The head chef at A Tavola Bar & Grill in Tung Chung shares two quintessential Italian recipes and some expert advice
The first rule of Italian food is to keep it simple. But simple is harder than it sounds, especially if the recipe contains instructions straight from an Italian nonna like “mix until it feels right” or “cook ‘til it’s ready.” If you don’t have a nonna on hand, what then? Why you talk to the head chef at your favourite Italian restaurant, of course.
Italian cuisine varies from region to region, but the recipes universally champion fresh, high-quality ingredients, straightforward flavours and uncomplicated presentation. Because Italian food is at its best when it is simple, Lakhveer Singh Sidhu, the head chef at A Tavola Bar & Grill in Tung Chung, says the most common mistake home chefs make is to get too fancy when they’re alone in the kitchen.
“The best thing to go with that pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove is homemade pasta,” says Lakhveer. “Perhaps most important is to cook your pasta in a big pot of properly salted water – you want the water to taste as salty as water in the ocean – and to watch the clock carefully for that fleeting moment when the pasta is perfectly al dente.
“If you’re cooking dried pasta, I’d recommend shaving two minutesoff the cooking time on the instructions on the package. Just as it is at A Tavola, the pasta is always really al dente at a trattoria in Italy. So, learn to love the bite, even when you’re eating at home.” With a simple recipe – flour, eggs, salt and olive oil – and the proper tools, even a novice cook can crank out fresh pasta. “Combining these ingredients creates a network of proteins, called gluten, which is what gives pasta its stretchy texture and bite,” says Lakhveer. “The more you work the pasta dough, the more elasticity it will develop. Striking the right level of gluten development is key to creating a tender texture in fresh pasta, pizza crusts, bread and most baked goods.”
Tomato sauce is a foundational Italian recipe that is incredibly easy to cook at home. A quintessential part of Italian cuisine, there are many, many different versions.
For a simple, classic tomato sauce, Lakhveer says all you need is chopped tomatoes, olive oil, and an allium, like garlic or onion, plus a handful of fresh herbs, like basil, to garnish. You can use fresh tomatoes if you prefer them to tinned, but this requires more work (blanching and peeling). You don’t have to blanch or peel tinned tomatoes because this has already been done for you as part of the canning process.
Ready for something a little more advanced? “Add anchovies, olives and capers, and you have a perfect Puttanesca sauce,” Lakhveer says. “And don’t forget Arrabiata sauce, which has quite a kick thanks to the addition of chilli peppers.” Mangia!
Lakhveer recommends this recipe because the dough is easy to make, texturally resilient and versatile enough to form into any shape.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands to form a shaggy dough. Continue to knead the dough with your hands, or in a stand mixer until it is smooth and elastic. If you’re using a dough hook on a stand mixer, this should take about 10 minutes; it will take longer, depending on how vigorous you are, if you are kneading the dough by hand. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. Roll out the dough and shape as desired. (TOP TIP: You can makepasta dough a day in advance, as long as you wrap it tightly and keep it chilled).
Are you a fan of the veal ragù at A Tavola? Here’s how to make it!
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and gently sauté the carrot, onions and celery. Season the veal mince and add to the pan, turning up the heat to brown the meat. When the meat has browned, stir through the tomato purée and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the white wine and simmer for 2 minutes, then add the beef stock and milk. Simmer gently for 1½-2 hours, adding more stock as needed. Stir through a splash of red wine vinegar. To serve, toss the ragù with cooked pasta and garnish with plenty of grated parmesan.
A Tavola Bar & Grill, Shops E & F, G/F, Seaview Crescent Plaza, Tung Chung, 2321 5500, www.atavola.hk