Monday, June 27, 2011

Italian Food Marathon

Remember the saucy spaghetti I had been swooning over? Well, after I watched this movie, with all the amazing food in Italy, I have kind of been on an Italian food spree. I have been shopping Italian ingredients and cooking myself all these delicious and simple Italian recipes. I love Italian food. It is amazing how something so simple can be so extraordinary and delicious. It makes me want to go back to freshness and simplicity in cooking. So, I decided to make minestrone, my way, with fresh ingredients and garden vegetables that were available to me. I only had to walk up to my refrigerator, to fetch the ingredients for and cook me some healthy, Italian supper.

Minestrone Ala Me- Serves 4

Tomatoes             3 large, 1 cm diced
Onion                    1, 1 cm diced
Carrots                  1, 1 cm diced
Celery                   2, 1 cm diced
French Green Beans         60g, 1cm
Peas                      30g, shelled
Pasta(macaroni, farfalle or any other dried pasta)                   60g
Salt               to taste
Fresh basil             6 leaves
Garlic                      4 cloves, crushed and finely chopped
Lemon Zest           1 lemon, grated zest(peel)              
Regular Processed Cheese (Mozarella or Cheddar cheese)                60g, grated

Take 600ml water in a deep, heavy bottom pan. Add the onion, carrots, celery and beans. Heat the water and allow the ingredients to simmer for five to seven minutes until they are slightly cooked. Add in the dried pasta and allow the soup to simmer for another five minutes. Now, add in the tomatoes and peas and allow the soup to simmer for three to four minutes. Add salt to taste.

For the flavouring and garnish of the soup, shred the basil, combine the grated cheese, grated zest(yellow part of the lemon peel) of lemon, shredded basil and chopped garlic and mix them together thoroughly. Mash them and form them into tiny rounds of 1 cm diameter. Place this flavouring in a soup bowl and pour in the soup on top of this flavouring. Serve Hot.

I am so Hungry Since I Saw it On TV and I Will Not Be Satisfied Until I Eat it!

You know how those ad commercials on burgers and biscuits and Chinese food make you hungry? They seduce you in your living room, in your bedroom as you read the newspaper and even in your car with those hoardings with massive pictures of food. Well, that’s what happened to me last night while I was watching this film on TV. I could literally see the steam and melted cheese, smell the fresh basil and taste the tanginess of the tomatoes in the saucy spaghetti, as Julia Roberts rolled her fork and took a massive bite of that simple yet, Oh-so-yummy classic Italian pasta.

There were no hoardings and the picture was not in the newspaper and yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about that spaghetti she was eating. I don’t think I have ever been infatuated by a man as much as I was smitten by the beauty of that spaghetti. She was gorgeous and I want her. Yeah, I could go to an Italian Restaurant and order a spaghetti arabiatta but cooking is always more fun before something magically brought to your table. After all, we all like all the hard work we put in, to get our love to the table. There was another reason I opted out of going to a restaurant on this occasion, I would have to order four servings of spaghetti to satiate my cravings and can you imagine how much that would cost me? What if I didn’t get the real taste of fresh tomatoes and basil? I cannot take a risk, I am going to get some sweet basil freshly picked out from the garden, the smell makes me swoon, some large, red tomatoes and authentic Italian Parmigiano Regiano Cheese, no concession.

Simple Spaghetti in Fresh Tomato Sauce

Simple Spaghetti in Fresh Tomato Sauce – Serves 4

Spaghetti              250g
Tomatoes            5 Large
Garlic                    3 cloves, crushed and chopped
Olive Oil              30 ml
Dry Red Chilli flakes     ½ teaspoon
Salt                      to taste
Parmesan Cheese            100g, grated
Fresh Basil Leaves      10
Fresh Basil Sprigs        5, for garnish

Boil water in a deep, heavy bottom pan filled upto ½ inch from the rim, add salt. Once the water comes to a boil, add in the spaghetti. DO NOT BREAK THE SPAGHETTI, as it cooks spaghetti tends to dip completely inside the pan, whole. Allow the spaghetti to cook in boiling water for five minutes. Check if the spaghetti is cooked, by biting a piece to see if it is tender and not mushy.
Now, drain out the excess hot water from the pan. Run the spaghetti under cold water, twice and set it aside.

