Pestos galore

I am by no means trained in Italian cooking nor do I watch many Italian cooking shows. My love for the carbacious (wait, is that even a word?) pastas and pizzas keep me constantly trying something new. It all began when I bumped into a video on Jamie Oliver’s Youtube Channel featuring the Chiappa Sisters for making a delicious Sage Walnut Pesto. Sage and walnut? What about Basil and Pine nuts? These were the questions running through my mind. Through the simplest of recipes, the Chiappa sisters taught me to let my imagination run wild when it comes to making pesto.

Pesto is one of those incredibly easy sauces to put together. With a good blender and a few fresh staples, you always have access to amazing pesto-type sauces. It wouldn’t be fair to call it pesto. But pesto style is more like it.

During the last couple of weeks, I made two incredibly easy pestos unlike the traditional basil variety. They are just as beautiful and make great weeknight pesto dinners or even for a Sunday brunch.

That's right. We want the creaminess!
This is the Cilantro Cashew Pistachio pasta. That’s right! We want the creaminess! 

Avocado pistachio pesto (one of those recipes that is great for using up old avocados)

1 hass avocado or any buttery variety you may have on hand

Juice of 1 lime (Since this is an avocado pesto, I had to marry the avocado with the lime)

A clove of garlic

Handful of Pistachios

Salt

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Water (as required)

Parmesan (optional)

Blend the above ingredients except salt in a blender to anything from a coarse to a smooth consistency. Just blend it the way you like it. Add salt once blended and mix. Mix this sauce with hot pasta and garnish with cilantro!

Cilantro Cashew pistachio pesto

Bunch of cilantro leaves

Half a handful of cashewnuts

Half a handful of pistachios

Juice of one lemon

A clove of garlic

Handful of Pistachios

Salt

Olive oil 1/4 cup

Water (as required)

Parmesan (optional)

Blend these and mix with hot pasta. Garnish with Chipotle pepper.

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Experiments with Whole Wheat

My experiments with pasta continues. As I discover new flavors and basking in the thorough joy of making homemade pasta, I can’t help but feel guilty every time I look in  my pantry for that white flour. Why does something that tastes so good have to be high in calories? Why isn’t there a single thing that can be eaten in large portions much like we drink water and still not tip off the scale? In my frustration, I decided to pick up some organic whole wheat pasta during the next grocery visit. When I walked down the pasta aisle to pick up the box, my mind immediately started doing its magic of figuring out what would go with whole wheat. After reading dozens of forums that claim whole wheat pasta a sin committed by health freaks, I was skeptical for sure. But I wasn’t going to give up. I had to make this to see for myself.

Content with myself for not getting swayed by the Internet, I went to the veggies aisle and picked up whatever I could find that would go with this pasta. I grabbed some zucchini, mushrooms, basil, a bottle of tomato and basil sauce that was on sale and a bag of locally grown garlic. After a few days of eating junk food over the weekend and with K away at work, I decided today had to be the perfect day to experiment with whole wheat pasta knowing K’s aversion to anything healthy. Try it, test it and then serve it. Before I started to cook, I was watching some random youtube videos on boiling whole wheat pasta. This chef ( I don’t remember the name) explained how when you salt the water you boil the pasta in (any kind ) must taste like the ocean. Interesting. I have never thought of that before. All I ever did was throw the pasta in some boiling water with a pinch of salt and a spoon of oil.  Immediately after watching the video, I headed into the kitchen and started to cook. Here’s my recipe for the whole wheat pasta…. Let’s call it “Nutty Brown” (brown for the wheat and nutty for the nutty flavor it gives)

Nutty Brown (Serves 2 – 3 people)

Ingredients:

Whole wheat spaghetti (Half a box of store bought whole wheat)

Salt (until the water does taste like the ocean)

A spoon of oil

Ingredients for sauce:

3/4ths of a bottle of tomato and basil sauce (any store bought brand or home made)

Half a larrrrrge red onion or 1 medium sized red onion (I like red because it adds to the sweetness and looks great in a red wine sauce)

A knob of garlic

1 zucchini

A couple of pinches of salt

Some pepper

Chilli flakes (optional)

2-3 gratings of parmigiano reggiano

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup of red wine ( I used Zinfandel. I’m sure any regular table red would work)

Method:

1. Chop up the veggies. I roughly chopped the mushrooms.

2. Saute the onions and garlic in 1 tbsp of olive oil until onions start to brown. At this point, add chili flakes if you like some heat or skip.

3. Add one more spoon of oil and add the mushrooms and zucchini. Cook for 2 minutes.

4. Add a cup of red wine and let it reduce until the veggies start to look thick and saucy.

5. Add 3/4th of a bottle of tomato and basil sauce and combine until thoroughly cooked. Usually takes about 2 minutes.

6. Turn off heat and serve on a plate of spaghetti. Don’t forget to sprinkle some parmesan! Enjoy!

Pasta La Vista

A few youtube videos is all it took to make me plate up homemade pasta made fresh from scratch! And how? For a long time, I have been a follower of Laura Vitale, the daughter and genetically gifted girl born to an Italian family that has forever been in the food business. Especially the Italian food business. Laura really inspires people to cook. The comments section of her videos will tell you so. Thousands of people (foodies,non-foodies, cooks and  amateurs of cooking; all included) have been inspired by this makeup goddess (see her videos and you’ll see why) to make delicious, simple, home cooked Italian food. So if you are looking for some authentic Italian recipes that are easy to cook, easy on your pocket and ingredients easily available in your grocer’s, check out Laura Vitale on Youtube.

