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.

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”

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.

Continue reading “Let there be Dal: Gujarati Dal with Green Pea and Coconut Dumplings”

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.

Continue reading “A slip of sunshine: Blood Orange Galette”

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.

Continue reading “Kensington Market, Toronto”

Khara Biscuits & My Love-Hate Relationship with Sugar

Rosy as it may seem, my relationship with sugar like any other is flawed. Sweet yet oddly imperfect.
I hail from a family that is ravenous for sugar and the clan has rightly  realized that its absence will only add to the existing pandemonium. Hence, we give in to its captivity. Be it the amber hued jaggery syrup that is made specially for dosas to diligently mop up or those surreptitious, midnight thefts of of chocolate or those weekend dessert projects bustling in the kitchen, such as Holige( Sweet Rotis)  and the likes or that generous chunk of jaggery stirred into every single savory dish, we love “the sweet life” and life without it is imagined to be listless, dark and sullen. I finally have a reason for my foray into the cozy, hygge-ligt world of baking. It is that “sweet”gene rampant in my cells that yells and throws unbearable tantrums until I give in.

Continue reading “Khara Biscuits & My Love-Hate Relationship with Sugar”