For the Tomato Sauce
Heat water in a deep, heavy bottom pan until it is boiling. While the water is getting heated, wash the tomatoes thoroughly, remove the eye and make a cross incision at the bottom of all five tomatoes. Once the water is boiling, pop in the tomatoes into the boiling water and allow them to cook for two minutes. Once the skin of the tomatoes separates from the flesh, remove the tomatoes, run them under cold water and peel out the skins. This process is called blanching the tomatoes. Now remove the seeds and chop the tomatoes finely. If you prefer, you can also leave the seeds and juices on and mash the tomatoes as an alternative.

Heat olive oil in a pan, add in the chopped garlic and the tomatoes. Allow it to simmer for five minutes. Add in salt and dried red chilli flakes, stir and allow it to simmer for another five minutes. Now, add in the spaghetti, shred the basil leaves and add them into the sauce and stir, allow the sauce to simmer for another two minutes. Garnish it with sprigs of basil and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. Serve the spaghetti hot, with grated parmesan cheese on the side.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I bet, no Chef in the world can cook as good as my Grandma cooks.

Aren’t you really bored of going to an Indian restaurant and eating the same old makhani curry, the deep brown onion gravy and that same old cashew based white gravy each time? I have decided to try something new that is old. And who better to learn something old from, than your grandmother? I bet, no Indian restaurant in the world can match my grandma’s cooking and neither can they have as many recipes on their menu as my grandma used to cook. The best part of our grandmothers’ cooking is that they can actually serve you a different recipe every day of the year and still not run out. Like a magic wand, they spin around and with the same ingredients there is a brand new dish every day. Who would have thought that with nothing but some tomatoes and moong dal in the house my grandma could teach me a curry fit to be served to the King, well, if not the King, his ministers would relish the curry all the same. So here is a rare recipe from grandma’s kitty of culinary secrets. Grandma usually uses tomatoes with the skin, I have modified the recipe a little bit and added tomatoes without the skin.

Rasaaje in a Tangy Tomato Curry
Moong Dal, soaked               200g
Tomatoes                              4 numbers
Ginger                                   10g
Cumin                                   1 teaspoon
Hing(Asafoetida),powder      1 teaspoon
Tamarind Pulp                       15 grams
Garlic, chopped                     3 cloves
Coriander Powder                1 teaspoon
Red Chilli powder                 ½ teaspoon
Salt                                        to taste
Ghee                                      30 ml         

Soak the moong dal in water for an hour. Drain out the excess water and grind it with salt and ginger into a coarse mixture.
Heat ghee in a pan, add cumin and ½ teaspoon asafoetida/ hing. Add in the coarsely ground moong dal mixture. Cook until all the moisture dries out and you get a thick, dry mixture. Grease a flat round plate with ghee. Spread out the entire mixture evenly on the plate to a ½ inch thickness. Allow it to stand for ten minutes. Cut the mixture into even size diamond shapes.
Heat ghee in a pan and shallow fry these diamond shaped moong dal morsels until golden brown. Set aside.

For the Tangy Tomato Curry
Heat water in a deep heavy bottom pan until it starts boiling. Remove the eye of all the tomatoes, make a cross at the bottom and put the tomatoes in the boiling water for one minutes. Remove the skin of the tomatoes and then chop them finely.
Heat ghee in a pan, add ½ teaspoon of asafoetida, chopped garlic until they turn golden brown, then add in the tomatoes, red chilli powder, coriander powder, stir in ½ cup of water and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes.
Now, add the tamarind pulp and salt, stir and simmer for another five minutes.
Add the shallow fried diamond shaped moong dal pieces in the curry, stir and served hot with pooris or any Indian bread. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ciabatta, Martini and the tale of two last benchers at the Alto Vino, Marriott, Pune

  Alto Vino, Pune

Food Type: 
As children, my sister and I would always dread our judgement day, the day when our annual results came out. We made sure we watched all the movies we wanted watch, ate all the ice-cream we wanted to eat, before the annual open house at school. After all we were not the toppers of the class, we were the naughty, talkative ‘last benchers’, and the parent teacher interaction was never welcome. So, this dinner at the Marriott Hotel for my sister’s first year result for her Bachelors in Arts, was a rather rare and special occasion for all four of us. It was a happy Thursday evening in the beginning of June. The Pune air was cool, the staff at the Marriott hotel was warm and upon entry into the spacious Italian restaurant Alto Vino, the ambience looked chic and, well, brown! with the contemporary wooden interiors. The only thing that was lacking from this otherwise perfect evening was the quiet. There was a lot of noise and hustle-bustle in the restaurant for I which I can hardly blame the restaurant staff. We were all excited about my younger sister’s result and we did not let the noise come in the way of our celebration.
When you and I step out to enjoy a meal, we know that we can easily find delicious food anytime of the day and at a price that does burn a hole in our pocket. Although, Daddy was paying tonight, I was a little more critical of the food and the service because I knew that he was shelling out more than he would on a random regular meal on the weekend.

