Feb 28, 2012

Squash Pasta with Jalapeno--comfort with a zing


When it comes to comfort, me thinks Pasta and Chianti.

But me also thinks squash. Picture this:

It is a random, cold rainy day.  I say random, because Spring is not about cold rains. At least, there seems to be something not quite right about cold rain on a spring evening. Anyways, now that such an evening is here and you did not carry your umbrella. Your socks are irritatingly wet, the jeans is wet too. Cold rain has pierced your sneakers. Or stockings. Or is just making your toes wet and numb. You head home and the heart and soul screams for some comfort. 

Of hot shower. Of dry socks.Of warm pajamas. Of a great glass of Chianti. Or a cheap one. 

On such a day as yesterday that fell a lot of cold rain in sunny San Diego, all I did after I returned home was turn on the oven and put on some pasta water on the stove. As the two got going, I chopped up some squash. 

If you think squash is not your go to condiment (yes a condiment almost as you will see in the recipe) for Pasta, this take on squash pasta will make you rethink. I give you with utmost delight today a bit of twist on your winter staple comfort food.

Squash Pasta with Jalapeno

Ingredients:
A medium sized squash. I like butternut. But you can use any. Really. Just peel and coarsely cube.
2-3 large jalapenos. Slit lengthwise. Seed removed or not. Choice is yours
4-5 large garlic cloves. Slivered.
1/2 lb of pasta. I like Fettuccine or Linguine. I suppose any long pasta would do. The key is to lower the ratio of pasta: squash. You want ample squash and not ample pasta. Please NO NOODLES here (trust me, I have seen pasta recipes being used for noodles)
A handful of toasted nuts (toast lightly at 350 for 10 min or just on a dry skillet on low heat for no more than 3-4 min). Chop up if you like. I like walnut here
A bit of Gouda or parmigiano. Grated. For garnish and hence optional. I recommend strongly.
A bit of parsley for garnish.
Sat and pepper
3 tbsf olive oil (two if which will for cooking your squash).

Keep it simple and homey
You can do a few things with the cubed squash
(a) Drizzle with 2 tbsf olive oil, a bit of chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Le stand, while the oven heats up. Roast the squash at 410-415 F for 45 min.
                     Or
(b) Shallow fry them in oil (2 tbsf) and cover to cook through. You may need to add some water to prevent drying/burning/sticking. About 20 min.
                   Or
(c) Boil them, drain them and mix with 2 tbsf olive oil. Best way to start is by filling up a pot with cold water, putting in the squash and heat them together ~ 10 min.

Once squash is done, start the pasta water. Remember ample water and bring to boil. Add salt, liberally. Bring the water back to boil. Only now, drop the pasta in. Slowly and lovingly stir it. Let Pasta cook for 8-10 min till almost done but not quite. There should still be a bite to it, when you drain the pasta. Also, remember to save a cup of pasta water before you drain the pasta. You may need it, if the pasta looks dry when mixing with the rest of the ingredients.
While the pasta cooks,  add oil and slivered garlic and jalapeno on oil at low heat. Treated gently like this, garlic become soft and sweet and you can use twice as much without the dish getting too heavy in garlic. Awesome thing. Once garlic become light brown add the roasted squash and gently break those cubes while you are mixing. No need to mash it completely, just a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Drain pasta and add the pasta to the skillet with the garlic-jalapeno flavored mushed squash. Toss well. You may need to add the pasta water if things look dry.  Check seasoning. 
Plate up. Garnish with some grated cheese, nuts and parsley.




Now, if that is not comfort on a rainy day. I don't know what is :)

Happy eating and healthy living!

Feb 24, 2012

Springing a suprise, with a sumer vegetable stew from southern Italy


It is going to be an early Spring.

Now, I know that Phil, the groundhog, saw his shadow this February. Meaning, there is going to be a longish winter. But, I don't care what the wise squirrel says. The nip and smell in the air tells me that lady Spring is tiptoeing around the corner. I have a strange feeling that the lady is planning on springing a surprise on us this year. By the way, I also hear there is talk among the weather gods (and goddesses) that for the next few years, they plan on many such surprises. I am afraid, Phil and his technique would need revision :)

Anyways..whether Phil would need to revise his technique or not, there is always a good reason to believe that Spring is around the corner. And when the lady does appear, what better to serve her,  than a aromatic stew of vegetables that bode of summer. Yes, summer :)

You see, I love all seasons. Winter in moderation too. Actually, winter in tropical countries and spring in cold countries are the same. Coming back to seasons and my fondness for them all. 

