MANILA, OCTOBER 23, 2006 (STAR) A TASTE OF LIFE By Heny Sison - The accomplished, hardworking man deserves an occasional break from the daily grind and drudgery of life. And he deserves this just reward as a fruit of his labor. For some, nothing is as sweet as having the chance to tee off on the golf course; even just the view of miles upon miles of greenery gives them a taste of what life could be like in paradise: spacious, peaceful, devoid of chaos, and far away from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle. The sound of chirping crickets or the thwack of the iron against the ball is sweet music to the ears, a momentary escape that recharges one’s batteries, revives the spirit, and gives the soul a lift. And bonding with fellow sportsmen or loved ones at the end of the day over exquisite food creates a portrait of the perfect moment.

These thoughts entered my mind on my recent visit to the serene Splendido Taal Residential Golf and Country Club. It gave me an understanding of why golf (Of which I am totally clueless, and would prefer to leave it as such. Any activity which exposes my skin to UVA and UVB rays for a long period is definitely not my cup of tea) is an endearing sport close to my hubby Benny and a whole lot of Filipinos’ hearts. Upon the invitation of Katrina Ponce Enrile, president and CEO of the JAKA Group of Companies, our crew from my regular TV cooking program took a break from our usual routine, and had our shoot instead in the welcome outdoors, specifically at the ninth hole of the splendid Splendido Taal golf course.

The picturesque Splendido Taal Residential, Golf and Country Club development is a sprawling 25O-plus hectares of valley nestled amid the mountain ridges of Grand Taal, with a scenic view of the volcano within a lake. For that reason alone, the trip is worth it. What makes the seasoned golfer set his sights on this destination is Splendido Taal Golf Club’s challenging 18-hole, par 72-track championship course designed by the world-famous PGA tour player Greg "The Great White Shark" Norman.

The country’s hottest destination for golfers is also a gourmet treasure trove. For this, I have only the deepest respect for the club’s developers, JAKA Tagaytay Holdings Corporation, which took the high road and have put equal premium on food as well. The Spanish-Mediterranean-inspired golf clubhouse elevates country club dining experience to a higher level. In a business where food hasn’t been given much thought and is merely relegated to refreshments, Splendido Taal brings to the fore La Esquina Spanish Restaurant and Ladera Golfers’ Lounge, both aimed at attracting serious foodies, and offering golf aficionados a wide selection of fine-and-fun dishes to match their gusto for the sport.

My good friend chef Ed Quimson is the master chef behind La Esquina. An expert in Spanish cuisine, Ed scores a hole in one with exciting dishes that are a mix of the traditional but pepped up with his own signature flair. Recommended starters would be the tigres, fresh mussels stuffed with sautéed Spanish chorizo topped with cheese and baked with a dash of paprika; and batido de sardinas, whipped cream and sardines blended into a pâté and served with Melba toast (one appreciates how well this is presented, artfully served on an upturned goblet); or have a heart for alcachofas Infanta Lenor, heart of artichokes sautéed in butter with garlic and Spanish chorizo. Of course, paella would certainly not be absent from the menu, especially with chef Ed at the helm. La Esquina offers three distinct varieties: paella à la Cristina, named after JAKA chairperson Cristina Ponce Enrile; spicy paella negra, made with squid and squid ink; and paella de mariscos or seafood paella.

Bobbit Ponce Enrile, president of the Ladera Culinary Services Inc., which manages the restaurant, says La Esquina is Spanish for "corner," and is so named because it is located in one corner of the clubhouse, providing patrons a panoramic view of the ninth green through the expansive full-height glass windows. Heavenly, elegant food with exquisite scenery makes the dining experience nirvana-like, you bet.

On the other hand, the Ladera Golfers’ Lounge, perched atop a hill, has a much more informal and relaxed appeal. This time, it serves a wide range of popular international dishes to match the more laidback atmosphere. So, ordering should be a no-brainer. Every dish from the local bulalo to Peking duck mami, and from the chorizo carbonara to the Philly steak pizza, would still hit the spot dead-on. It is absolutely comfy and cozy at the adjoining verandah, where one can take coffee and dessert al fresco.

And on that day, work did not seem like work at all once the cameras rolled. Co-chefs Kathy Sion and Carlo Estagle, along with yours truly, were more of our carefree selves. My amigo and set designer Ben Go, direk Khryss Adalia, and the rest of the crew were all in high spirits. The lovely and charming Katrina Ponce Enrile (With her mestiza looks and personality, she could host her own lifestyle TV show.) joined us as we prepared paella. She had the makings of a chef, being an adventurous foodie who is always on the lookout for new tastes and unique gourmet experiences.

That day, in my book, was perfect. Nothing inspires you to be more passionate in what you do than communing with nature and bonding with your close friends. It is therapy: good for the soul and the best antidote for stress.

Let me share with you a recipe, which turned out wonderful that day.

Pizza Verde

For the pizza dough: 1-1/2 cups lukewarm water (110 to 115 °F) 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon instant yeast 5 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 cup olive oil 1 tablespoon salt

For the topping: 50 grams mozzarella in brine, drained and sliced 5 anchovy fillets 1 tablespoon McCormick dried parsley 1/2 tablespoon McCormick garlic salt 1/2 teaspoon McCormick dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon McCormick dried marjoram salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon chopped capers 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 10 leaves arugula

For the pizza dough: Put lukewarm water in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Let rest for 10 minutes, or until you see bubbles rise to the top. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add olive oil. Stir to combine.

Stir the mixture at low speed with a dough hook attachment. Gradually add salt and 4-1/2 cups of flour. Knead until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and holds together.

Sprinkle the remaining flour on to the kneading surface. Knead until smooth and elastic. If necessary, add extra flour while kneading to prevent the dough from sticking.

Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. For a more flavorful crust, make the dough up to this point, punch it down, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Let the dough rest to room temperature before shaping.

Place a pizza stone in the lower part of the oven or use an unglazed terra-cotta tile. Preheat the oven to 500 °F for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Cut the dough in half and gently shape into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and rest for 10 minutes.

Lightly dust the dough with flour. Roll it out into a circle, from 10 to 14 inches in diameter. Spread flour or semolina on a baker’s peel. Transfer the dough to the peel. Top with toppings. Slide the pizza off the peel onto the hot stone.

Bake the pizza until the crust is crisp brown, from 10 to 15 minutes. Using the baker’s peel, carefully transfer the pizza to a cutting board.

Serve the pizza hot. Cut into wedges.

For the topping: Roll out 160 grams of pizza dough into a circle with a slightly thicker edge.

Arrange the mozzarella slices on top of the rolled-out dough. Sprinkle the spices on top. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake in a preheated 500°F oven for 10 minutes or until the crust is crisp and brown. Garnish with arugula before serving.

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Golf and food: Two different passions make the perfect match against a backdrop where heaven meets earth. Life cannot get any better than this. Splendido!

E-mail the author at henysison@pacific.net.ph.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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