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.

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.

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Let there be Dal: Gujarati Dal with Green Pea and Coconut Dumplings

Rewinding to languid Bangalore afternoons, when I was younger in a younger city. The sun washing the sand splashed grounds of college. Amid the frenzied flutter that the final years of college demanded, the one constant was my stainless steel lunch dabba. Plain toor dal, rice, salt, jaggery  and unmeasured quantities of ghee tied together into an epitome of comfort. Tovve anna in Kannada or Dal rice in English. On rare occasions, it would be spiked with raw chilles, coriander and perhaps a splatter of mustard and hing tadka. Those few minutes of lunch break dwindled before I knew it, mostly plagued by a string of worrisome thoughts about the remaining day. But devouring this meal was my present moment, my moment of unfettered, happy calm. I’m as drawn to the simplicity of this dish as I am to the  uncomplicated memories that follow in its trail. Long story short, I love tovve-anna and have never shied away from celebrating Dal and its many avatars.

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A slip of sunshine: Blood Orange Galette

“Dear Mother Nature,
I’m entirely seduced by this shimmering blanket swathing the earth. Barren trees revealing gnarled branches, tangled and peppered with snow, they soar unbounded into grey clouds. Frozen icicles precariously cemented to ledges make for enough drama on mundane days and snow dusted church rooftops make for visions that for years, I’ve only vicariously lived through books. Playful mists of breath, tiny impressions of pigeon feet on unblemished snow, ripples of water vanishing into rock …..may the enthusiasm never temper, may the joy never recede,may the beauty never fade.
However, there are times when I find myself pining for a slip of sunshine, just a sliver. Wishful thinking, I know. Fortunately, that coerces me to navigate into other avenues. Therefore, at the moment, I will resort to the warm rhapsody of the blood orange. Blood Oranges are peeled are laid on a a sourdough galette base, slathered with blood orange marmalade,  baked warm and devoured fresh. This is our slip of sweet sunshine this cold, winter morning. Our golden gild.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding from the United Kingdom

My affiliation to desserts hardly comes as a surprise. Early on, it may have to do with possessing a sweet tooth or perhaps being amid sugar devotees. However, with my culinary learnings, I’ve learnt also, that the desire to bake or create desserts bears no relation with my love for consuming sugar. Meaning, even on days when I’m sugar-starving(by choice), I find myself hankering for the rumbling sound of my stand mixer as it punches and mangles a robust babka dough, the perfume emanating from a slit vanilla bean pod and the disarrayed crackle top of an 8×8″ brownie. After a 10 day vacation traipsing around Croatia this summer, our home bound flight back seemed devoid of melancholy only because my restless mind conspired to bake a crostata with figs and sweet port-simmered onions. Although, I did christen it with a quirkier name, “It’s been 10 days since I’ve baked. I miss the oven” crostata. Jet lag was forced to take a back seat.

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Kensington Market, Toronto

When asked about my favorite place in Toronto, I answered with a straight face & without a second thought , “Kensington Market!”. The thought that immediately followed this proclamation, was hardly nonchalant in character. It was one of surprise laced by curiosity. The answer, I had assumed, would be a tad different; Perhaps the speckless boardwalk paralleling the serene waters of Lake Ontario, maybe the hygge-ligt coffee shop that offers safe haven in the boisterous winter months, even possibly the grey-stoned castle, Casa Loma. Despite these choices,  I had chosen one of the most crowded, loudest markets on the fringes of Spadina Avenue as my favorite spot in the city.
Why? I write this as an answer to you and and to myself.

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Diaries from an Italian Summer – Surrendering to the Florentine Sunset

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

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