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.
1 (2)
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.
2018_05_14


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.
1 (4)
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.
1 (1)
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.
27028109117_f13c9a21e7_o
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.
41896459451_c69654d7de_o
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.
27028109277_73b7ff9c9d_o

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.

 

Diaries from an Italian Summer….Farewell Roma

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…..

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions and the city of yearning.”
– Giotto Di Bondone  (Italian Painter)
August 13th, 2016
We weren’t about to repeat blunders and discard time amid staggering tourist lines. I don my horse blinkers in the hope to keep away from the usual albeit veritable distractions. Minutes from our Air Bnb, we plop ourselves in a taxi, groggily requesting to drop us off at St. Peter’s Cathedral. It is 6 am. The sun has just availed himself from his sanctuary after a long night’s endure and the sprawling aurora sky is reverberating with a soft, orange hue. The cathedral & Michelangelo’s soaring dome are painted in warm tones, almost fiery. In respect to the Pantheon, the Florentine sculptor made his dome 5 feet shorter across saying, “I could build one bigger but not one more beautiful than the Pantheon.”
In the vast expanse of  the Piazza San Pietro, are standing two souls. Hopeful, grateful. One, infinitely elated, clicking buttons at the rate of 100/minute, in the quest to make the best of the Golden hour. The other, equally overwhelmed and in the hope to imbibe this ephemeral experience to perpetuity.
_1
The piazza is desolate for the moment, save for security guards who are indulged in cigarette drags. Nuns scurry past us as they scrupulously gauge my attire. The morning din seems like a far cry for now but the city is slowly gearing up.
The piazza  facing the cathedral illudes as boundless, flanked by fountains on either side of a soaring central Egyptian Obelisk. Encircling the square are two colonnades extending from either side of the facade. Hundreds of columns, sparsely separated, they masquerade as colossal but in reality they are simply affectionate embracing arms. We stand in line to witness the grandeur of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Apparently copious amounts of research coupled with my imaginative skills failed to prepare me for the splendor we were about to encounter.
Our early rise proved successful for the church is uncrowded giving the husband a chance to capture it’s infinite beauty. I wordlessly walk along the nave, amid low murmurs and a soft haze of sunlight travelling through the windows, basking in the unfazed calm. A silence that is not, in the least bit, unnerving.
Magnanimity aside, it is the masterpieces by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Lorenzo Bernini and others that we’re here to etch our memories with.  Although they’re but, a microscopic glimpse of art tethered to the past, it certainly is thoroughly pleasing to the soul.
Blog.jpg
Top Right: Bernini’s Baldacchino, Lower Right: Michelangelo’s Pieta

Fortunately, there’s more because the next stop happens to be Musei Vaticani.

The streets leading up to the Vatican Museum are speck less and well interspersed with souvenir shops and cafes. We promptly grab a Chocolate Cornetto and string along with other tourists, in the hope to elude despicably long lines. Pontifical Swiss Guards stand at intervals and if not for Dan Brown’s detailed description in his book, Angels and Demons, I might have stopped to take a second look. Out of respect, we don’t take pictures. They are after all the de facto military of the Vatican City and not merely posing as costumed clowns. The contemporary attire draws inspiration from Rafael’s frescoes : Stripes of ultramarine blue, red & a bright ochre, white collar & cuffs, complete with a black beret. They stand out offering an insignia of the Renaissance period.
5393973338_0fb0baab04_b.jpg
Image Courtesy: Google

The Vatican museum is indubitably a treasure house of art, that reveal a clandestine past, and shines despite the rummage and ravage it has endured. Maybe I should mention the gilded ,enchanting ceilings bearing the most delicate of patterns, or the walls of a long hall that carry, 40 geographical maps of Italy from north to south or the enormous rooms that are perfectly swathed in the young artist, Raphael’s frescoes. I wonder if I should talk about Giuseppe’s staircase that curves in a double helix, or the countless sculptures, both mortal & biblical that are only shattered on the outside or Michelangelo’s thought provoking colossal masterpiece, The Last Judgement, draping the walls of the Sistine Chapel. It’s easy to get lost in the past, almost painful when jolted back to reality.
blog_2img_7796_7_8_tonemappedimg_7706

Come evening, we once again stroll along the byzantine Roman pathways towards Via Dei Condotti. After a brush with history, we prepare to indulge in a little modern fashion. Although I think it’s not fair to label it “modern” when just a few yards ahead, lie the Spanish Steps: 135 steps built between the years 1723-1725. The husband is immersed in photographing the architecture while I window shop the streets that nestle quintessential  luxury names…Gucci, Prada, Cartier, Jimmy Choo, the works. However, a little corner on the street is home to a street vendor, gently roasting chestnuts on an open fire. The aroma is inviting and moments later, we’re staring at a paper bag with mounds of chestnuts whilst contemplating if we should give in to our curiosities. We do, we love it and pat ourselves on the back!

