Ciao to Italian chow…

The last ten days in Italy, while melting under the scorching sun, I have (once again) fallen in love with Italian food. Those Italians know how to do it. Simple flavours done spectacularly well.

First stop was Praiano on the Amalfi Coast.  We spent four days floating between the beaches of Praiano and Postiano. The coastline is beautiful – just like the postcards, but better. We had been given the hot tip to try a restaurant called Da Adolfo. Da Adolfo sits on a small beach a few coves down from Positano.

To get there you catch a little private boat from Positano pier – “lookout for the boat with the red fish on it” we were told.  Despite Da Adolfo having a boho and unpretentious vibe to it, you need to book as the place is rammed everyday in summer. 

It’s casual (waiters are barefoot), has great views and serves authentic Italian food.  What more could you ask for?  After sneaking a few looks at what other tables were eating, we decided to go with the mussels in tomato sauce, marinated octopus, seafood pasta and a Caprese salad.  

The food was insanely good, with a special mention of the mussels in tomato sauce.  I couldn’t let any of the deliciously sweet tomato sauce go to waste, and mopped up every last bit with fresh crusty bread, or as I like to call it, “carpet”.  Simple fresh flavours executed to perfection.

The next culinary highlight was a fabulous dinner in Rome.  

My Roman friend had recommended her favourite authentic pizza place, Da Francesco. The place is nestled in behind Piazza Navona and away from the tourist traps. Packed with locals, we waited outside on the cobblestones for 20 minutes for a table. Super thin crust pizzas with prosciutto, rocket and parmesan, truly al dente spaghetti coated in parmesan, garlic and shavings of crispy bacon and yet another Caprese salad left us very happy campers.  

The pizzas here are – apparently – some of the best in Rome.  It was no surprise to me that when assessing the dessert menu, Chap asked the waiter for another margarita pizza instead of sweets.

Florence saw the GPD (gelato per day) average sky-rocket.  At least one gelato per day was my minimum. Max was three. Oops. When it’s 38 degrees who can resist a refreshing citrus burst? Not me.

The evening saw us consume yet more delicious pizzas and pastas.  Pillowy soft ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach tossed in slow cooked bolognaise really does make me question the vacuum packed fresh pastas in supermarkets.

Our next destination took Italian food to the next level. We were staying with two Italian friends at their home in Cervia, on the north-east coast. We used our time at Cervia as an opportunity to not read menus, and instead ask our friends to order. Night after night, I vowed it was the best Italian meal I had ever eaten. It’s interesting to watch how the Italians do it. Instead of picking up a menu and ordering within 10 minutes, the Italians engage in long conversations about everything on the menu, asking about recipes, ingredients, what’s in season etc., before committing to a dish. Each night was a feast. Certainly no one-pizza-wonder. Instead huge antipasti platters, salads, cheeses, pastas, pizzas, meats, seafood. Washed down with an espresso, limoncello and grappa.

I’ve learnt a lot from my time in Italy. I managed to sustain a PPD (pizza per day) average of at least one a day for ten days and from this extensive research, I’ve realised it’s time to hold up on the ingredients when making pizzas. I’ve long been an ambassador for thin crust, but I’d still pile my bases high with tomato, cheese, prosciutto, mushrooms, onion, capsicum and any other veg that tickled my fancy… From now on, I’ll be adopting the Italian way of less is more.  Tomato, proscuitto, rocket and a few shaving of parmesan is more than enough.  Or if I can get my hands on some brilliant buffalo mozzarella, I’ll be sticking with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil.  And when it comes to pastas, I’ll be cooking mine even more al dente and instead of making sauce the feature and dumping a packet of store-bought pasta in boiling water, where possible I’ll seek out fresh homemade pasta and make simple sauces to simply coat the pasta. Project for when I arrive back in Melbourne: Find a good Italian cooking class. Does anyone know one?

Sadly I have to say goodbye – or ciao – to Italian food.  I hope to be back in the next couple of years. Tomorrow we depart for Croatia… I know nothing about Croatian food, so I’m looking forward to trying lots of things.  

Stay tuned. Chow.

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Wat Dan Hor otherwise known as Rice Noodles With Silky Smooth Egg Sauce

I remembered when I was in my teens, my parents would often ask if my brother and I wanted supper at about 9.30pm at night. Wat Dan Hor (also known as rice noodles with egg sauce) was something they often get from the local hawker store and we often gulp down the delicious rice noodles before bed time.

When I first moved to Australia, I often miss this dish but managed to try a home made version that was really delicious. This dish is in my repertoire and it is something that I cook once every fortnight/ month.

(Serves 4-5)
Ingredients:
1kg Kuey teow/flat rice noodles
300g chicken breast
200g prawns
Fish cake(Optional)
Cai Xin (Sawi/Chinese Mustard)
4 cloves of garlic
Dark soy sauce

To make the egg sauce base:
2-3 eggs lightly beaten
2 tsp chicken powder/ chicken stock (Approx. 800ml)
6-8 shiitake mushrooms
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp soya sauce
A pinch of white pepper
Water
Corn starch (mixed with water)

To start, blanch the flat rice noodles in hot water to loosen the noodles up. Drain when ready.

Heat sunflower oil in wok and when the oil is hot, throw in the flat rice noodles and pour dark soy sauce (just enough to coat all the rice noodles) and lightly fry. Remove noodles and set aside.

Next, heat some sunflower oil in the heated wok, add the shiitake mushrooms, minced garlic and chicken. Stir fry the chicken until cooked. Add the chicken stock next. If you prefer more egg sauce on your noodles, use more chicken stock.

When the stock is boiling, add the shrimp and fish cakes, cook for around 2 minutes before adding the vegetables (cai xin).

Add the corn starch slowly whilst stirring. The stock will slowly thicken. Stir in the lightly beaten egg.

Serve the flat rice noodles in bowls, then pour the ready egg sauce onto it. If you like chilli, this dish is best served with pickled green chillies or red chillies.