Spring laden Pasta in a Basil Pesto

Many of our Saturday mornings, winter or warmer, have adopted a little ritual. A sanctimonious one, demanding equal parts worship and sacrifice. The sacrifice involves rejecting the few extra precious hours of weekend sleep and beginning the morning a tad earlier than usual. The worship comprises a prayer to the Transit Gods of Toronto, hoping for a bus that arrives on schedule. And finally, the ritual in question implies a rejuvenating escape to the St.Lawrence Farmer’s Market.
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Thriving amid fresh,seasonal produce, strolling along the aisles encompassed by the profusion of vegetables and fruits, their vibrant skins dappled with shimmering droplets of water, is admittedly my kind of meditation, my panacea, my prayer. St. Lawrence Market offers just that and appeases my soul whilst simultaneously exciting and enthralling my creative side of the brain.
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The saturday market is huddled within a white tent and the vendors entice customers who are still warding off the sleep bug with, little cups of apple cider,swigs of fermented yogurt, fresh cut apple slices, trimmings of cheese and spoonfuls of olive tapenade. If that doesn’t entail enough enlivening, then rows of neatly lined herbs in a deep, verdant green, stacks of colour coded bell peppers, mountains of earthy potatoes, minuscule baskets heaped with tomatoes in a variety of sizes, each one more darling than the other, buckets plopped with lovely, seasonal flowers, these definitely do the trick.

Sticklers to our timetable, we headed there one spring morning. As suspected, the market was alive with its usual hustle-bustle, brimming with the bounty of spring. Tall stems of tulips, towering pyramids of asparagus, bunches of seasonal ramp, bouquets of rhubarb; it was verily a festival, one that pleased the soul, the eyes and the belly.
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As you can imagine, there is no dearth of inspiration here and we hauled back fresh basil, bunches of ramp, asparagus stalks, cherry tomatoes and a carton of pasta. I decided to pour this bounty into a dish, a new adventure considering I had never tasted ramp and asparagus, both harbingers of spring.
The culmination of that inspiration is what you see here: A Strozzapreti pasta slathered unrestrainedly with a Basil-Walnut Pesto mingling with peas and ramp leaves and a side of asparagus and cherry tomatoes. This is my  tribute to the languid breeze of spring, my gratitude to Mother Nature’s fresh bounty.
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Before we head to the recipe, a little more about the ingredients-
Ramp is essentially a wild onion, rather pungent and taste like a mixture of  onion and garlic. I employed all the leaves but only used a few of the bulbs in this pasta since their aroma was a little too strong for us.
Asparagus spears are described to have earthy undertones and they can be grilled, boiled or fried. Here, I’ve just stir fried them with some oil and salt.
Common to the Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany regions of Italy, the Strozzapreti is a hand-rolled pasta that is similar to cavatelli but it is slightly more elongated, and features a light twist. A little Italian store in the heart of St. Lawrence Market has a wall dedicated to pastas in all shapes and sizes. The owner always treats to a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar before fixing up our usual cup of joe. Bellissimo!

RECIPE FOR PASTA IN A BASIL PESTO AND SPRING VEGETABLES
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
250 gms Strozzapreti pasta or any other kind
2.5 litres water
2 tbsp of salt
For the Basil Walnut Pesto:-
2 cups loose basil
12 walnuts
1/3 cup oil 
Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste
Other vegetables:
2 bunches ramp- 25 leaves
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup heaped cherry tomatoes
10 stems of asparagus
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil

