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.

Chickpeas in a Coconut Curry

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
-Rabindranath Tagore
It was a cloud-masked spring morning. The colour in question, a myriad of greys.  My favourite kind of morning. My hands cuddled a warm cup of peach and ginger infusion as I gazed out the window. Soft rain drenched the streets of Toronto, its people huddled under umbrellas. Unable to peel my eyes away from a nonchalant scene, I hoped the sun would stay on hiatus for the day.
41350349125_1d1222533e_o
Normally, on days like these, I crave a hot chocolate and a couple of chocolate chip cookies on the side. But on this occasion, I found myself pining for a warm bowl of curry. Spicy, creamy and perhaps poured over some hot rice. Maybe a dash of ghee melting its way into the gravy. It was time to pause the bout of reverie and get working in the kitchen.
Chickpea Curry/Channa Masala is an old soul in the plethora of Indian Cuisine. It’s a classic, and has ubiquitous presence in India and outside. I remember the brothers and me delighting in this curry with hot pooris and a side of mango ShreekarNe(Mango pulp and milk) and imaginably, it was nothing short of a celebration.

42084348692_a5da4043b9_o
In today’s recipe, whilst retaining much love and respect to the classic and drawing inspiration from the original flavors, I also borrow the creamy richness of Coconut Milk. Coconut Milk, a luscious, velvety milk, is made by grinding coconut meat and water and is rich with the nutty, sweet flavors of coconut. It’s addition to the modest & much-loved chickpeas ensues an experience filled with comfort and indulgence and as predicted, just what that rainy afternoon demanded. As the imagined preview in that daydream, I poured it over warm rice with a spoonful of ghee. But, it pairs wonderfully with rotis/chapatis as well. Also, sans the ghee it works as a vegan dish too.  I hope this dish enamors you on rainy days and others!
42084349222_33254fdfd7_o (1)

RECIPE FOR CHICKPEAS AND COCONUT CURRY
Serves 2

INGREDIENTS
1 1/3 cup of canned Chickpeas
1 large onion – chopped into large chunks
2 tomatoes- chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 green chilli – split into 2
1 tsp Ginger- finely chopped
12 whole Cashewnuts
1/2 tsp Turmeric
2 tsp Coriander Powder(Dhaniya powder)
1 tsp Cumin Powder(Jeera powder)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder(or more if you like it spicy)

3 tbsp Oil
2 Dried Bay leaves
1 Star Anise
3 Cardamom Pods(Elaichi)
1 inch piece of Cinammon
1/2 cup canned Coconut Milk
1/2 cup water
Salt to Taste
1 tbsp dried mint or dried fenugreek leaves

METHOD
-In a kadai, add the oil and once it’s heated, add the green chilli and ginger. Saute until the ginger is lightly browned and add the chopped onions with a sprinkle of salt.
-Once the onions turn soft and transluscent, add the tomatoes, cashewnuts and season once again. Saute for a few minutes until the tomatoes are cooked nicely and their raw smell is gone.
-Add the spices: Turmeric, Coriander Powder and Cumin Powder, red chilli powder, stir-fry the mixture for about 2-3 minutes. The, put off the heat and remove from the pan into a blender. Let it cool completely. Once cooled, blend into a paste, adding just enough water only if necessary. Keep aside.
-In the same kadai, add a teaspoon of oil and let it heat. To this add the whole spices: Star Anise, Cinammon, Cardamom and Bay leaves, saute until the cinnamon pops.
-To this add the ground onion-tomato paste along with half a cup of water(add more if you prefer a thinner gravy), canned chickpeas, salt and let it simmer. Finally add the coconut milk, dried mint/ dried fenugreek leaves & stir it well and allow to simmer once again. Keep stirring once in a while to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Once it comes to a boil, put off the stove and garnish with coriander or other microgreens.
-Serve hot with rice/rotis , some ghee and a side of lemon & onions.

