Miriam Quiambao lives la dolce vita

KITCHEN SPY - KITCHEN SPY By Heidi Ng () - June 9, 2005 - 12:00am
If any celebrity is now sorely missed on Philippine television, it is Miss Universe runner-up and charming host Miriam Quiambao. The tall, morena beauty is a licensed physical therapist and gym instructor when she joined the eventful Binibining Pilipinas pageant in 1999. She was just filling in for a sick aerobics instructor at the gym where she was working when she was discovered by makeup artist Tito dela Fuente, who invited her to model, and Barney Aguilar who encouraged her to try out for the contest. She went on to win the Miss Universe runner-up title despite a humiliating fall during the pre-pageant.

She recalls, "I was walking down the steps on stage in my beaded Halston evening gown, and as I finished the last step, my four-inch heels got caught on the hem of the tail of my gown. My arms flailed as I struggled to regain my balance, and I quickly crouched on the floor. I remember saying ‘Oh my God,’ and the whole auditorium fell silent. Fortunately, I landed on both feet, so it was easy to get up. I immediately stood up to finish my walk, and the crowd gave a big applause for my quick recovery. I finished my walk on center stage, spread my arms wide and gave them my best, projected smile: ‘Ta-daah! Kaya n’yo ’yon?’ The crowd went wild!"

After doing months of charity work for the Binibining Pilipinas Charities, she was offered to anchor the then new GMA 7 morning show Unang Hirit. A year later, she starred for three months in the comedy sitcom Idol Ko Si Kap, which stars Bong Revilla. In January 2001, she hosted the top-rating show Extra Extra.

With a great career going for her, she surprised people when she chose to resign from Extra Extra in December 2003, a month just before her wedding in Boracay. She met her husband a year earlier on the same night after she quit Unang Hirit. Serendipity! She also hosted one season of All About You from November 2003 to February 2004.

Her very busy schedule proved to be very difficult for her, and she wanted to take a rest. Along the way, she discovered true love and answered its calling. Claudio Rondinelli, an Italian based in Hong Kong, pursued her by sending dozens of pink roses every day since they first met until the next time they met again. They got married in Hong Kong on Dec. 21, 2003, exactly a year after they officially became steadies. The church ceremony followed a few weeks later in Boracay.

Trusting her guts and bearing in mind her motto "Love conquers all," she moved to Hong Kong in February 2004 after she finished shooting all her slots for All About You. It’s been a year and a few months now since Miriam moved to Hong Kong and she is still just as radiant.

When I met up with her at a French bistro in Hong Kong, she had just dropped off her dogs at the pooch salon.

"Of course, I also get homesick, and I’m still developing close friendships in Hong Kong, but all is well," she shares. "I have been shuttling back and forth to Italy. We go there every two or three months, and stay for about a month at a time."

Life has been sweet for this once workaholic celebrity. She shops, eats out, and takes care of their house in Hong Kong, since they are moving to a place nearer the beach.

Her newfound marital bliss is making her discover more of Italian culture. She says that for Italian families, in general, the center of activity is mostly in the kitchen. When they entertain, Italians prefer to do it at home and not in restaurants. It is the highest honor to be welcomed into an Italian home. The kitchen and the dinner table are considered the heart of the Italian home. Should there be any quarrels, it is usually settled either in bed or at the dinner table.

She says in jest, "They love to cook and to eat. Italian food is sooo good, and they make sure to use the best ingredients in their cooking. Otherwise, this art is not fully enjoyed. They make sure to use high quality and the freshest ingredients to maintain the integrity of the dishes."

Although she grew up with helpers in Manila and has Pampangueño maids in Hong Kong who spoil her and Claudio with good food, she also wants to learn how to prepare meals for her husband when he goes home for lunch, or if they decide to relax and dine at home.

"We have a beautiful, big and modern kitchen in Italy, so I learned to enjoy spending more time there," she tells me. "Believe it or not, my husband influenced me in the kitchen. He taught me how to cook pasta and prepare salads. My first Italian teacher in Hong Kong also gifted me with a recipe book on Italian cuisine, so I refer to it a lot when preparing meals.

Actually, the pasta marinella she shares was taught to her by her husband. This is the first pasta dish she learned to make, because it is fairly easy and the most basic of pasta recipe. It takes only about 20 minutes to prepare, 35 minutes to cook, and the ingredients are easy to find. She recommends using penne (short wheat pasta tubes with diagonal cut ends) or fusilli (short, wheat pasta spirals) because they are the easiest to eat with a fork, but spaghetti (long wheat pasta) can also be used.

Miriam also shares her recipe for bruschetta and crostini, which are two culinary staples in Italy. Quite simply, these are toasts, traditionally toasted over a wood-burning fire to add a smoky flavor. Bruschetta are thick slices of country, French or Italian bread. Crostini are smaller, less filling versions of bruschetta, made from thinner slices of French baguette. These are normally served as an antipasto preceding a meal or with aperitifs (cocktails).

The way she talks about Italian food is proof that she is learning her husband’s culture by heart. She’s got the best of both worlds. Indeed, Miriam is living la dolce vita!
Tomato and Basil Bruschetta or Crostini
2 ripe, plum tomatoes, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or 1 tsp. prepared minced garlic
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper, or to taste
8 large basil leaves
2 Tbsps. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 slices bruschetta (about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick slices of French or Italian bread), or 16 crostinis (3/8-inch thick slices of French baguette)

For the topping:

Stir all ingredients, except the basil and Parmesan cheese, together in a small bowl.

Preheat the broiler, or toaster oven. Place the bruschetta or crostini slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Arrange the basil leaves on the toasted bread. Top with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.

Broil the sandwiches four to five inches from the heat source for about two minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tear the basil leaves into smaller pieces and toss together with the tomato mixture.

This topping will keep for up to one day in a covered container in the refrigerator. Bring the topping to room temperature; assemble and broil the sandwiches just before serving.
Pasta Marinella
160 gms. dry penne or fusilli pasta
250 gms. ripe tomatoes or 1 400-gms. can whole peeled tomatoes
basil (preferably freshly picked from the plant)
2 cloves garlic, cut into chunky pieces
hot red pepper
olive oil

Wash the basil, dry the leaves and remove the stems. Tear up the leaves by hand. (An old folk custom decrees that basil should never touch metal.)

Scald the tomatoes in boiling water, remove the skins and seeds, then cut them into cubes. If using a can of peeled tomatoes (which I normally do), just pour them into a bowl and set aside.

Sauté one clove of garlic and hot, red pepper in a skillet with two to three tablespoons of olive oil. As soon as the garlic starts to brown, remove both and add the tomatoes, the rest of the garlic and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook slowly for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, in a large pot of boiling water, pour one tablespoon of olive oil and a handful of salt, then add in the pasta, stirring occasionally. Cooking time is usually shown on the package (ranging from six to eight minutes). Drain just before it reaches the al dente point, when the pasta is firm, but not crunchy. Turn the pasta into the skillet and cook over a high flame for a couple of minutes.

Remove the garlic, if you didn’t take out the core, and serve, with basil as garnish. A squiggle of olive oil will not hurt either, but cheese is really not advisable unless it is exquisite Romano or Sienese pecorino and, then, just a little. Serves two.

Tip: I normally remove the core of each garlic wedge because this gives out the strong taste.
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Thanks for your letters! Drop me a line at starkitchenspy@yahoo.com.

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