Fall is rustic. Root vegetables, Cinnamon, apples and cider. Very homey. Fall is all about sharing the rustic flavors together before the harsh winter sets in.

Winter is cozy. Candles, cakes, cookies and a ton of baking. Family time and ohh..food time!

Spring is fragrant and breezy. Hopeful things that the cold days are almost over and time for sunshine galore. 

Summer is bright. Eternally all things beautiful. It should stay forever.

There is another season in India. Monsoon is very fresh-- right after the scorching summer, it brings relief. Tons of local fish, mushroom and greenery. Very restorative.

But all good things start with Spring!

So to welcome spring and all things green and colorful, I made this stew the other night. It is a legit recipe as well. A Calabrian--southern Italian--one. Its called Ciambotta--really a summer vegetable stew. Calabrians really know their eggplants, bell peppers and tomatoes. I made this stew  from a recipe in the book 'My Calabria'. I highly encourage you to get a copy if you are interested in southern Italian cuisine. Exquisite :) This book may make you fall for southern Italy. The region is irresistible to begin with :)
As I said, its still spring. And yet the stew is all things summer. The herbs are still dry. But soon they will be fresh. The veggies have the wonderful sense of flavor that summer will enhance. In my opinion, the stew is also a spring stew. It promises flavors that will soon hit the stands and become even more delectable, in the forthcoming summery goodness.

So friends, here is a recipe of a wonderful summer vegetable stew to herald the lady who may very well spring a surprise on us, sooner than we anticipate :)

Ciambotta-- a summer vegetable stew :)
(From My Calabria)

Ingredients:

1 lb of eggplants. You will really like Italian or Chinese or Indian eggplants. But no worries, if you get the regular ones.
1 lb of Zucchini
3 large bell peppers
1 large onion. Sliced.
1 large Yam or potato. Yams are nicer I think. But Potatoes maybe closer to the real deal.
2-3 cloves of garlic minced
2 lbs of good tomatoes.
Herb of your choice. Basil, Oregano, Thyme, marjoram are all good. I liked Thyme. The recipe called for Basil (1 tbsf, if using dried. I do)
Salt and pepper (freshly ground is good)
1.5 cups of warm water or vegetable stock. Water is just as good.
3-4 tbsf olive oil. Good quality please. You may also use vegetable oil. But I do urge you to think of good quality extra virgin olive oil. It makes a lot of difference.

Remember, its not even Spring, so you may be fine with less than the gorgeous summer veggies! Use any good soft veggies and no worries if you don't find exactly the ones listed. Its a stew!!

Okay, here we go. 
Just chop all veggies into coarse (1' thick portions). Batch fry each kind of veggies separately  in a tbsf oil each and set aside. Or easier it is to roast them (each kind in a different baking tray and drizzled with olive oil) at 425F. The potatoes (or yams) would need 30 min. The rest may need no more than 20-25 min. Once you are done with shallow frying or roasting the veggies, time to move on. In a deep pot (you will need to hold all the veggies) heat 1 tbsf olive oil. Mild heat. Add the garlic and onion and soften (don't brown) to make it soft and sweet. Add the tomatoes and herb of choice. Cook for about 2-3 min. Add the veggies carefully and mix together. Add a cup of water, salt and black pepper (fresh is good), lower heat and stew for..oh...maybe 30-40 min on low heat. Let stand for 30 min before serving. Critical!

Serve it by itself in a bowl or with some crusty bread. Delish!! 




Happy eating and healthy living!

Feb 17, 2012

A chocolate swirl pound cake--an exercise in decadance following some real hard work :)



This decadent and gorgeous pound cake is arguably a difficult one to make if in fact you do not have a fancy kitchen replete with electric do it all batter mixer (you know those with the giant electric whisks etc) and all good things technology brings to kitchen.

But... you can pull this one off with (a) a food processor or (b) a combination of a small handheld whisk (electric is useful) and spatula.

Whatever you do, if you lack the most modern kitchen (which is most of us, I guess), you got to have a temperament (strength helps as well) to tough it out, when the dough gets tough on ya'. For the batter (more like a dough really) does get really tough. And yes, it does take some will power and intention, if I may add, to wrestle with flour and a dry paste of butter and sugar.

This recipe was inspired by the incredibly good looking pound cake recipe by the equally good looking Giada De Laurentiis.  But a few substitution, and the cake looks and tastes even better. 

