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A simple summer spaghetti recipe and a long story

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Some days Most days, I cook just to get done with a meal and don’t put too much thought when my only aim is to whiz in and out of the kitchen. I always wonder how my mom did it. These days, I have far greater respect for her than she could imagine. As a working woman in the 80’s with school going children, a bed ridden mother in law, a blind brother, rambling house, pets and assorted creatures living and a retinue of permanent and semi permanent house guests, I wonder how she managed. Not that I or my brother gave it much thought, but we always had a welcoming if sometimes messy home, hot freshly made food on the table at all meals and some non negotiable rules about things such as eating what is on the plate and rudeness quotient for behaviour.

Everything else was pretty much flexible. We didn’t have maddening schedules but we had to help around the house. I cannot remember not being a house / kitchen help since I was 5-6. We had strict rules about eating as a family at the table and no TV while eating. Duties were gender neutral and included bathing and dressing ourselves, laying and clearing the table, filling bottles with drinking water from the blasted water filters and feeding and bathing the pets.

I cannot remember her asking for ‘me time’ or ever laboring over what to cook. Favorites were made by rotation on the weekend, but that apart no fuss about food was entertained. She discharged her duties with utmost responsibility and made sure everyone was taken care of without feeling smothered.

What's an occasion that isn't marked with a selfie? Enroute the hospital for the surgery

What’s an occasion that isn’t marked with a selfie? Enroute the hospital for the surgery

Yesterday Amma had an eye surgery for cataract. This is in today’s time a simple 15 minute procedure. In her case, it is far more complicated because she has only one eye. A few years ago, after multiple operations to help her with her eyesight failed, Amma became fully blind in one eye with an irreversible damage to her optical nerve. The last couple of surgeries had to be abandoned because of complications and contributed to the rapid loss of her eye. The other eye has 30% vision and that made this operation even more critical.

She travels between my brother’s home and mine alone, manages her daily routine, even reads the newspapers with a magnifying glass, chops vegetables and cooks full meals. She is determined to make the best use of whatever vision she has and not be a bother to anyone around. She has a busy circle of friends and family that she keeps in touch with. Watches her favourite TV programs sometimes relying only on the dialogues to figure out what is happening and freely gives her opinion on everything from how clumsy I sometimes am to football teams in the current world cup :). We were fortunate to find a doctor who invested almost 2 years to understand her case and gain her trust. He reassured her that he would operate only when it was absolutely needed and only in her interest.

So last week when the doctor told her at the end of a routine check up that it was time, though she was anxious, she agreed. She spent the week preparing mentally for being sightless for atleast 6 hours post operation. She counted the steps from her bed to the washroom and dining table and back and practiced with her eyes closed. She made little packets of her medication and kept them ready so that I wouldn’t have to help her figure out which ones to take. She told the doctor that she was in his hands and that he was in God’s hands as she walked in for her procedure.

After a half day’s stay at the hospital, we came back home yesterday. The procedure went well and the doctor has said that he was happy with the outcome. He was able to successfully remove the cataract and some growth that would help her see a little clearer than before. Amma is recovering well. She has eaten all her meals by herself with a spoon, seated at the table. While I was busy in the kitchen, she found her clothes, freshened up, changed herself and combed her hair. I am scanning all phone calls from her close circle of trusted friends and family who are checking on her progress. She is tenacious and determined not to ask for help unless needed, yet she knows her limitations and wont jeopardize herself by taking unnecessary risks.

If I turn out to be even a fraction of what she is as a person, I will be very happy with myself.

The recipe I am sharing today is unlike what Amma would have rustled up. On the busiest day too, the table would be laden with rice, rotis, dal and atleast one vegetable or meat dish, all made from scratch. The kitchen appliances and other conveniences I so much take for granted were not available, no pastes, no frozen masalas, no fuss.

I turn to pasta when in doubt. When I need to feed just myself, when I couldn’t care less about what to cook. This is an ingredient that lends itself so well to any situation. It is a summer pasta and inspired by what I saw my current TV chef obsession David Rocco cook in an episode while travelling in India. My fellow salivator over David Rocco, R too made something similar and when I saw her post, I thought I should post this recipe of easy pasta (do I ever post anything that I don’t claim is easy to make?) too.