Edible Flower Cookies

I reminisce the summer of 2017. It was a rather sultry one, the roaring flood of sunshine almost inciting in me a particularly intense pining for winter & it’s entourage. The sun blazed fiercely, as if compensating for its absence in the coming months. Walking, an activity that normally takes precedence for the husband & me, was shunned without second thought. We hopped into Toronto’s streetcars in temptations of the slightest respite.
42046261651_b95bb349a6_o
One such morning, I stood amid parallel seats,one hand desperately clasping the overhead strap, gazing out the window as scenes hurried by like a movie in fast forward. One scene however, stood still; a signpost reading , ‘Toronto Flower Market’. The duration of the halt hardly amounted to anything but  it was ample enough for me to peer out the window and spot happy Torontonians, each one gently clutching a bouquet of blooms and behind them, a sea of flowers.  I vowed to return the next day.
28257335188_173e3750d4_o

And return we did  the next morning, spending a couple of hours strolling the bylanes of this little market, acquainting ourselves with unfamiliar flowers, chatting up with vendors and being stunned by the gamut of freshness. We carried wrapped bouquets of hydrangeas in a matte magenta, a gigantic bloom of Dahlia in ivory and wonder of wonders, mini pumpkins on a stick! Aside from this haul, we met a friendly and talented florist who introduced me to the Nasturtium, an edible flower in bright warm hues. She explained that they would blend brilliantly in salads. I  purchased them instantly and employed their vibrancy to decorate a salad and a simple Maple-Pecan cake. Thanks to the flower market and a kind florist, Allison, since then, I’ve always been on the lookout for edible flowers and Toronto’s farmers markets are kind enough to treat us to them especially when the weather turns warm. This time, instead of just plopping them on a cake, I’ve attempted to incorporate the magic of Nasturtium into cookies.


The cookies I’ve shared with you today are simplistic and highlight the presence of these beautiful edible blooms. Nasturtium literally means ‘nose twist’ and are known to have a peppery taste. The cookies are delicate, light, eggfree as always, savory and easy to put together. You can choose to add other herbs as well; I’ve added a sprinkle of thyme and lavender.
Let’s get to the recipe.
28258585288_56bc77cd04_o

RECIPE FOR EDIBLE FLOWER COOKIES(EGGFREE)
Makes 20 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/4 th cup unsalted butter(softened at room temperature)

1.5 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt( extra tablespoon only if necessary)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour/sifted whole wheat flour
A large handful of organic Nasturtium flower petals or more(feel free to experiment with other organic flower petals as well)
A sprinkle of Thyme and Lavender

Method
– In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar using a hand whisk.

– Then add the flour, salt, thyme leaves, lavender & yogurt. Very gently bring all the ingredients together into a dough.(If the dough is dry add just a little more yogurt)
– Transfer the dough into a large sheet of plastic wrap and cover. Refrigerate for an hour.
– In the meantime, preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
– Remove the chilled dough from the plastic wrap and roll using a rolling pin to a thickness of a little more than 1/4th inch. Then place the flower petals on top and press very gently. Roll once again(gently) to a thickness of 1/4th inch. (Tip- I place plastic wrap on the dough and then roll to avoid sticking)
-Using a 2 inch cookie cutter, cut and place the individual cookies on a parchment.

-Repeat the process until all the cookie dough is used.
– Bake for around 18-22 minutes and cool completely.(If much time is spent rolling and cutting cookies, and the dough has completely softened, place the cut and arranged cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before baking)

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.

 

Peach & Chai Spice Galette and a spring in my step

She’s late but she is finally here. After months of drawing comfort from hefty parkas, hyggeligt cafes and unrestrained mugs of hot chocolate, Mother Nature graces us with her warm caress. The harbingers of spring: pansies, tulips and the ever so coveted sakura flowers are erupting and prowling the city and we, mere witnesses can’t help but immerse in their thrall. The kitchen witnesses a vibrant metamorphosis as well; the chocolate spreads and cocoa powders have been brushed aside to the far corners since fresh bounties are demanding more room than usual. As I pledge my reverence to nature’s sweet manifests, there’s an undeniable spring in my step. Hence, I celebrate & present to you, a warm-hued, Peach & Chai Spice Galette. This is an ode to the effulgence & magic of sunshine, a gratitude to the changing seasons.
41116799845_c3d62c3642_o
if you’re an old friend of this blog, you’re familiar with my obsession with chai spices. A while back, they were pounded and made to transform cupcakes; my Masala Chai cupcakes were conjured as a tribute to the humble Masala Chai which in my opinion, may very well be the lifeline of many Indian homes. This time however, I borrow the gentle, summery flavour of Peaches and pair them with a myriad of spices: Cardamom, Ginger, Fennel Seeds, Cinnamon and Tulsi Leaves. The result is quite akin to an affectionate hug, one that we’ve waited long to experience.
41244803744_2b64110173_o

