{How to cook} Perfect Pasta

Note: I wrote this post with a lot of input from my dear friend Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal (twitter:@RushinaMG). Rushina owns the uber cool A Perfect Bite Cook Studio in Mumbai and is an author as well. Rushina has written a post on cooking pasta on her blog which you can read here.
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The world of food today is fast moving and innovation is the name of the game and traditional dishes being given a contemporary look and feel hardly evokes a surprise. In this scenario, Italian is one cuisine that hasn’t lost its old world charm. Minimal ingredients,  oodles of love, a huge dash of EVOO and you’re done!! But, it is in this simplicity that the actual beauty of Italian food lies. Someone rightly said, “When you cook Italian food well, it sings”.  I thought of doing an entire post dedicated to Italian cooking, but I thought it would be nice to do a post on something that is Italy’s best culinary gift to the world. Pasta. Pasta. Along with Pesto and Pizza, Pasta forms the holy trinity of Italian cuisine. But it is extremely important to cook pasta perfectly else, you could end up with a mess. So lets begin 🙂
1. There are so many variants of Pasta available. Which one should I  buy?
I always prefer buying the Italian brands that are made from durum wheat flour or Durum wheat semolina. Durum is a extremely hard variety of wheat that retains shape on cooking. Since this is wheat, it also has more nutritional value. These are a bit more expensive than the local brands but are worth every penny.  And for heavens sake, don’t buy those multi coloured pastas.
2. So then, How do I cook pasta perfectly?
The best thing to do is cook pasta just before you’re ready to eat. So, plan your meal accordingly and get all the mise-en- place done. I usually begin by heating the water to cook the pasta and simultaneously I begin to work with my sauce, depending on what dish I’m making.. So here’s how to get done.
Water– Pasta needs to cook in enough water. So, use a large vessel that has space to accommodate both the pasta and the water. Make sure that the pasta don’t clump together. The thumb rule is to use 1 litre of water for every 100 grams of pasta is good enough. Only add the pasta little by little when the water comes to a nice boil. DO NOT add oil to the pasta as oil sticks to the pasta and prevents the sauces from sticking to it.
Salt- Pasta requires lots of salt while cooking. So add in a generous handful.
Cooking Time: Usually most packs will carry instructions on how long the pasta needs to cook. So read the pack carefully. A safer trick I use is to cook the pasta for a minute or two less than what is mentioned on the pack. e.g. If the pack mentions to cook pasta for say 10 minutes, you could cook it for say 8 or 9 minutes.
The term ‘Al- Dente’ (to the tooth) is used to describe that stage in the (pasta)  cooking process when the pasta is cooked but firm to the bite. It is when the pasta is about 75 % to 80 % done. Once the pasta reaches this stage, drain out the pasta on a colander. Retain a ladle or two of the water to use in the sauce if you like. Its flavourful 😛
Always remember that pasta absorbs sauces well when its hot. Drop the pasta into the simmering sauce, add a huge helping of EVOO and some cheese and enjoy.
Here are two of my favorite pasta recipes:
Spaghetti Alio E Olio
One the most traditional yet simplest of Italian Classics, this one is a year long favorite due to the easy availability of all ingredients. Simple chopped garlic in olive oil with red chilli flakes and some white wine. Traditionally, cheese is not added to the recipe. I had made this one for ‘The world on my plate series’ and have kept making this since then for almost every week. Simple food at its best.
PAsta
Pasta in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Another classic method of preparing pasta in pairing it with tomato. This one is so simple that you cannot get it wrong. I used the piquancy of red chillies, the delicate kick of white wine and generous helpings of EVOO and then that ever so Italian favorite, Pamesan Cheese.
 Ingredients:
  • 1 pack spiralli pasta (Or any pasta you like)
  • 10-12 garlic cloves, slivered
  •  Tomato concessae (Refer notes below)
  • 120 ml Extra Virgin olive oil (do not substitute with any other oil)
  • 1 tablespoon, butter
  • 1 teaspoon, red chilli flakes
  • 4-5 leaves of basil
  • 80 ml dry white wine
  • 60 grams Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon, dried Italian herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and oregano)
  • 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (2 to cook and 1 for garnishing)
  • Salt- use some more than your regular amount
  • Water- to cook the pasta (refer directions above)