Summer Spaghetti

Summer Spaghetti

Summer Spaghetti Recipe (serves 2)

Spaghetti or any other dry pasta for 2 servings

1/2 piece of Green Zucchini (About 4-5 inches, sliced)

6-8 button Mushrooms, washed (yes they are dirty in India), wiped and quartered

1 large Roma or other firm ripe tomato, chopped into 8 pieces

2-3 tablespoons of Extra virgin olive oil (be generous)

a small sprig of fresh basil (1/2 teaspoon of dried)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pods of garlic, peeled and sliced finely

2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese (optional, I never have this on hand)

In a wide pan, bring about 2 litres of water to a rolling boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt to it.

Add the spaghetti and cook stirring till done the way you like it. I do not like it al dente, so I cook it 1 minute more than that. By all means cook the pasta the way YOU like eating it 😀

Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of the water. Set aside the cooked pasta.

In another pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and fry the garlic till just turning a shade darker. Add the zucchini slices and cook till they are turning golden around the edges, turn over gently and repeat. Remove the zucchini slices to a plate.

Add the tomatoes and mushrooms to the remaining hot oil and toss till they are beginning to wilt about 2 minutes but retain a crunch. The idea is not to cook them till mushy so cooking time is flexible as per your taste. Add the cooked spaghetti, zucchini slices and toss well. Add salt and pepper to taste and the torn basil leaves. Toss well. Add a little of the reserved cooking liquid if it is very dry.

Turn off the heat. Drizzle on the lemon juice and toss well before serving it out into bowls and top with some parmesan cheese if you have it or drizzle the remaining olive oil. Serve.

This is a simple dish and can be served with a nice soup or salad on the side. For a non veg version, grilled chicken or prawns can be added to the mix. The simple flavours are so refreshing from the loaded with tomato / sauce / cheese pasta dishes that we usually reach out for.

Gouda and Pizza Sauce Muffins Recipe

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Gouda Cheese and Pizza Sauce Muffin

Gouda Cheese and Pizza Sauce Muffin

Amma is currently with me and as is the usual practice, I try and make something interesting when she is around. Unlike K, she is game to try anything at least once, and is deeply appreciative of my culinary escapades 🙂

A conversation almost always gets triggered from a food memory. This time, while asking about the ingredients I used, and knowing that finely grated cheese was used, she told me about how there was food rationing in the 50’s and some of the schools and organisations affiliated to America received supplies of  cheese powder and egg powder which they had no idea how to use. So they would mix the two and make scrambled eggs 🙂

I told her how I love savoury muffins and that it is a pity most people associated baking with cake and cake is sweet and hence all baked goods are expected to be sweet. In my baking classes, I used to teach a savoury pizza muffin, but due to it having not too many enthusiasts, I changed that over to a sweet variant.

For this muffin, I eyeballed all the ingredients and it turned out wonderfully fluffy and full of flavour.

I ran out of whole wheat flour, and have used half of all purpose flour and half whole wheat, feel free to use whole wheat flour for the whole amount, but expect the crumb to be a little grainy.

The pizza sauce I used is the one I posted in the Fusilli with pine nuts recipe. This is an all purpose pizza / pasta sauce that is very handy to have in the fridge.

Gouda Cheese and Pizza Sauce Muffin

Gouda Cheese and Pizza Sauce Muffin

Gouda Cheese and Pizza Sauce Muffins (Makes 6 large muffins)

1/2 cup All purpose flour (Maida)

1/2 cup Whole wheat flour (Atta)

1/2 cup Grated gouda cheese + 2 teaspoons for garnish

(Use any cheese such as parmesan or even processed cheddar, mozarella makes the muffin stringy, hence not recommended)

1 Egg (to make this eggless, use 1/4 cup milk + 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, let it sit for 5 minutes and use when the recipe calls for egg)

1/2 cup Milk (I used full fat)

1/4 cup Pizza/ Pasta sauce (check for the recipe here or use store bought)

8-10 fresh basil leaves, shredded (substitute with any fresh herbs of choice – mint, coriander, garlic chives or even spring onions)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Salt to taste (add half of what you think you need because the sauce and cheese are salty)

Preheat the oven to 185 C and brush the bottom of a muffin pan with oil. For an even brown crumb, do not use muffin liners.

