Another Variation on the Tune of Anchovy

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Inspired by the pasta I had at Big D’s and also by the past due can of anchovies Mum dug out from the cupboard, I had to have a crack of my own version of the salty fishy stuff. As always when it comes to these weekday dinners, I was famished and tired from yet another long day in the office. In less than 20 minutes, I threw this together using stuff in the house and a mixture of herbs including some sad bits of coriander and spring onion Mum left in the fridge and some freshly bought flat-leaf parsley from the supermarket. Use whatever herbs you fancy, or whatever’s left in the fridge.

Anchovies can of course be very salty, but this varies enormously from brand to brand. Just taste as you go along before adding too much. Also, not salting the pasta helps too. I also add some chilli to spice things up a little. Here, I used some aglio olio e peperoncino powder Mum got from Italy (it’s otherwise inedible just on its own with pasta), although simply because it was another past due item begging to be used up. I’d also use fresh chilli or my usual standby of chopped chilli padi.

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil, preferably from the canned anchovies
6 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
small sheath spaghetti (enough for one)
5 anchovies tinned in oil
chilli, to taste
good handful of chopped herbs

Method:

  1. Start by sweating the shallots and garlic gently in the oil from the anchovies till barely golden brown.
  2. While still watching the shallots and garlic, boil the pasta in plenty of water till just before al dente. Do not salt the water.
  3. Going back to the shallots and garlic, add in the chopped anchovies and stir to break up into a paste. Sprinkle in the chilli and continue to stir.
  4. Toss in the pasta into the anchovy mixture, adding in a few spoonfuls of pasta water. Turn up the heat and stir till the water is absorbed and the mixture coats the pasta well. Add a few more spoonfuls of water if the mixture still doesn’t stick to the noodles.
  5. Slip in the herbs and stir, stir, stir.
  6. Serve immediately and devour.

For 1.

Restaurant Prices at a Coffee Shop Stall: Big D’s

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I’d probably be lynched by fans of Big D’s (including the friend who told me about it) when I say that I think the food is expensive. It could well be that the chef buys nothing but the best cuts and uses the best ingredients. It could also be that the chef doesn’t have enough bulk to warrant good prices from his suppliers. I found it a little disconcerting to pay restaurant prices for something at a coffee shop stall.

Nonetheless, the food was very good. DC and I shared a kurobuta pork chop ($28) and an anchovy pasta ($17). I liked how the pork was charred outside and just about done on the inside, with a smidgen of pink right in the centre of the cut. It was strangely difficult to cut (no steak knives here) but was just the right firmness I expected – slight give from the marbling of fat and good heft in the mouth. Plus, it had good porky flavour. The accompaniments were passable. I liked the slow-cooked peppers and surprisingly, also the baked beans. They were quite different from the canned version and are something like American Southern beans. Pretty yummy.  I’m on the fence on the strange sweet accompanying sauce (pineapple?) but DC didn’t mind it at all. I didn’t like the overly starchy mashed potatoes, and DC didn’t appreciate the stall telling him that he couldn’t change the mash to french fries because they “wouldn’t go.” Well, overly starchy mash doesn’t go with anything in my books.

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I liked the anchovy pasta. The spaghetti was on the verge of soft that was still acceptable, though I’d have preferred it more al dente. I suppose they cater more to the popular taste for soft noodles. The anchovy sauce was punchy, robust and of course redolent of anchovies. A bit of chilli added some kick to it. However, I think it’s not quite worth the price as anchovies aren’t that expensive. My plate only had a smallish heap of sauced pasta on it and nothing else. Sure, I’d only ordered just that but it’s a tad pricey no? Plus, I really ought to banish the thought but seeing as I could tweak the idea further at home and add all sorts of lovelies to it for half the price, I was slightly dismayed. It was still good though!

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Big D’s Grill
Blk 46 Holland Drive
#01-359

An Almost Vegetarian Dinner

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It was time we started eating slightly less fattening food. I attempted to go vegetarian(ish) for a meal or two. A trip to the supermarket got me lovely large king mushrooms, a courgette, mesclun salad and some herbs. The mushrooms ended up under the grill together with a miso-garlic marinade. The courgettes were caramelised and tossed with anchovies and mustard. Substitute capers for the anchovies if you’re going fully vegetarian, I just didn’t have capers in the house. For the couscous, make up some instant stuff with vegetable stock and stir in some chopped herbs. Here I use curly parsley (far cheaper than the Italian flat leaf type and much stronger, go easy). For the salad, I bought some mesclun and mixed in some organic tang oh (chrysanthemum leaves), then cracked in some pistachio (DC’s idea) and tossed in truffled olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It all came together to form a satisfying almost vegetarian dinner.

