One of the many reasons I love the power of food is it’s ability to make you travel. One bite of a dish and you are immediately transported to bustling cities or calming coastlines or old school villages – depending on the origin of that dish. I have never been to Tuscany, or Italy for that matter, but was looking forward to a foodcation at Prego, The Westin Mumbai. Their ongoing ‘Tuscan Trail’ at the hotel’s famed Italian restaurant, Prego, is where I would board my flight to Tuscany’s hearty and simplistic fare. I’ve had a spectacular meal at Prego previously, and I could not wait for this one to begin.
A wonderful evening filled with warm company, delightful conversation, and freely flowing wine – but the food was the real star here. Executive Chef Rahul Dhavale excitedly chatted with us about his newly conceived menu highlighting the best of what Toscano has to offer – Farm Fresh local produce, truffles, sea food, meats, soups, cheese, steaks, ethnic pastas & wine inclusions. Cuisine from Tuscany is simple and hearty with the produce being highlighted. No overdose of cheese, no addition of unnecessary spices, and definitely no overcooked pasta here – everything is as authentic as you can get. I’ve never really been to Italy, but I’ll take his word for it.
I started off my four course journey with the Panzanella – a Tuscan summer bread salad. The traditional Panzanella has tossed vegetables with chunks of soaked bread and tomatoes. This modern rendition was a single piece of bread, soaked in a luscious tomato sauce, with vegetables artistically arranged on top, with a drizzle of olive oil. The cucumber foam on the side was a refreshing twist. The Panzanella was a lovely start to the meal, and I can’t wait to go try the real deal in Tuscany.
The ‘Ribollita E Crostoni Di Pane Al Mais’ was a simple ‘reboiled’ vegetable soup. It appeared more like a broth to me, with pureed vegetables adding flavour to the soup. I was craving to add some sort of spice, or even sprinkle some pepper on top – it was far too bland for my liking. But I didn’t want to mess up the authenticity factor of the dish, and went along with how it tasted. I’m positive it may not appeal to the Indian palate, and this was my least favorite course of the meal.
I opted for the ‘Branzino Cotto In Brodo’ which was a beautifully poached sea bass. The fish was simply flavoured with a saffron stock around it, which was such an unusual pairing. Sometimes, less is more, and that sea bass proved so. The best was indeed saved for last! For dessert we had ‘Torta Florentine, Gelato Al Chocolate’ – a Florentine cake, with dark chocolate gelato and poached pears. The cake was exceptional and unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before – a cake rich with layers and layers of nuts, made traditionally with chocolate and without flour or eggs. It reminded me of a cake version of baklava because of the excess use of nuts. The smooth – bitter dark chocolate gelato was a perfect antidote to the richness of the cake, and the poached pears helped cut out the sweetness. I’d definitely go back, just for the cake.
Inspired by my Tuscan meal, and motivated by the packet of fresh pasta dough that the wonderful people at The Westin sent home with me, I decided to spend my Sunday morning making my own inspired pasta dish. Only that morning did I realize the effort and pain that goes into hand rolling fresh pasta. I kneaded the dough, cut it into fine strips, and decided to take it a notch higher by rolling it into fusilli like shapes.
The fusilli doppelganger’s were then boiled in water with a pinch of salt, and then tossed with some garlic, olive oil, oregano, and crushed chilli to create my version of the aglio olio. Sunday’s have never tasted better. It looked down at my pasta like a proud mother, because only I knew the effort it took for me to create this.
The Westin Mumbai will be hosting the Tuscan Trails at their signature Italian restaurant, Prego from 31st May to 14th June, 2015. I had a lovely, little sojourn to Tuscany myself, thanks to that lovely meal and that attempt at a hand rolled pasta. Hope you’ll enjoyed taking this trip with me. Ciao!
(The author was invited to dine at Prego, The Westin Mumbai, and review the Tuscan Trails festival).