In a bowl, add the all purpose flour, wheat flour, grated cheese, salt, baking powder, baking soda, chopped onion and basil leaves and toss well.

In another bowl, add the egg and milk and whisk with a fork. Add the pizza sauce and mix it well. Add this mixture to the flour mixture and with a light hand, mix till the batter is just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups equally, garnish with the reserved grated cheese. Bake for 16-17 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness.

Cool in the pan for 3-4 minutes before running a blunt knife around the edges of the muffin pan and removing them to a cooling rack / serving plate.

These muffins are best eaten warm. Can be stored refrigerated for upto 4 days.

PS: To make this an eggless muffin; use 1/4 cup milk + 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, let it sit for 5 minutes and use when the recipe calls for egg

 

 

Chili Garlic Sauteed Vegetables ~ Sandwich

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Sauteed Vegetable Sandwich

Sauteed Vegetable Sandwich

This has to be the month of sandwiches for me. After detesting dry bread with cucumber and tomato slices, I have become a sandwich fiend with a vengeance. There is nothing better than a good sandwich made with fresh bread. Generally I do not like the bread to be slathered on with either butter or mayonnaise. Just a little to get things going and add flavour.  This sandwich filling has three of my current favourites ~ mushrooms, olive oil and a readymade chilli garlic paste which is handy to have in the fridge.

I add this paste to curries, dal, pasta sauce, vegetables and even spinach for a nice kick. It is not too spicy and yet lends a wonderful depth to the vegetables. Am sure this can be made at home, I just picked it up on a whim of my now aimless supermarket trips and am (for a change) making good use of it.

I used onions, sliced mushrooms and a little bit of bell peppers. Am sure zucchini, thin strips of carrot, and even slices of eggplant will taste terrific in this. The key is to add a lot of onions  and saute them on a medium flame till they are sweet from the caramelization, but not brown or crisp.

A box of these sauteed vegetables in the fridge will make it easy to rustle up pasta, a roti wrap or even as a vegetable side on a busy weeknight.

Sauteed Vegetable Sandwich

Sauteed Vegetable Sandwich

Chili Garlic Sauteed Vegetables ~ Sandwich (Makes 2)

4 slices                       Bread of choice, lightly toasted

1 medium                   Onion, sliced (about 2/3 cup)

1 cup                          Vegetables such as bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach etc, sliced

1 tablespoon              Extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon                 Chilli garlic paste (or grind together one clove of garlic with 1 ripe red chilli)

a handful of fresh herbs such as coriander or basil

1 teaspoons               Salted butter

  • In a flat pan, heat the oil and add all the vegetables. Saute on medium heat till the vegetables have wilted and the onions are translucent(about 2 minutes).
  • Add the chilli garlic paste, salt to taste and the fresh herbs and mix well.  Continue to saute till the liquid from the vegetables has almost dried off. At this point, the onions should be a deep brown and still soft. Turn off the heat and cool.
  • On a medium hot tava, toast the bread lightly and apply the butter.
  • Place the sauteed vegetables in a thin layer, top with the other slice of bread and press down lightly. Toast for 1 minute on each side, ensuring the filling does not come out.
  • Slice diagonally and serve warm.

Note: these vegetables can be stored in the fridge in an air tight container for upto 5 days to make a quick meal tossed with cooked pasta or in a wrap.

 

One Pot Spaghetti with Tomato and Mushrooms

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Spaghetti with Mushroom and Tomato

Cooking for one is my most favourite and least favourite task in the kitchen. No I am not a person who cannot make up my mind. Cooking for one means I get to make and eat what I want, something which K doesn’t particularly care for (pasta) or even one of my not so successful experiments. Cooking for one also means that I will eat in solitude and that is not my favourite thing to do!