METHOD
-Place the water in a large vessel and bring to boil. Once it’s boiling, add the salt and pasta. Cook until al dente according to the directions on the carton. Then drain(Tip: keep about 1/3 cup of pasta water aside before draining) and pour cold water on the pasta to stop it from getting cooked any further.
-To make the pesto: In a blender/food processor, blend the fresh basil, walnuts, oil, salt and pepper until a coarse paste is achieved. Keep aside.
-Prepare the vegetables. Wash them all clean.
Cut off the bulbs from the ramp leaves. The bulbs can be chopped and used. (I used about 2-3 of them). Chop off the woody portion of the asparagus stems.
-Heat a large saucepan and add some oil. Once it is heated add the cleaned asparagus and sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until softened. Keep aside once cooked.
Do the same with the cherry tomatoes and keep aside.
-Heat a teaspoon of oil and add the chopped bulbs of the ramp, saute until they brown and then add the leaves, sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until they wilt an soften.
-To this, add the pesto, frozen peas and the drained pasta.Add the pasta water which had been kept aside if you feel the need to make a thinner sauce. Let the dish heat up for a few minutes.
-Serve hot with a the cherry tomatoes and asparagus on the side and perhaps a grating of parmesan.

Sfogliatelle Ricci from Italy

Breaking fast during our short Italian holiday way back in 2016 always involved a plate of indulgent company: a Cornetto; heavy with custard, marmalade and morning cheer, causing us to ignorantly shun the magic that is Sfogliatelle. But, curiosity and intrigue can only be disobeyed for so long. Last week, as daunted as I was, I succumbed to its complex beauty.
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A late sunshine deluged morning(and afternoon) was spent cajoling my pasta maker into rolling sheets of dough, the lengths of a sari. The resulting paper-thin sheets were then coiled,molded and filled to the brim with a creamy ricotta mixture . The oven then executed its sorcery; the sfogliatelle baked and acquired a beautiful, sunshine golden. The orange zest and cinnamon suffused the kitchen momentarily transporting us to a perfumed garden; the fresh pastries finally received a gentle sprinkle of icing sugar.
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I then stared in silence at the aftermath of my own doing. Flour ransacked our kitchen and adjoining portions of our living room , tattered pieces of dough were strewn around the table. Like a make-up job gone horribly wrong, my nose and cheeks were painted in sticky flour. But, before I got to cleaning, broom and cloth in hand, hair pulled up into a bun, we slunk into our sofa and savored fresh-off-the-oven sfogliatelle; its crunchy, beautifully pleated exterior revealing gloriously the efforts of the day followed by a burst of creamy ricotta suffused with orange and just a hint of cinnamon. The broom and cloth had to wait….we were submerged in fond memories from Italy, caught in the thrall of a warm, delicious pastry.
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For The One Sweet World Project, from Italy, I present, the Sfogliatelle Ricci.
Sfogliatella in Italian means a composition of leaves and is a symbol of Napoli, Italy. It is 400 years old and legend has it that a nun in the kitchen had some leftovers of semolina cooked in milk. she nourished it with some candied dried fruit, sugar and ricotta, filled a puff pastry and then baked it. This version was then transformed into the pastry we see today by a baker named Pintuaro in Naples.
I hope you like this one:)

RECIPE FOR (EGGFREE) SFOGLIATELLE RICCI

Recipe has been adapted from Nonnas Box
Equipment needed: A pasta machine
Makes around 10

INGREDIENTS
For the Pastry
500
 gr flour
1 tbsp salt
175 ml water more if needed
25 gr honey
For the Filling
450 ml whole milk
100 gr white sugar
1 pinch salt
150 gr semolina flour
500 gr ricotta
1 tsp egg replacer plus 2 tbsp water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch cinnamon
Zest from 1 orange
Others
150 gr unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Icing Sugar to sprinkle