I started the evening with a classic Martini; something that you cannot go wrong with, it was piquant, perfect! As I sipped my cocktail, I looked around to find most of the tables occupied on a weeknight, a lot of the tables were occupied by families, this being the last leg of the summer vacation. We just love Italian food, now, don’t we?

The chicken broth with bean and mushroom soup was brought to our table, I have tasted a chicken broth with mushrooms many times, even tasted it in little cafĂ©’s in Italy, yet none of those compared with the distinct flavor this broth had. I think it was the flavor of a specific type of mushroom that was used in the soup to give it this simple aromatic flavour.

The Antipasti, soft boiled eggs, with truffle flavor mashed potatoes, salad with parmesan shavings tasted, only okay. What gave the antipasti its character was the strong, unique flavor of truffle. The sharp, defining flavour, of the mashed potatoes, tasted good, but was lumpy. I have eaten soft boiled eggs, I have cooked soft boiled eggs and that was not it. These were hard boiled eggs, out from the refrigerator and onto my plate.
I must mention here that the ciabatta and olive tapenade served alongside the courses was top class. That crisp crust of the bread, so soft inside with the strong olive flavour went down really well. The other mild dip that was served alongside the bread was, well, not great. I hate to sound cheap, but I love to eat the bread because it is neither listed on the menu nor chargeable on the bill!

Skipping to the main course, I had ordered the diavola style chicken. The portion size was large with two joints of chicken served with beans on my plate. I love it when my meal looks large and satisfying, if you have a small appetite; I suggest you skip the beginning courses to finish your extravagant poultry main course. The caramel colour skin of the chicken was soaked in its marinade, so full of flavour even on the inside of the chicken breast! The flavour and aroma of the wine in the sauce, served on top of the beans. A great marriage of colour and flavours was on my plate. I would love to go back to the Alto Vino for this diavolo style chicken, a treat for poultry lovers.
Diavola Style Chicken

Next in line for a taste was mom’s spinach and ricotta ravioli. It was creamy, mild and subtly delicious. This familiar item from the Italian selection, is a common favourite and for the Italian food lover, it is always something you can count on, when everything else seems unfamiliar. Although, this ravioli was good, it did not taste great, I have tried better tasting spinach and ricotta ravioli, many a times.

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

Dad loves to steal a bite or two off our plates every now and then, but today was my turn to steal, not one or two bites, but nearly half his saffron risotto with prawns. You wouldn’t blame me, if you had tasted it yourself. This one compels you to sin. I can almost taste it as I begin to remember and describe the risotto to you. The prawn was fresh, cooked just right, juicy and full of flavour. The risotto was creamy yet with a subtle, rich saffron flavour, ummm, so good! There was a very unique quality in this risotto, the defining flavour of saffron captured my senses, yet pronouncing all the other flavours of the seafood, the Arborio rice, the herbs in a mellow yet memorable song.

Saffron Risotto with Prawns

The taste of the risotto just lingers on, I so wish I hadn’t tasted the mushroom ravioli in tomato sauce after the risotto. I am not sure whether my taste wisdom was influenced by what I had tasted before or was this dish really mediocre. But, I can say, I love mushrooms but I did not like the mushroom ravioli. Something was amiss; the flavour of the mushroom in the ravioli was not pronounced and well married with the others.  This dish does not have the quality to lure you back to this Italian joint.

Mushroom Ravioli with Tomato Sauce

Anyway, let us move on to my sister’s favourite part, the dessert. Like many other Italian restaurants, Tiramisu, was not only on the menu but also the speciality of the house. All I can say is, if this is what their Tiramisu always tastes like then they better come up with a new recommendation for dessert. Whoever made this Tiramisu was extremely generous with all the ingredients, the coffee flavour was too strong, the dessert was too sweet and the cream was not light. 


Will I come back to Alto Vino? Yes, but certainly not for the Tiramisu! I already know what I am going to order next time, this time a plate full, may be two, I think you know too. Yes, the Saffron risotto with prawns.