Last year, the one pot pasta recipe was a rage across the interwebs. Anyone who had access to the net and had one or more social networking account (from twitter to pinterest) was cooking a one pot pasta in a frenzy and marvelling at its convenience. I tried it too and the first time, it cooked itself into a flavourless gunk. I was so disappointed with the outcome that I almost cried. And that has not happened with me in a long time. I made the mistake of making it and serving it when we had guests. No one noticed because of the other dishes that were served, but I had a lot leftover which I sent to the freezer while I thought about salvaging it. Which I did a few days later, with a tonne of roasted vegetables, a layer of cheese and baked the gunk to resemble a casserole which I and amma ploughed through for a couple of meals! It would be a while before I attempted to cook this again I thought!

Today I was determined to get this right, and since I was cooking just for myself, I could quickly deal with the failure too incase that happened. 

When making a one pot pasta, the thing to remember and work around, is the kind of pasta that is being used. I used an Indian brand of spaghetti made by Bambino. The label reads “made of durum wheat’ but I find that this cooks into a gunk if not stirred atleast 3-4 times while it is being cooked. Maybe using another shape of pasta wouldn’t need baby sitting. But this is not a show stopper for me. I mean, one cooking pot, dunk everything in and stand around the stove (playing candy crush in between stirs) for 10 minutes cannot be that off putting.

Spaghetti with Mushroom and Tomato

Spaghetti with Mushroom and Tomato

One Pot Spaghetti with Tomato and Mushrooms

(serves 2, Time Taken: Prep time – 5 minutes, Cooking time – 12 minutes)

Spaghetti  – to serve 2 people (I eyeballed this, about 100 grams)

Onion – 1 medium, halved and sliced

Garlic pods – 2, sliced

Button Mushrooms – 1 cup, washed and quartered

Tomato – 1 large, chopped into 8-10 pieces

Olive oil – 2 tablespoons

Salt and pepper – to taste

Red Chilli Flakes – 1/2 teaspoon

Sugar – 1/4 teaspoon (the tomato I used was tart, skip if you are using sweet tomatoes)

a few sprigs of fresh basil

Cream Cheese – 2 teaspoons (optional but recommended or use grated cheese)

Method:

Slice the onion, mushroom, tomato and garlic. Fill a heavy bottomed cooking pot with 2 cups of water.

Put everything into a pot and boil

Put everything into a pot and boil

Add all the ingredients except the cream cheese / cheese to the pot and stir well, bring this to a boil.

Cook on medium high heat, stirring every 2 minutes for about 8-10 minutes or till the pasta is cooked.

The water would have reduced and the starch from the pasta along with the other ingredients makes a nice light sauce. Check for salt and adjust if needed.

Stir in the cream cheese/ grated cheese, give it a nice mix and spoon out into bowls. Garnish with a sprig of basil and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve hot.

Last year, I attended a cooking demonstration at an Italian restaurant. One of the most valuable tips the chef gave us was to fry thinly sliced garlic in olive oil and stock it to use as a flavour enhancer in recipes. Added to the most simple soups, salads or even pasta, the fried garlic and the infused oil, gives the dish an intense burst of flavour. I used a teaspoon of this oil to drizzle on my pasta. It was terrific even if I say so myself!

Beat the Heat Series ~ Insalata Caprese with Basil Pesto

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So the summer in hyderabad is fully upon us on its way out (which must tell you how long this post sat in drafts) and as always, I have a reputation to keep and whining to do… remarkably this year tho, I handled the heat much better than the Kman… he was  whining more than me, and mine are some really big boots to fill…

Anyhow, this is a salad I almost always order when we eat at an Italian restaurant and that in Hyderabad means many many restaurants! every five star hotel worth its salt needs to have an italian restaurant plus the many stand alone ones… I marveled at the simplicity and freshness of this salad, where the few ingredients stand out and flavour and texture is everything…

I lamented (there is a pattern here, I am not cantankerous for nothing!) that there is no good buffalo mozarella to be had outside of pricey restaurants….that was till I found out this Punjab made fresh mozarella in water… at I ate most of it as it was… saving the rest to make this salad… at 230 rupees a box its a little pricey, but thats the most expensive component of the salad. Make this and feel like a domestic God/ Goddess!