Procedure:

  • Cook the pasta as instructed on the pack. Drain and keep aside.
  • Keep about 3 tablespoons of the olive aside and heat the rest along with the butter till you hear a sizzle.
  • When the oil is hot, add the garlic and allow it to cook till it is reddish brown. Add the basil, parsley, the red chillies and the herbs and stir well.
  • Add the tomato concessae and mix well. Now de-glaze your pan with the white wine.
  • Lastly add the pasta and mix well.
  • Serve in a plate, drizzle with the remaining olive oil over the pasta and then garnish with parsley and parmesan cheese.

To make the tomato concessae:

  • Make a horizontal and vertical slit on the tomatoes a
  • Bring water to a boil and add the tomatoes. Let them remain in water till you see the skin peeling off.
  • Take off the heat and add keep under cold running water for some time.
  • Remove the peel and seeds and chop finely.
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Malai Kofta (Cottage Cheese dumplings in a rich tomato gravy)

“What’s in a name?” quoted Shakespeare. “Lot’s”, I’d say, if the name is “Malai Kofta”. And so, as promised on my facebook page, here is the recipe for this culinary equivalent of the hydrogen bomb.

I must not hesitate to admit that this was one of the more difficult dishes I’ve made. What sets this dish apart this that it is that although it is extremely popular (almost a “cannot-do-without) at wedding functions and large festivals, it is rarely made at the home kitchen. This mildly spiced, almost sweetish gravy is a combination of finely blended spices and enriched with cream, onion and tomatoes. Can I see you salivating already?

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Let me tell you, making this dish is a long drawn and elaborate process; however, it will be worth the effort when you have a soft, perfectly fried koftas covered with creamy gravy, that you will want to share with your family and friends.

The taste queens loved it, and I’m sure you will as well.

Go ahead, indulge!!

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Malai Kofta

For the Koftas:- (will yield about 18 medium sized koftas)

  • 220 grams Paneer (Cottage Cheese)
  • 80 grams dried fruits; roughly chopped (I used almonds and raisins)
  • 1 tablespoon corn flour (and some more for dusting)
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt to taste

For the Gravy:-

  • 1 cup boiled onion paste
  • 1½ cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 3 tablespoons cashew paste
  • 2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 green chillies, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
  • 3 tablespoons ghee (Clarified butter)
  • 1 cup fresh cream (I skipped this)
  • Whole Spices (2 green cardamoms, 1 black cardamom, 1 inch cinnamon stick, 1 small bay leaf)
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander leaves for garnishing.

Procedure:

To make the kofta’s:-

  • Heat a pan on a low flame, dry roast the almonds and raisins till they change colour. Once done allow them to cool and then chop them roughly.
  • In a bowl, roughly grate the cottage cheese, add 1 tablespoon corn flour, salt and mash it together such that it forms a single lump.
  • Now take a lemon sized piece and roll it well between your palms. Then make a small well in the center and fill in some of the chopped dry fruits. Cover the well and roll it once again between the palms of your hand. Repeat the process with the other Koftas.  Dust each kofta with corn flour and keep aside.
  • Fry the koftas in oil on a low flame till they are bright orange in colour. Frying on a slow flame will ensure that the Koftas are cooked right to the center and pass the ultimate test of being crisp on the outside and soft inside.
  • Once done remove and drain on an absorbent paper.

For the gravy:-

  • In a heavy bottomed pan heat ghee, and add in the whole spices. Sauté spices till you have a fragrant aroma from them.
  • Once the spices are done, add the onion paste and allow it to cook till the oil leaves the sides. Now, add the ginger garlic paste and stir well, allowing to cook.
  • Add the cashew paste and mix well till the onion and cashew paste have integrated well. This will take time. You will know it’s done when the mixture moves around the pan in a single lump.
  • Now, add the spice powders, green chillies.
  • Once the spice powders have integrated well, add in the tomato paste and puree & salt. Allow this to cook well. If required, add in a cup of water at this point.
  • If you are using cream, add it in at this point.
  • Add the koftas in the gravy and give it a stir.
  • Serve hot garnished with coriander leaves and  accompanied with parathas

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