Blog_4.jpg
Piazza Di Spagna

IMG_6596_7_8_tonemapped.jpg
The Spanish Steps

Blog_1.jpg
Before we bid farewell, we sit on stone benches at the Piazza Di Spagna, binge on Pistachio Cannolis and plan the following morning’s journey. It is a bittersweet moment. Rome gave us glorious cathedrals and gorgeous sunsets. We were introduced to sweet Cornettos and flavour bound pastas. Rome shared with us secrets of it’s poignant history and helped us attempt Italian words. For that & more, Grazie! It’s never enough, the heart is hardly content but Florence awaits….Farewell, Roma.

I have to take a little break to share with you all the magic of the holidays in my next post. In the meanwhile, do stop by my Instagram account to see some of the holiday goodies I baked this year! Happy Holidays:)

Diaries from an Italian Summer – The Roman Ruins

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…..

August 12th, 2016
I’m miserable & counting infinite sheep owing to the curse of the dreaded jet lag and find myself profusely thanking Maurizio for equipping the room with an espresso maker. At 5am,  a quick youtube tutorial later, I gulp the bitter concoction in two gulps and bide my time, experiencing jitter & thrill as the espresso accomplishes it’s tasks. Outside, the night time lull is gently being replaced by the whirr of motor vehicles and a boundless bright sun awakening a sleepy sky.
We head out to the Illy Cafe, minutes from our apartment, walking past a glorious Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The air is quiet, still as it can be, waiting to be drenched in sunshine, before the cacophony of the day begins. Locals in the cafe are sipping coffee whilst engaging in laidback conversations with the barista.  The barista is a skilled multi tasker,serving coffee on the dot, yet cheerfully indulging in a camaraderie with his customers. The Italians are wonderfully expressive and although the language is foreign to me, I can’t help but pause and smile because instantly, I’m overcome by a surge of memories from home. Locals casually chatting with chai walas (tea vendors) & coffee vendors in Darshinis (South Indian fast food chains) is a scene almost every Bangalorean is accustomed to on weekend mornings. Research had made me aware of the very subtle similarities in culture and lifestyle…..
Breakfast introduces us to the Cornetto. The French croissant’s Italian cousin. Sweet, flaky, perfectly layered, dusted in icing sugar & profusely bursting with gooey, marmalade as orange as the sunshine. I realise my predilection for Italian cuisine will only intensify. Warm, foamy cappuccinos wait patiently to be sipped as we watch the Roman world go by. Not for long though…the Colosseum awaits…


We meander along the Roman pathways despite being forewarned of the lengthy ticket lines. Although, in my view of things, the walk is a treasured experience by itself. A water color artist displays his creative ware and his papers flaunt the many tourist spots scattered across Rome. I’m partial to local artists and we splurge on a masterpiece of the Piazza Navona.
Tardily, we  arrive at the destination (The Colosseum) and spend a few quiet moments marveling at the magnanimity of the colossal architecture but spirits are crushed as we spot the long lines braving under the harsh summer sun. We succumb to expensive tour guides.
img_6784
The Colosseum is bathed in a sandy grey, it’s facade punctuated with hundreds of windows that are struggling to enclose countless secrets, that are privy to the suffering of many pained souls. Constructed by the emperors from the Flavian Dynasty in 70AD, it is in fact an amphitheater (originally called, Flavian Amphitheater) where roughtly 65000 spectators watched as gladiators, prisoners and beasts were enforced to fight for the sole cause of entertainment. The guide pointed to dungeons indoors that locked away wild animals and humans together in a miniscule space. The swell of silence is disquieting and remains unbeaten by the gaggle of tourists and with good reason. In 217AD , a major fire destroyed major parts of the Colosseum followed by numerous earthquakes. The architecture however still stands tall as one of the icons of Rome, surrendering to constant restoration and lending tourists a tiny glimpse of a poignant Roman history many centuries later…


“While the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, the world shall fall.”
—AD 7th century Anglo-Saxon pilgrims’ proverb, quoted by the Venerable Bede
img_6894_5_6_tonemappedimg_6804

We then snake along pathways bordered by bushy trees, led by a friendly guide to visit the Ancient Downtown Rome: The Roman Forum and the Palantine Hill.
From atop, I attempt to imagine the bustle of activity that engulfed the area 2000 years ago. What used to be studded with a plethora of temples, Roman courts, Government offices,  marketplaces & homes is now a picture with hints of a laborious excavation.  Ruins lie rummaged and ravaged, eaten by the severity of elements. Fluted columns stand alone and worn flagstones drape the earth providing significant clues to a lost past. A history lesson I find myself deeply immersed in….
img_6996_7_8_tonemapped

Next, we visit the Vatican and parts of Roma contrasting these historic ruins…Ciao

(Do read my previous diary entries When in Rome &
Touchdown, Rome )