The galette like any other adorns a rustic charm, highlighting the beauty of these plump fruits. An Almond Pate Brisee is slathered with Peach Jam and sprinkled with chai spices. Sliced peaches then take their positions and they’re quickly painted with a sweet glaze before they resume a beautiful dance in the oven. This simple dessert makes for a fancy addition to an already bonhomie summer afternoon especially when there’s a bottomless tub of homemade icecream involved.
41064914155_a0a01d76b8_o (1)
RECIPE FOR PEACH AND CHAI SPICE GALETTE
*The recipe is actually a doubled recipe and makes a very large galette. It can be reduced in half to make a smaller one. 
-Additional Equipment needed: Weighing scale
-See notes
INGREDIENTS
For the Almond Pâté brisée
90 gms almonds
220 grams of Pastry flour
30 grams granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
150  gms cold, unsalted butter chopped into cubes(taken out of the refrigerator just before use)
3-4 tbsp ice cold water

Other Ingredients –
8-9 fresh peaches
1/2  cup peach jam/spread + extra for glaze
A handful of sliced almonds
2 tbsp of maple syrup
1 tbsp of milk
Chai Spice: I combined approximately-
6 cardamoms, powdered
1 tsp of fennel seeds, powdered
1 tsp of  cinammon,
half a tsp of ginger powder
1 tsp of tulsi leaves powder(optional)

METHOD
-To make the almond pastry, pulse together almonds, pastry flour, salt, sugar until the nuts are ground fine. Add the cold, cubed butter and pulse for very short intervals 1 or 2 times until you achieve a coarse crumb and the butter has reduced to the size of peas. Then add ice cold water in parts to combine very gently. Be mindful of the amount of water added because it can be too much sometimes. Always add tablespoon by tablespoon. Do not over mix or knead. Once it comes together, place in a plastic wrap & refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-Meanwhile, prepare the peaches. Half them and discard the pit. Slice the halves neatly and keep aside.
-To make the chai spice, mix all the powders together and keep aside.
-Preheat the oven to 400F.
-Once the pastry dough has chilled, remove from the plastic wrap. Once it is pliable, roll out the dough between 2 parchments until the thickness of the rolled pastry is 1/4th of an inch. ( I prefer to roll it between parchments since it prevents sticking and ensures that no extra flour is used.) Once rolled, remove the parchment on the top. Place the rolled pastry with the parchment below on a large cookie sheet.
-Spread the jam on the rolled pastry taking care that about 1-1.5 inch of the border is untouched. Sprinkle the chai spice and spread it along the surface of the jam.
-Place the peaches, skin side up and gently fold over the crust edges gently toward the centre. It can overlap as well, the more rustic the better:)
-In a small bowl, mix a teaspoon of the jam with 1 tbsp of maple syrup. Use a pastry brush to glaze the peaches.
-In another small bow, combine 1 tbsp of maple syrup with a tbsp of milk. Using a pastry brush, brush the borders of the crust with the mixture. Scatter the sliced almonds on the crust and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
-Serve warm and with icecream if you prefer.

Notes
*Feel free to play around with the quantities of spices in the chai spice. Mine are approximate as well. A little increase or decrease in the quantity will not affect the deliciousness of the galette. Same for the jam.

*Approximately 10 minutes before removal from the oven, I like to brush the crust once again with the maple syrup-milk mixture.

Vegan Pavlova with Praline Cream from New Zealand

Because my sweet tooth knows no bounds, because sugar in all its versatile glory never fails to lure me, because I’m forever on a quest to bake the day away, sometime last year, I indulged in a little project….. The One Sweet World Project. The desire was to usher sweetness that suffuses every corner of this beautiful world. The goal was to learn, immerse and finally, devour. Owing to distractions(delicious ones, I’ll admit), the plan endured a halt. However, perhaps 2018 will see the light of day.

Continue reading “Vegan Pavlova with Praline Cream from New Zealand”

Summer Dreams- Rose Water and Champagne Cake with Blood Orange Curd

Suddenly, I’m longing for the fragrance of floral notes, pining for those bewitching perfumes pervading bounteous gardens. Hankerings for hot chocolate and cinnamon laced apple tarts are long gone replaced entirely by a reverie of Spring and all the floral joy it so mercifully brings with it. They implore me to suffuse my desserts with a hint of that flower-laden aroma. Perhaps it is an attempt to cheat myself, into believing that the season of wind and frost has made its journey south, leaving us, Northerners, with warm, languid breezes, the murmers of lush trees and sweet scented hugs. The musing doesn’t end there. The truth is, I also yearn for a luminous summer afternoon, drenched under a burgeon of sunshine, canopies of shade drifting in and out, biting into succulent segments of oranges, a glass of Pinot Grigio in hand, the air chiming with carefree laughter.

Continue reading “Summer Dreams- Rose Water and Champagne Cake with Blood Orange Curd”