While the temperature still is higher than we’d like, serve this and enjoy it as a nice quick appetizer

Insalata Caprese – Serves 3

3 Large Ripe tomatoes (choose the sweet variety, I used bangalore/ salad tomatoes)

100 grams of fresh buffalo mozarella

20 fresh Basil leaves, washed and drained on paper towels

2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 cup basil pesto (recipe follows)

For the Pesto

1 cup of fresh basil leaves, picked, washed and drained

1/5th cup of roasted pine nuts (replace with almonds or walnuts if you dont have pine nuts)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated

a pinch of salt and pepper

1 garlic clove, peeled

Making the Pesto

Put all the ingredients except the olive oil and basil into a food processor and pulse till the nuts and cheese are pulsed evenly. Then add the washed basil leaves and pulse a few more times. Scrape down the sides of the jar and add the olive oil and pulse some more until you get a nice creamy pesto. I do this in 5-6 short pulses to get a fairly creamy pesto. Some people prefer some texture in their pesto, so check midway between pulsing the ingredients and stop when you like the consistency.

This makes 3/4 cup of pesto and can be used immediately. If you want to freeze the pesto, do not add the parmesan cheese. when you defrost the pesto and are ready to use it, mix in finely grated parmesan cheese.

To Assemble the Caprese Salad

Layer the sliced tomato and mozarella cheese. Add a freshly washed leaf of basil. Assemble over a plate till you use up all the sliced tomatoes and mozarella. Sprinkle freshly ground pepper over it scantly (optional, I did not do this). Drizzle over with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Spoon over the pesto and enjoy it fresh.

Alternatively, make small stacks of the tomato, mozarella, basil leaves, season with scant salt and pepper, drizzle over some EVOO and spoon over the pesto.

Beat the Heat Series ~ Rice Paper Rolls

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A few years ago, one of my favourite blogger’s Nupur posted these lovely summer rolls and I was smitten. I hunted high and low inHyderabad for thai rice paper and found them finally. I zealously stock them and guard them. I love making these rolls not just because they look pretty, but are versatile. They are great with fresh vegetable crudités packed into them with sauces, cooked filling such as mushroom, spinach or peppers or even to use as potsticker skins. Either way you choose to use them, they will be a delight. They are also a great addition to a summer party menu. They make for a kid friendly snack what with all the alluring colours. Check out nupur’s post for detailed step by step instructions on how to roll them. you can add as many or as less fillings as you like…add taste and texture layers for variety.

Summer Rolls (makes 12)

Rice paper rolls (12)

Cucumber – ½ a medium one, peeled and sliced into slim sticks

Purple cabbage / lettuce – sliced fine

Red and yellow capsicum/ pepper – ¼ of each, sliced into sticks

Basil leaves or any other fresh herb like cilantro, mint, etc– ¼ cup

Carrot – ½ a medium one, peeled and sliced into slim sticks

For the dipping sauce

Peanut butter – 1 tablespoon

Hot chilli sauce – 1 tablespoon

Honey or sugar – ½ teaspoon

Hot water – 1 tablespoon

Whisk all of the above together to get a light dipping sauce. Serve with the rolls

Method:

In a deep plate, add 1 cup warm water. The rice paper rolls will be soaked in this, so ensure it is wide and deep enough.

  1. Chop all the vegetables into matchstick shape and keep ready.
  2. Dip the rice paper roll into the warm water and leave it for 10-15 seconds. With a light hand, lift up and lay it flat on a clean tea towel.
  3. Add the vegetables in a layer in the middle of the rice paper. Add the greens and fold over a part of the bottom to cover the vegetables. Take the right and left parts of the roll and fold over to look like an envelope or a pouch. Roll the rest of the rice paper to look like a spring roll and the vegetables are sealed in.
  4. Continue till all the rice papers are used up. Serve cold with a dipping sauce
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