Comfort food. Different things to different people. But always disarmingly simple. A few ingredients, a basic recipe, but the final outcome is something that satisfies a craving that nothing else will. A dish that wraps you around your home, your family, your culture, and many times, around the various stages of personal growth.
I am always drawn to such fare – what people cook on a regular basis in their kitchens, curious about what fits the bill for others. For many a Kashmiri it will have to be haak-baateh (braised haak greens served over rice), the equivalent of what dal-chaval is to a lot of other Indians.
When Meeta asked us to cook authentic Italian I became curious about Italian comfort foods…
Pasta goes far into the history of Italian cuisine, all the way back to the 8th C, to the time of the Arab invasion. There are a mind-boggling variety of pasta found in Italy today – over 650! If anything, I am traditional in my ‘experiments’ with food, and what I have prepared might well be amongst the older ways of preparing pasta.
All you need for good pasta are fresh ingredients. I was not sure I could rely on the neighborhood grocery for a fresh package. So, I did what I do best. Make my own. We have all seen it done on TV food programs umpteen times. And it is not a big deal for a people who make fresh roti multiple times a day! It is fairly easy to make your own pasta.
Traditionally pasta is made with either semolina or all purpose flour. The Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is famed for its fresh pasta made from all purpose flour and eggs – ingredients stocked in most pantries. And tagliatelle, the ribbon pasta, is the classic pasta of the region. Things were falling into place. I had made my pasta with all-purpose flour (shocking that I was able to resist the urge to add 50% atta – Indian wholewheat flour), cut it into ribbons the size that qualifies as tagliatelle, was planning to cook it while fresh… Enough to make me wonder if I might have had a past life connection to Italy in addition to that with Southern India! I kid you not, I did all this reasearch after having consumed my meal. Of course I searched the net for a simple recipe and found it here, and double-checked to confirm how to make my own pasta… but I made the pairing quite instinctively. Even the cheese that I used to flavour, parmesan, is from that region!
Just last month I had cooked fresh pasta for the visiting nephews who were craving a taste of home. All the cooking that it had involved was tossing cooked pasta in a little olive oil. In my effort to redo that I realised I had a very authentic regional Italian recipe! In the Emilia-Romagna region they serve their fresh pasta in a buttery sauce with slices of local black truffles. Isn’t my pasta bianca just that?! Yes, I know, I am missing the truffles. But I am allowed to vary the dish to adjust to local conditions, aren’t I?
half portion* fresh pasta, preferably, tagliatelle,
1-3 teaspoons cultured butter, such as Amul (or homemade!),
a pot of water, and a generous amount (1 tablespoon) of salt,
freshly cracked pepper and a little grated parmigiano reggiano, maybe a teaspoon or so
Add salt to the pot of water and bring to boil. Place the butter in the pasta bowl. Cook pasta, stirring it around, till al dente (you’ve heard it often but it cannot be emphasized enough – tender but firm to the touch) – mine took just over two minutes. Drain pasta over a pot so that you have some pasta water reserved. Add some of this water (4-5 tablespoons of it) to the bowl that has the butter. Top with the cooked pasta. Toss the pasta in the buttery sauce. Sprinkle with pepper (preferably white, but I had only black pepper), and grated Parmesan. Mix a little to flavour through.
Brown the butter before adding pasta water to it. Or, fry a clove or two of minced garlic in the butter.
*For 1 portion of fresh pasta (serves two)
1 medium sized egg, preferably desi (organic) but those are available only in the winter time in Delhi – and only if I place an order of minimum 30 eggs!.
all purpose flour as needed
Mound about three-fourth cup of all purpose flour. Make a well in the center and break an egg into it. Gently whisk with a fork to gradually incorporate the flour. Add more flour if you need. Knead till the dough is very smooth, about 10-15 minutes. Roll thin, dusting with additional flour. You could have read the headlines through mine if not the main columns of the newspaper. Rest for an hour or so (you deserve it! ), covered with a cloth. Roll from opposite ends towards the center. Cut into desired widths.
Who needs a pasta machine?!