METHOD

-Gently whisk the the flour and salt together, then add water and honey, and mix to create a stiff dough. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and supple. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-After 30 minutes, divide the dough into 4 pieces. Start with one piece, and knead it again if necessary to soften it after refrigeration. Roll it through a pasta machine, using the widest setting, then fold in half and roll again. Repeat this process until you create a smooth sheet by gradually decreasing the width on each roll. I had to use some flour after every roll so the dough doesn’t stick to the machine. It is preferable to be doing this on a long, lightly floured table so that the pasta sheet can be be laid down in a single layer while rolling it and when done. Roll until the sheet is 1mm thick.
-Do the same on each dough.
-When the sheets are all rolled and laid on the table/counter,  apply a thin layer of butter making sure that the sheet doesn’t tear off. It is important that the butter be at room temperature.Use a brush to gently spread it.Do this for all the 4 sheets.
-Roll up the first thin sheet to create a tight sausage shape.
-Next, wrap the next thin dough sheets around the original sausage shape pastry dough, layering up to create one large cylinder. Cover with a saran wrap and chill for 1 to 2 hours for the pastry to firm up.
-Now, to make the filling.
Place the milk, sugar, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add the semolina flour and stir with a whisk until it thickens and becomes smooth. After it has cooled down, transfer to the bowl of your stand mixer or a large bowl.. Then, add the remaining ingredients and whisk for about 4-7 minutes(stopping to stir and scrape) until it is smooth and thick.Set aside, preferably inside the fridge.
-Preheat oven to 375°F.
-Bring out the pastry roll and cut them into 1 cm-thick circles. Use your fingers, greased with butter, to make an impression on the center to create a cone shape.
-Get the filling and scoop a big spoonful into the cone and just gently pat the edges close. (No need to close it firmly). Repeat these for the rest, and line up all pastries on the tray.
-When you’re done putting filling on all the dough pieces, bake the pastries for about 30 minutes.
-When done, allow to cool for only a couple of minutes before sprinkling them with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately.

 

Mangia Mangia!…Submitting to Pizza Margherita

I’m spooling the tape back to childhood. Do indulge me while I unfold a tiny snippet from the past. Sukh Sagar, the famed eatery’s italic lightbox glimmered under the city’s night sky. Serving meals to patrons parked outside the restaurant while they reclined in the comfort of their cars was quite à la mode in 90’s Bangalore. The 5 of us(the parents, the 2 brothers and me), huddled in our car outside the restaurant while the food was brought and stationed on the bumper. The tray wobbled precariously as it hosted glasses of water and other snacks. For the next hour or so, the brothers and me devoured 4-inch discs of dough studded with bell peppers, onions and smothered with a tomato sauce and topped with visible strands of cheese. This was our first pizza and it has tethered itself unrelentingly to fond childhood memories much like the way mozzarella cements itself unyieldingly to a pizza base.
We’ve come a long way since then. Simplicity has transpired into a labyrinthine experience and I say this bearing no complaints. The thin-crust, the thick crust, the cheese-burst, the white sauce, the red sauce, the neopolitan, the Italian version, the Chicago version, there’s also the Indian version that I bake by splashing the base with a spicy Paneer Tikka Masala. Suffice to say, the options have no end.

Continue reading “Mangia Mangia!…Submitting to Pizza Margherita”

#TIRAMISU

“…food is not simply organic fuel to keep body and soul together, it is a perishable art that must be savoured at the peak of perfection.”
– E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly
“Change is inevitable”, they say. Well, I’ve never been the type who fancies coffee. I’ve always been more of a “tea girl” and I still am. Naturally, I wasn’t the least bit motivated to indulge in a dessert that owes part of it’s magic to coffee. Nevertheless, a couple of months back, at an authentic Italian restaurant, as I debated with myself whether to opt for a gelato with biscotti or a tiramisu, something came over me and prompted me to finally take the plunge and give this age ol’ dessert a chance. I haven’t looked back since. My palate ostensibly decided to go on an adventure and Tiramisu for some reason decided to placate itself into a personal favorite. As you will see me describing further below, what caught my attention in particular was the perfect balance of the sweet & the bitter. Continue reading “#TIRAMISU”

#Spaghetti with Pumpkin Sauce

The pumpkin mania continues…This pasta has the goodness of pumpkin, walnuts, basil & sundried tomatoes. The first time I tried pumpkin in a pasta was in a restaurant called Toscano in Bangalore where they make the most heavenly pumpkin ravioli with a silky sage butter sauce. It’s melt-in- the-mouth perfection! But, to be completely honest, the addition of walnuts to the sauce was a little odd for me although I did end up liking it.(Italian cuisine was synonymous with pizza for many, many years until we started to discover the myriad of pastas, cheese & breads.) Continue reading “#Spaghetti with Pumpkin Sauce”