Pre-packaged, dried pasta is a godsend to the home kitchen. Boil, stir, toss it in a sauce and bam! In just a few minutes, you’ve got yourself a ‘gourmet’ meal. We’ve all cooked — even depended on — it at some point in our busy lives.
Though let’s face it, these really aren’t quite the same as handmade ones. Fresh pasta, when cooked to al dente, is also tender. Think a firmness in every bite accompanied by a bit of chew or, if we borrow an Asian expression, QQ.
The secret lies in the pasta dough which is made of the same basic elements: fine flour (soft wheat Italian ‘00’, preferably), a dash of olive oil, salt, eggs, and a whole lot of kneading. Since the handmade version is meant to be eaten in a few days, it can afford the luxury of more egg in the mix which grants bonus points in the texture department.
It also makes for a more adaptable noodle. When cooked with other sauces, flavours cling on easily to each strand and bit of pasta. The pasta transforms to not just a mere carbohydrate, but the thing that ties everything together.
Unlike pre-packaged deals, it’s a lot harder to find these artisanal creations. Thankfully, restaurants are aiming to introduce the Italian pasta craft to its repertoire of dishes. Some stick to the traditional recipes well preserved by nonnas, others introduce a more modern take. Here are the places to hit for a good homely bowl of fresh pasta.
The sister restaurant of Italian restaurant Chicheti prides itself on two things: pasta, and wine. The chic-elegant spot takes inspiration from the Italian trattoria and offers a good variety of pasta such as gnocchi, beetroot-infused sacchetti ‘dumplings’ and casarecce. Diners can go for tasting or sharing portions of each pasta. There are some interesting pasta dishes to go for on the menu, but try the cacio e pepe, a deceptively simple mix of pepper and cheese. Bar Chicheti uses Sarawak black pepper for an extra fragrant kick.
Bar Chicheti, 10 Jiak Chuan Road, Singapore 089264, +65 6789 9801
Hidden at the back of the neighbourhood mall Katong V is Strong Flour, a casual modern Italian diner. As its name suggests, the restaurant is adamant on using the best flour for its handmade pizzas and pastas. Come early enough and you might get the chance to see chefs working up a hand-cranked pasta machine by the open kitchen. Strong Flour does its pasta fresh every day and offers the usual slew of spaghetti, fettuccine and ravioli. Try the carbonara pappardelle which is made with pancetta and egg yolk (read: no cream!). If you’re feeling hungry, the pizzas are worthwhile as well.
Strong Flour, 30 East Coast Road, Katong V, #01-01, Singapore 428751, +65 6440 0457
Ben Fatto 95
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If private home dining has been on your radar, keep this one in mind. Chef Lee Yum Hwa is so obsessed with making pasta that he created his own laboratorio di pasta to experiment with various recipes and pasta shapes. The former accountant goes so far as to mill his own flour for better tasting dough. Traditional Italian tools are often used (think bronze cutters and a wire-strung chittara instrument for slicing sheets of dough), but more intricate shapes are rolled and moulded by hand. Naturally, all the pasta he makes takes centre stage in his private home dinners. Dinner booking are available weekdays, weekends and public holidays.
Gluten-intolerant folks don’t have to avoid pasta altogether. At Publico, all pasta — including gluten-free options — are handmade with Italian flour and cage-free eggs, air-dried and then cooked a la minute. There’s a range of traditional dishes, such as the spaghetti chittara with basil, tomatoes and smoked olive passata or linguine vongole with a hearty broth of garlic, white wine and clams. A more indulgent menu of pasta is available on Sunday dinners as well. Like its pasta, pizzas here are all homemade and baked in wood-fired ovens.
Publico, 1 Nanson Rd, InterContinental Robertson Quay, Singapore 238909, +65 6826 5040
Lino is the latest Italian concept by the Les Amis Group, offering a more casual mid-tier experience compared to its more upscale, serious concepts. Rest assured, quality is still a priority here. While pizza is the main highlight here, pasta is given deserved attention. Expect richer pasta dishes here. Think rolled-up garganelli pasta bathe in lobster bisque or tortellini stuffed with minced pork and veal. There’s a whole list of Italian cocktails and wines to cosy up to as well.
Lino, 7 Binjai Park, Singapore 589821, +65 6463 7800
(Hero image: Getty Images, Featured image: Bar Chicheti)