minutes.  It is filling and definitely healthier than instant noodles.  Plus it’s got so many little tweaks that you could do to elevate the dish to a whole new level.  Honestly, I could never get tired of making it and eating it.  The possibilities are immense and every family does it differently here in Italy.   

So here is my humble rumble version of aglio, olio e peperoncino.  I hope you enjoy it just as much as I do.  

Happy Cooking and Happy New Year! :D

Servings: 1 person

Preparation Time: less than 5 minutes

Cooking Time: less than 10 minutes

Ingredients: 

1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 small sprig of sage, finely chopped

1 small anchovy *optional*

1/2 tsp dried chili flakes

1/4 cup grated parmesan

100g pasta (spaghetti/tagliatelle/linguine) 

extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions: 

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil;  cook pasta according to its packaging label.  Drain the pasta approximately 1 minute before it turns al dente.  Reserve a small cup of the pasta water for later. 
  2. Preheat a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp olive oil on medium heat, cook garlic, anchovy, chili flakes, and sage 2-3 minutes.  Stir occasionally to avoid burning the garlic and reduce heat ifnecessary.  
  3. Add the cooked pasta with a ladle of pasta water to the frying pan.  Sprinkle a generous amount of grated parmesan and mix well.  Season.  Heat off.  
  4. Transfer the pasta to a plate, add a drizzle of olive oil and grated parmesan before serving.  Enjoy!  

Terra Madre's Orecchiette with Pistachio

I don’t travel much.  When I do, I try to get the most out of it.  A full blown food-escapade is a must.  This month is big for the Italians because it is the month of Ferragosto, the summer vacation in Mid-August.  Almost the entire Italy is off work and most people gather with their loved ones for a getaway.  Some prefer the mountains and some go to the beaches.  Marco and I headed down south to explore the great region of Puglia.  

Because it was a last-minute sorta thing, most trullo houses were already booked.  Luckily, we found a real cute B&B called Kama in Cisternino.  We met a lot of kind and genuine people during our stay.  Our host, Brigida, was super sweet.  We got along with her daughter, Alessia, and Alessia’s boyfriend, Giuseppe very well.  We had such awesome time hanging out together.  They showed us so many great places and restaurants to visit.  What a beautiful bunch.  Our stay at Kama was calm and peaceful, exactly what we needed.  We slept like babies every night.  It is definitely a place where we would want to return to.  

To me, traveling is not just about mere sightseeing.  It is the culmination of all the littlest things and interactions with the locals there.  These special encounters not only touched my heart but got me teary sometime.  Only because I wanted to hold onto those special moments so badly and knowing that I could just store them in that special place of my heart.  That is what my kind of traveling is like.   

My recipe here was inspired by this cute little restaurant called Terra Madre Antipasteria in Cisternino.  Terre Madre serves only a set menu of Puglia’s traditional antipasti so you don’t even need to think what to eat.  Just sit and enjoy the wonderful surprises that come to you.  

Puglia, good-bye until then. 

Orecchiette is a popular home-made pasta in Puglia.  The name itself means little ears in Italian and you could see why the pasta is shaped like ears.  

Terra Madre's Orecchiette with Pistachio

Servings: 1 person

Preparation Time: less than 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients: 

1 handful pistachio, finely chopped or blended with a blender

1/2 cup grated parmesan

100g buckwheat orecchiette

1 small cup green olives, deseeded and finely chopped 

1 small garlic clove, finely chopped

1-2 sun-dried tomato, finely chopped

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs (optional)

extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions: 

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil.  Cook the pasta according its packaging label.  It usually takes around 12-15 minutes.  Drain pasta a minute before its cooking time.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
  2. Preheat a saucepan with olive oil on medium-low heat, cook garlic 1-2 minutes.  Add sun-dried tomato, green olives, and a little sprinkle of the dried mixed herbs.  Stir and cook for about 3-5 minutes until they turn golden.  Heat off.  
  3. Add cooked pasta and pasta water to the saucepan on medium heat.  Mix well.  
  4. Add breadcrumbs, pistachio, and parmesan.  Season.  Mix well.  Heat off.  Transfer the pasta to a plate and eat it right away (garnish with more chopped pistachio and dried herbs if desire)!

Terra Madre's Orecchiette with Pistachio

Nonne making children-sized orecchiette for their grandchildren.

Alberobello - not a bad place to grow old with friends

Ostuni - man pondering

Angels everywhere

Our usual route through Torre Canne to our favorite beach

L'oasi Del Riccio - the perfect paradise for sea urchin lovers.  Don't let the settings fool you.  Seafood here is Aaaaaa-mazing!  There must be a reason why all the locals go there. :) 

Matera - a city that is hard to forget.  

