Zafferano is one of the best-kept secrets in our recent times. Perched at the 43rd floor of the Ocean Financial Center in the heart of the CBD zone, Zafferano is frequented by mainly executives in the surrounding offices for business lunches. Their executive Chef, Marco Guccio desires to reach the masses and hence, he has come up with special weekend menu to entice people like us – Festival Della Pasta.
Beginning from 21st November, all the way till 30th January 2016, Zafferano will showcase the best of their Italian pasta dishes in their Festival Della Pasta – it will be for dinner only, a menu of 5 pasta dishes from both the Northern and Southern Italian regions. Each of the pasta has a story behind it and they are made with indigenous ingredients and region-specific style. And of course, you can always pair them with some Italian wine, Chef Marco suggests.
Chef Marco is familiar with both the Northern and Southern pasta cuisines as his family roots from the Southern region and he was raised in Northern Italy. We will start the journey from the Southern tip of Italy – Sicily and Puglia; and then travel up north to Emilia-Romagna, Lombardia and Piemonte.
The Melanzane Pomodoro Ricotta Salata is a very Sicilian pasta made of tube-like zitoni pasta. The sauce is made with melanzane eggplant, pachino cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata (a Sicilian cheese made of sheep’s milk). This pasta took my heart at first bite – the al dente zitoni holds the very fragrant sauce so well, the melanzane and ricotta cheese combined very well in the palate. I found that the sautéd melanzane eggplant gives the dish an extra gusto while the cheese imparts the sauce a silky texture.
The Southern regions of Italy are often the more austere part of the country, comprising numerous farms and orchards. And so, the pastas that came from this region are usually simple and laden with ingredients that are made of dairy products and vegetables. The Cime di Rapa Pomodori Acciughe is a pasta dish from Puglia, South Italy that typifies this description.
It is made of orecchiette pasta that begins as a rolled-out dough, which is then pressed to form a small ear (its namesake means small ear in Italian). This pasta dish is healthy and nearly-vegan-approved – it is made in traditional Apulian style with cime di rapa (fresh turnip greens), olive oil and chopped anchovies. The turnip greens are usually slightly bitter complements further the taste of the pasta and its anchovies. I am thoroughly smitten with these two Southern Italian pasta dishes.
The next 3 pasta dishes from the menu are from the Northern regions of Italy – Emilia-Romagna, Lombardia and Piemonte, respectively. The ingredients used in these pasta dishes are usually more lavish, often meat-based and more complex in its processes.
The Prosciutto Mortadella Brodo di Pollo is from Emilia-Romagna, and this is pasta came to me as a surprise due the manner in which it was served. It is made of filled pasta, the tortellini that is stuffed with prosciutto and mortadella. I was rather bewildered when my server poured a light, clear soup into my bowl of tortellini. This, Chef Marco explains, is made with multiple reductions of chicken consommé – the soup is time consuming to make but it is definitely worth the effort as the soup heats up the tortellini and brings out the scent of the prosciutto.
This pasta reminds me of our local wanton soup. I found that the saltiness of the prosciutto was additive to the savoury chicken consommé. However, the paired wine (the Lambrusco Salomino Concerto Medici Ermete 2013) did manage to tame the saltiness down a couple of notches.
The next pasta dish is from the region of Lombardia, which is home to casoncelli, a uniquely sweet stuffed pasta. Its rather mouthful nomenclature – Zucca Fonduta Burro Salvia Noci, denotes its ingredients. Chef Marco fills this handmade casoncelli with oven-stewed zucca – a seasonal butternut pumpkin from Mantova, taleggio cheese fondue, butter-sage emulsion and raisin-walnut mix.
For me, this pasta dish felt very much like a dessert for both its presentation and sweet taste. The taste of Northern Italian pasta dishes area really more complex – there is an intertwined sweet-savoury taste contributed by butternut pumpkin, taleggio cheese and fruit-nut mix.
The last pasta dish was the Coda di Manzo Sedano Rapa Pistacchi and this turned out to be my favourite of the Northern pasta dishes. The agnolotti pasta is a cup-like pasta that is filled with 12-hour-marinated beef ox-tail, reflecting its place of origin – Piedmont, a region rich in produce. Celery root puree and pistachios smother this pasta to complete the complex, lavish taste.
I liked the texture of the marinated beef within the agnolotti and the nutty taste of the pistachio further complemented it. For me, it is a pasta dish worthy of its place in the North Italy.
At the end of your culinary odyssey, Chef Marco showcases a special dessert to pay tribute to his mother – the Fruitti di Bosco Crostata. It is a pie made of pasta frolla, filled with jam made with mixed berries. These berries, according to Chef Marco, are made of late season berries that did not make it into the wine casks, but they are sweet enough to be made into delicious jam by many of the Southern Italians.
Zafferano’s Festival Della Pasta is truly a journey into the hearts (and gullets) of the Italians. You will experience the multitude of Italian culinary culture and you have a choice of accompanying your dinner with the paired Italian wine. Many of us may not be swaying like coconut trees by the end of the dinner, so I would urge you to try out the Cantucci, which is a sliced almond that the Italians dip into a glass of Vin Santo, a traditional Tuscan dessert wine.
Expected damage: 6-course (5 pasta dishes and dessert) $85++; wine pairing supplement $75++