You can never go wrong with pasta; it’s comfort in a bowl paired with any sauce, meat, or seasoning imaginable. It is a dish that can be prepared in many different ways with creamy sauces or with just a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh herbs.
I sat down with Chef Derrar, the Executive Chef of Ristorante L’Opera at the Piccolo Hotel, to learn what a great traditional Italian pasta dish involves. He believes in simple yet tasty preparations, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. His philosophy is to preserve colour, aroma and to be true to the purity of the product; to have a timeless blend of flavours, boundless creativity, a penchant for crossing geographical boundaries, and a strong belief in taste as the ultimate appraisal of the dish.
He tells me that the difference between an average pasta dish and a great one is in the noodle itself. Homemade may take a little extra time and effort but it is the only way to go...and the satisfaction upon completing this step successfully is unmatched.
Chef Derrar decides to make me a Milanese with Saffron Pappardelle and dashes off to the kitchen to get started. He returns with a plate of steaming pasta – wide flat noodles taking on the orange tinge of the Saffron topped with chicken, charbroiled red peppers, and peas...simple and delightful. I take a bite and a smile spreads across my face and only then Chef Derrar pulls out a chair and sits down to share his secret to making pasta:
The best flour to use is the Doppio Zero Flour (300g) as it is super fine and mixes smoothly without lumps. This combined with two large eggs and a pinch of salt is all it takes.
Pour the flour and salt on a wooden workspace and make a well in the middle. Break the eggs in the middle and fold the flour inwards till it forms a dough like consistency. If the dough gets too sticky add a little bit of warm water. Knead and work the dough for a good 20minutes to get a firm but pliable consistency. Wrap the dough in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for two hours. This makes 500g of fresh pasta.
Once out of the fridge roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to desired thickness. Chef Derrar says that if you don’t have a proper rolling pin then a wine bottle is the next best thing. For the Pappardelle you would want to roll it 2mm thick and slice it into 1cm wide strips.
To cook the pasta, bring cold water to a boil with salt. The moment the pasta starts to float is when it is al dente and you can drain it. And now it’s ready to be tossed with any sauce.
Milanese with Saffron Pappardelle
1 small onion diced
1 clove garlic sliced thinly
100g diced oven baked chicken breast
1 handful char grilled red capsicum
1 handful fresh peas pre-sautéed in butter
100ml chicken stock
1g fresh saffron
50ml olive oil
50g unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to season
Preparation for the oven baked chicken:
Season a chicken breast with salt and pepper and bake it in the oven at 190celcius for 15minutes. Once cooked let it cool and dice it for the Milanese sauce.
Preparation for the capsicum:
With a pair of tongs old the capsicum over the flame on a gas stove. Do this until the skin turns black then wrap it in aluminium foil for a few minutes so that the flesh separates from the skin. Take the capsicum out of the foil and put in a bowl of cold water to make peeling the skin off easier. Slice the capsicum into thin strips.
In a heavy saucepan heat the olive oil on medium heat and add the onions and garlic and sauté till they are browned. Add the chicken breast, red pepper, and fresh peas and toss. Add in the butter and heat through and then add in the chicken stock to deglaze the pan. Let this simmer for a few minutes then season with salt and pepper. This sauce is now ready to toss with the pasta for a delightful meal.