Kama - I loved everything that's there.  

Outside of our room

Not just an ordinary B&B, Kama also offers Ayurvedic massages for the tired souls.  

These are the little gems I got from my beautiful friend, Alessia.   PHYSIS - made from all natural ingredients.  No funky additives that I don't know or can't pronounce.  I especially loved the after-sun lotion; could really feel the difference in the next morning.  

Terra Madre Antipasteria's contact fyi.  Highly recommend.  Please say hi to Daniel the great singer if you are there.  Promise you would melt to his singing.  ;)

Feeling giggly about GIGLI :P

Time flies.  It’s already been two months since I moved to Italy.  From Yuen Long to the hills of Teolo and now I can finally call the small town Castelfranco my home.  I don’t know for how long but I’m definitely embracing every moment here.  Many friends asked if I like living in Italy and I couldn’t think of a better way to express my enthusiasm but to praise about its amazing fresh produce.  I’m not kidding.  Italian fresh produce is really one of the many reasons why one should take pride for living here without any doubt.  And of course there is more to love about Italy whether it'd be food, people, fashion, design, or tradition.  The list is endless.  

My everyday living seems like a fun journey and I seldom get bored.  I met a lot of cool people and got heaps of inspiration everywhere.  I sometime wonder why I appreciate living abroad so much more than before.  I did spend my entire teens and early 20’s in NY but I can't retrace the same amount of joy I have now.  My only explanation is the inevitable truth with age comes wisdom and I learn to appreciate smaller things.  And I might’ve finally found my true passion in life — food.  

I can’t remember when exactly I came across this pasta name — gigli.  All I recall is that I naturally pronounced it as “geegly.”  And the two Italians (Marco and Carlo) who heard me at that time immediately burst out laughing.  Honestly, I’m still having a hard time trying to pronounce this comical term.  It’s supposed to sound something like “GEEEEeeg’Yeee.”  Well, that’s what I’ve gathered so far.  

So gigli the pasta was introduced by my food guru aka Duccio from The Geometry of Pasta.  Gigli is Italian for lilies.  This also explains why the pasta shape is like a flower. I’ve made two different sauces to go with this pretty pasta.  Simple and delicious!  Oh and let me share some other photos I took when I was at Padova before.  

Creamy mushroom and ricotta gigli

Servings: 2 persons

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes

Ingredients: 

100-150g white button mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

50g ricotta

1 cup milk/cream

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1/4 lemon juice and zest

1/2 glass white wine

1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp dried oregano (optional)

1/4 cup grated parmesan

200g gigli 

extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions: 

1) Bring a pot of salted water to boil, cook pasta according to its package label.  *Drain the cooked pasta 1-2 minute earlier and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water for later.  

2) Preheat a saucepan with olive oil on medium heat, cook onion for 3-5 minutes until translucent, add mushrooms, garlic, and dried oregano.  Stir and add white wine. 

3) Let the alcohol evaporates, add milk and reduce heat to medium low.  Cook for 5 minutes with a lid on.  Add ricotta.  Stir and season. 

4) Add the cooked pasta and the pasta water to the saucepan.  Mix well.  Heat off.  Add parmesan (leave a couple tablespoon for garnishing).  

5) Garnish with some chopped parsley, a twist of lemon juice+zest, grated parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.

Gigli with tomato sauce

Servings: 2 persons

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients: 

2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped into chunks

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1/2 can tomato sauce

1 handful fresh basil

1/2 glass red wine

1/4 cup grated parmesan

200g gigli

extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions: 

1) Bring a pot of salted water to boil, cook pasta according to its package label.  *Drain the cooked pasta 1-2 minute earlier and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water for later.  

2) Preheat a saucepan with oil on medium heat, cook onion for 3-5 minutes until translucent, add the chopped basil and tomato with red wine.  Reduce heat to low after the alcohol evaporates.  Season.  

3) Cook the sauce for 3 - 5 minutes with a lid on low heat.  

4) Add pasta water, grated parmesan and cooked pasta to the saucepan.  Mix well.  Heat off.  

5) Garnish with some fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.  

Il Salone e la Piazza is known as one of the ten best markets in Italy

Vendors set up shop every morning but Sunday.  So if you want to get some ultra-fresh produce, better get there before noon.  :) 

Yes, strawberry is in season.  They taste as good as they look.  

Needless to say, my girlfriend and I had our little shopping frenzy LOL

Yeah, falling in love with Padova is easy.