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Garlic-Miso King Mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 king mushrooms
1 tbsp miso paste (I use red miso with konbu here)
1 tbsp dry vermouth (sherry or sake is good too)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Method:

  1. Slice the king mushrooms lengthwise.
  2. Blend the miso, vermouth and garlic till you get a spreadable paste, smear lovingly over the mushroom portions.
  3. Place under a hot grill for about 10 minutes on each side or until the miso paste just about chars. Serve.
  4. Just before eating, scrape off the excess miso because it gets quite salty.

Caramelised Courgette with Chilli

Ingredients:

2 tsp olive oil
1 courgette, chunked
3 shallots, minced
2 tsp brown sugar
chilli padi, minced
2 anchovies, mashed
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 sprigs basil, sliced fine

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and brown the courgette pieces on all sides.
  2. Stir in the shallots on low heat and cook till fragrant. Now stir in the sugar and allow to caramelise.
  3. Add in the chilli padi and anchovy, stirring till combined.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the mustard and basil. Serve.

Both recipes serve 2.

A Socially Awkward Dinner

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Some nights I crave something very strong-tasting and assertive, food for non-date nights and when you really don’t care how many vampires or other nasties you scare away with your repellent breath. On nights like these, I cook something starting off rather innocuous: pasta with grilled courgettes and mozzarella. Things go up a notch with the addition of sharp rocket, but we’re hardly anywhere near the pongy breath zone. Slip in mustard to dress the pasta and the arrow of the pong-o-meter barely registers a tick upwards. Now add in the garlic and copious amounts of anchovies and we’re talking (with hand firmly over mouth)! Try it at your own risk, remembering that you have to like the ingredients before using them (silly!) and that you can always dial down the intensity by either using less of the ingredient or in the case of garlic, sauteeing it gently in olive oil before throwing it into the dressing. Are you game?

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Ingredients:

½ courgette, sliced into thick diagonals
linguine
2 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsps prepared mustard
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp peppery extra virgin olive oil
1 generous handful rocket leaves
¼ ball of mozzarella, torn into rough strips

Recipe:

  1. Heat a grill pan over the stove and grill the courgette slices on both sides till you get black bars on each side. Set aside and wrap in a piece of aluminium foil to keep warm.
  2. Cook the linguine till al dente in unsalted water.
  3. Get on with making the pasta dressing. In a mortar and pestle, grind the anchovy fillets and garlic to a paste, then stir in the mustard and combine well. Add a touch of balsamic vinegar, then a couple of good glugs of good olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning either with more mustard or more vinegar.
  4. By now your pasta should be about done. Drain and toss in the dressing till well coated.
  5. Assemble your dish. First the rocket leaves, then quickly flip over the noodles so that the rocket wilts slightly in the heat. Then the grilled courgette on top, followed by torn bits of mozzarella. Finish with a sprinkle of olive oil and the leftover dressing. (Go easy with the dressing, it’s very very salty). Devour.
  6. Brush your teeth when done.

Serves 1.

Kitchen Sink Frittata

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I ran out of fresh vegetables one day and was too lazy to venture out for more. As usual, it was time to raid the freezer and find something fairly healthy for lunch. The freezer yielded my usual supply of chopped spinach, petit pois, minced shallots, minced garlic and bacon, and I also found some frozen (!) red chillis.  I had some spare eggs and always keep milk in the fridge, so I was pretty much set. There were parmesan cheese and brined green peppercorns in the fridge too, so that I also tossed in. As I put back the peppercorns, I noticed a bottle of anchovies lurking in one of the compartments, so no prizes for guessing what went in next. DC commented that it was a surprise he didn’t break his teeth nibbling on the kitchen sink.