1) I substituted the caramel + cream with chocolate (half a slab of bitter chocolate and 3-4 tbsf of hot chocolate + 1/2 cup of milk). The choc powder balances out the bitterness quite a bit, but keep it bitter (i.e. omit the hot chocolate) if you like it that way. By all means :)

2) If you don't like peanut butter, go for almond butter or chestnut puree. Should go remarkably with the bitter chocolate!

3) I changed to rubber spatula (you can use wood), after I creamed the butter and sugar. The handheld creamer just was not working for me. 

4) I avoided the parchment paper. I tend to serve from the pan, as you can see from the picture! 

5) I used regular vegetable oil to liberally coat the loaf pan. I don't use vegetable spray at all!


As I said, the recipe is gorgeous as such. But phenomenal with the substitutions, especially the chocolate (not with the spatula unfortunately).  I recommend this, even if there is a task involved.  The end results well reward the work. And you get to walk down the path of the gloriness if you serve this for dessert or for that matter any day of the week or year :)

Happy eating..and a bit less healthy eating on 'those days'

Feb 13, 2012

Malabar Aubergine


Aubergines/Brinjals or more commonly eggplant is an interesting vegetable. By the way, I really do like the name eggplant; kind of suggestive of a neverland like place where eggs grow on trees :). Anyway, it seems to me that different cuisines react to eggplants, differently. Some cuisines have tons of ideas on how to use eggplants; think Turkish and Calabrian (southern Italian) cuisines where there is an amazing array of recipes featuring aubergine that makes you fall in love with the vegetable all over again. Whereas, in certain other cuisines there is none at all. For example, French. It is like the French just did not like the egg shaped veggies :) What a baffling thing!

I am a kidding of course! What a cuisine really is its geography and history. Believe it or not, geography is more like genetics. You know how geography defines climate and sets up the road map for regional cuisine. History, on the other hand, plays the role of evolution; events that shape how that cuisine  evolves over time.  A pretty neat thought, if you think about it that is and that too ...very hard :)

Indian food of course has regional variations, in this case in terms of acceptance of eggplants--its way to big to have a single geography or history-- that either love the 'Brinjal' or they don't! For example, Bengal (the place from where I come), Brinjals are either fried or mashed. I did not think of this, till a very good Bengali fellow cook (also a friend from childhood) pointed this out to me! Her name is Shreya and some day maybe I will ask her to write a post. She is one heck of a cook. Anyways, coming back to the topic...just like Bengal has very little love for Brinjals, the southern part of India has so much of its cuisine dedicated to these lovely and versatile veggies.

I particularly like the combination of coconut, yogurt and garlic. With a bit of cilantro. Ohh..its beach and lagoons and backwaters forever. Summer never leaves town when you got some coconut and garlic on hand.

Anyways..here is a recipe that I think I came up with. But it has such heavy tones of southern coastal Indian (called the 'Malabar' region) cuisine to it, that I am hesitant to ascribe it completely to a figment of my imagination. And although the recipe calls for Indian eggplants; wait the recipe does not call for anything since this is my recipe. One good thing about a self created recipe is that you get to make the calls like saying 'recipe calls for'-- :) :). Anyways, Indian eggplants are tiny--almost round, mini eggplants that cook in a short time. Almost always found in Indian groceries and never in regular ones. So you can very easily substitute with small Italian eggplants. The smaller the better. You really want to use whole eggplants here.

So here it is. For want of anything better to call it, I will just say

Malabar Aubergine 
That name pays tribute to the homeland of good eggplant food and acknowledges the beauty of the Indian coast that is so sublime and delightful.

Ingredients:

10 Indian eggplant or about 5-6 Italian (small) eggplants. You want to slice each--two cuts almost all the way through the entire length of the eggplant ..just not totally. You want it to be held at the top by the stalk. yes, save the stalk. Dry the eggplants in paper towels. This will prevent some spattering when you shallow fry later on.
1 cup pf yogurt thinned with half 1/3 cup of water
1/2-3/4 cup of dried unsweetened coconut flakes. You can make fresh ones if you like.
1 green chile or 2 jalapeno. Use your judgement for heat tolerance.
1 medium onion. Thinly sliced.
4-5 big cloves of garlic. Grated
1 tbsf grated ginger
1 tsp of whole cumin
1 tsp of whole mustard.
3-4 tbsf olive oil. You can use coconut oil (I have seen in Trader's Joe). Or even regular veg oil. Does not matter.
Salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish. A slice or two of lemon, if you so please.