Now coming back to how I ended up making homemade pasta. I’ve been wanting to make fresh pasta for ages and a few videos later and nearing lunch time, I decided to get cooking. I’ve read dozens of articles on the internet that swear by fresh cooked pasta and how there is no turning back once you taste the freshness and yumminess of fresh homemade pasta. For someone who is not a 100% stickler to fresh homemade stuff and still likes to whip up the store bought meals once in a while, I think I might have to change a few things around in the kitchen.

There is a video of Laura making pasta with the pasta machine which explains making it really well. But I wasn’t in the mood to play an entire video and so I looked up online to make a batch of pasta dough. Simple plain flour dough. This link has tons of different pasta recipes and explains clearly how to make different types of pasta.

After making a batch, I cut up two small pieces to round up to the size of a small cookie dough ball each. Now, I don’t have a pasta machine. It turned out awesome nevertheless giving my pasta a very authentic and traditional touch. So don’t worry if you do not have a pasta machine with you. This recipe calls specifically for the “OO” flour. I used regular all-purpose flour which is what they use traditionally and it turned super yummy.

 Here’s the recipe for fresh homemade pasta:

  • 1 2/3 cups Italian “00” flour, (or half Italian “00” flour and half Farina di Semola)
  • 2 medium or large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • A pinch of sea salt

Get more deliciousness at Homemade Pasta Dough Recipe | Leite’s Culinaria

Method: (these instructions may vary from the link. but the results were fantastic nevertheless)

  1. Take 1 and 2/3rds cups of flour and make a well in the center.
  2. Crack two eggs in the well along with the tablespoon of oil and salt.
  3. If you aren’t too comfortable using your hand, use a fork. Combine the ingredients by slowly mixing the flour from around the well into the well until what you are left with is  a flour-y, crumbly mixture.
  4. Flour a pizza board or a clean kitchen surface and knead the dough until it looks like a pizza dough -smooth and between the shade of shine and matte.
  5. In the same bowl, put about a tsp of olive oil and coat the dough. Let the dough sit for 10 mins.
  6. After 10 mins, take a rolling board or use a clean kitchen surface to roll out the pasta.
  7. You can stretch it by hand (what’s done traditionally) but I decided to use my rolling pin to roll out each cookie dough sized ball extremely thin until it became translucent and I could see the kitchen surface.
  8. The most important step – flour the thin sheet of rolled out pasta really well. This helps prevent the pasta from sticking.
  9. Now start folding it from top to bottom in rectangular folds until they resemble the shape of a medium sized chocolate bar (sorry, could not think of a better description for this; the picture shown in the link is not what I made as I needed to make only a plate of pasta my rectangle was much smaller than the one shown in the link)
  10. Start cutting the rectangle from left to right or vice versa in the shape you want. I did mine fettucine.
  11. With both palms, lift and gently comb drop the pasta back and forth with your fingers until they are separated strands or take each cut piece and manually unfold them.
  12. Flour a bit more if you feel they might stick.
  13. Boil some water in a large pan.
  14. When the water comes to a rolling boil, throw in the pasta and let it cook for 3-4 mins.
  15. Mix with the sauce of your choice and enjoy!

Once the dough was made, cooking the pasta was under 10 mins. Overall I took about 10 mins to knead the dough and 10 to cook the pasta and the sauce. It turned out incredibly yummy and made me see the huge gap between homemade pasta and store bought pasta. You can air out the strands of pasta to dry them and store in the freezer for upto a month or cling wrap in a bowl for upto 3 days in the fridge.

Rigatoni Pasta Bake

* Warning * This is only for the strong hearted who dare to eat some real spicy food!

So I had this box of rigatoni pasta lying around in the pantry for god-knows-how-long. And today I decided that this had to be served on my plate. And boy was I happy I finally made it. After a lot of scouring the internet for that perfect baked rigatoni, I gave up and decided to follow the natural instincts. It turned super super super delicious and the hubby who is pretty hard to impress especially when it is made with an arrabiata sauce was in love helping himself to 2 big servings. Here is the recipe for the totally random Rigatoni Pasta Bake.

Ingredients:

One bottle of (yes, that god sent miracle for the lazy days) store bought arrabiata sauce (I bought mine from Target – the archer farms one)

1 big white onion

2 Thai green chillies – finely chopped

4-5 dried red chillies – pounded and crushed to your heart’s content

Peeled garlic – 10 -12 pounded and crushed to death

Parmesan cheese

Swiss cheese slice

Mozzarella low-fat string cheese (the one that kids lovvvv to eat)

Olive oil – around 1 to 2 tbsp

Ground pepper – 1 tsp

One packet of Rigatoni

Method:

Cook the pasta in boiling water for 12 mins or a little under the time given in your pasta packet.

While all that is happening, crush the red chillies and garlic, chop the onions and green chillies.

In a pan, pour 2 tbsps of olive oil. Once it’s hot, put the onions and let them become translucent.

Then add the garlic and green chillies. After they saute for about 1 min, add the arrabiata sauce bottle. Add some salt to taste. Let it simmer for 5 mins.

Finally top it off with the red chillies and pepper.

Now, preheat the oven to 400F or 450F depending on how fast you want it to cook.

Add the drained cooked pasta to the sauce and put this in the casserole or whatever it is that you are going to use to bake the pasta.

Sprinkle about a spoon of parmesan cheese and mix.

Now add the mozzarella cheese. You can add grated mozzarella cheese. I used the string because I didn’t have any other mozzarella cheese on me.

Add 2 slices of swiss cheese split in smaller pieces across the pasta.

Top off with some more parmesan cheese. And put it to bake for 20 to 25 mins depending on the temperature.

Serve with some Coppola Rosso or any table red. Enjoy!