This is a very useful recipe for coming up with something very delicious and fresh-looking and tasting without putting in too much of an effort. It’s also a bit like fried rice or pizza in that it uses up leftovers. Toss whatever that seems vaguely yummy in it and it should turn out fine. Other things I’d add if I had it would include boiled potato slices, peppers, cheese cubes, tomato, courgettes. Well, pretty much any vegetable really. Go easier on the meat, but if you’re anything like me I doubt you’ll have much leftover meat hanging around anyway. In my recipe I give approximate quantities, just feel free to make it up as you go along. Just make sure that there’s enough egg to barely cover the filling and you’re cool.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp butter
2 rashers bacon, chopped
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
8 finely chopped shallots
cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed
a few tbsp petit pois, thawed
1 large red chilli, chopped coarsely
2 anchovies, coarsely chopped
1 generous tsp green peppercorns in brine
3 eggs
a good splash of milk (about 2 egg shells full)
good grating of parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and brown the bacon till the fat is rendered. Add the garlic and shallot and saute gently till just fragrant. Don’t allow it to colour.
  2. Add in the vegetables, anchovies and green peppercorns and saute till the mixture is hot. Set aside in a bowl.
  3. In another large bowl, beat the milk and eggs together, then pour it onto the hot pan. Quickly spoon the hot spinach mixture over and spread gently. Stir very gently along the top of the frittata so that the egg and filling will mix. Turn the heat to low and cook till the middle is almost set, 5-10 minutes. Now’s a good time to preheat the broiler.
  4. When the top looks almost set, i.e. still wobbly but not liquid, transfer to the broiler and cook till set. Grate over a very generous layer of parmesan and return to the broiler. Cook till cheese is melted and brown. Remove from heat.
  5. Very carefully loosen the sides of the frittata with a spatula and invert onto a plate. Use kitchen gloves. Cut into wedges and serve with fresh brown bread.

Makes 8 generous wedges.

Foil for a Herb Salad

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I’m going to be horribly lazy today and post a recipe for something that doesn’t quite count as cooking. I’d bought a pack of organic herb salad and wanted a fairly virtuous dressing that would stand up to the herbs but not interfere too much with the already complex flavours. A peek into the fridge and the idea hit: anchovies and mustard. Together, they would make a very assertive yet blunt combination. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to round off the flavour, a good couple of squeezes of lemon juice to sharpen things up, then emulsify with good extra virgin olive oil and voila, a quick salad dressing that complemented the herb salad incredibly well.

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Ingredients:

2 anchovy fillets
4 tsp mustard
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
juice of half a lemon
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. In a small mortar and pestle, mash the anchovies to a paste, then stir in the mustard and keep grinding gently with the pestle. Add the vinegar and lemon juice and stir to a thick paste.
  2. Add the olive oil in drops at first, stirring vigorously, then gradually add more till you get a running, emulsified dressing. Taste, adding more mustard and vinegar if it’s too salty.
  3. Dress the salad to taste. Serve.
  4. Try not to look too unglam as you lick the bowl clean.

Serves 3-4.

1 for 1 at Zambuca

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I was lucky. It was my cousin’s birthday and First Uncle and Aunt asked me along to make up the numbers for the 1 for 1 offer at Zambuca. It was a four-course meal that started with an amuse-bouche they called “tomato tea.” It was pretty well executed as the very pale yellow tinged liquid tasted startlingly like tomato. I wonder if it was just strained fresh tomato juice but it was very good as something to tickle the palate.

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I picked the scallops with muesli as a starter. True enough, two small scallops made a plural; even though I felt the portion was far too small, one really couldn’t complain about misrepresentation on the menu! The scallops were fresh and the barley-currant mix added an interesting texture to the dish. It was a pity the foam didn’t taste of very much, otherwise this would have made a rather imaginative and unique starter.

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The crab, caper and anchovy angel hair pasta was a bit of a letdown. It sounded like it had such promise on the menu but the execution fell flat. The capers and anchovies were too salty, while the crab was a bit bland. The flavours just did not meld well. This was probably the weakest link in my dinner.

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The beef pretty much saved the disappointment of the pasta dish. Here, however, was where there definitely was misrepresentation. The menu said that the beef was aged but it certainly did not taste like it. Also, I was shocked that the restaurant could overcook my beef. I asked for rare but it came out on the medium side of medium rare. Having said all that, it was decently flavoured so I didn’t bother to send it. In any case, I couldn’t be too fussy because I wasn’t paying anyway. The onion was decent though too sugary as the chef cheated when he caramelised the onions. The sprouting broccoli was a nice touch though.

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Last of all was dessert. My cousin got a bonus tiramisu complete with candle and singing waiters. That was a lovely touch and it was good for the rest of us greedies since she needed a lot of help to finish her extra dessert. For my own dessert I had creme brulee with rhubarb compote. It was a typical creme brulee, rather forgettable and the rhubarb compote wasn’t particularly flavourful. Nothing to complain about yet nothing particularly exciting.

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I know that this post isn’t particularly glowing. It was great stuff since it was free for me: I guess it’s one of those cases where the food was up to standards but not particularly remarkable but the company more than made up for it.

Zambuca Italian Restaurant and Bar
Pan Pacific Singapore
7 Raffles Boulevard Level 3
Singapore 039595
Tel: 6337 8086