In a skillet, heat oil and shallow fry the eggplants. 3-4 min on first side and then 2 per remaining sides. Careful, it spatters. So best to use a spatter guard. Or just plane stand back :) And make the yogurt mixture.  In food processor mix the thinned yogurt, coconut and jalapeno.
Once the eggplants are done, drain on paper towels and set aside. Add the mustard and whole cumin. Let pop. Add the onions. Brown well. The aroma should be intoxicating :) add the garlic and ginger. Sautee. Add the yogurt mixture and cook till things come to a boil.  Lower heat and carefully add the eggplants back into the sauce. Cook through. Turn the eggplants. Or aubergines. Or brinjals. Season with salt and pepper. You know, if you see things sticking, add some warm water. This will take a max of 15-min. But be patient. Let the eggplant integrate with the sauce. Its remarkable when that happens. 

Serve with some sticky jasmine rice, lemon flavored rice or plain rice. Garnish with cilantro and some lemon (if you wish). Let this be a reason to visit Malabar and never return :)


Happy eating and healthy living!


Feb 12, 2012

With Cranberry-Guava I spread the goodness of my childhood summers in India



Time for short sunday breakfast!

Thank you Dorie, for a wonderful idea. But also Thanks to my grandmother who, by the way, makes such wonderful jams, relishes and all things sweet. 

Summers in India are long and hot. So hot that the soil parches up and few fruits or veggies survive. Summer in India is not a fun time. Nor a flavorful time. But there are exceptions to rules. I still recall, with lots of fun, my school years when  summer vacation was a time of well-natured 'stealing' for me, my sister and all the kids in the neighborhood. 
Guavas, pineapples and watermelons are some of the few fruits that are at their best and ripest in summer. And in my grandmother's huge kitchen garden, there were all these fruits blooming away to glory during the summer. I particularly loved Guavas. There used to be three or four of these Gauva trees. Each one bore hundreds of fruits. I remember one particular type of Guava used to be red inside and green outside. 

Just when the fruits were still green on the outside was the best times to eat those. Fresh from the trees. We did not even bother cutting the fruits up. Usually I liked it best  with just a bit of salt. We bit into one, dipped into a bit of salt and finished each one that way. However, it was bad time to pick these fruits up, if of course you wanted them to ripen, which my grandmother did earnestly. There was an eternal battle between us kids and my grandparents. We tried our best to get to the fruits and my grandparents tried their best to protect them. There were no winners or losers in the end. We did munch away to glory to Guavas, that we often ended up 'stealing' with a bit of salt, a lot of laughter and amidst tales of who was the bravest and who ended up stealinst the best fruit.  

You see....I can't think of my childhood summer at home without thinking of Guavas.

But today's recipe is based on a concoction my gradmother used to make from the ripened guavas that she so dearly wanted to save from the group of bandits that we were. Jams and relishes from stewed guava with some sugar. That is also a reason to remember summer. When breakfast was fabulous with the homemade guava spread. 

So when I had a almost ripe guava and leftover cranberries in my refrigerator the other day, I wanted to recreate that relish...that goes so well with the concept of the French breakfast that Dorrie Greenspan writes in her wonderful book, 'Around My French Table'. Tartine with cranberry-guava jam. I tell you it it takes 15 in to put this together. And if you like it as I did, you will know and maybe get a taste of my summers in India. Almost now more than a decade or so ago.

Tartine with cranberry-guava jam

One  guava-- try to get a ripe one. Slice into cubes. My grandmother won't scare you away :)
about a cup of fresh or frozen cranberries. I think you can get away with using dried ones, but make sure to soak em up for ~ 30 min to

putt all the fruits together in a saucepan, add 1 cup pf water, 3-4 tbsf sugar, a pinch of salt and stew covered for 15 min. You will see it turning jamish in a short time. Add water if it sticks. But you do want a bit of stickiness. It is a jam after all. Keep mashing till you get a jam like consistency. 
Butter your bread slices, run them in a toaster or under the brioler till it turns brown.  Spread the jam, liberally. Now comes the fun part. Melt some nutella (or bitter-sweet chocolate) on a pan set over simmering water. Drizzle across the spread. Top it with walnuts. 
Have with coffee..
A breakfast, that promises to take you back to my grandmother's kitchen that smelt of everything good about Indian summers.
Happy eating and healthy living