My relation with Pasta is not something that goes back to my grandmother's or even my Mother's kitchen. My grandmother had no idea about it and my Mother didn't care about it.
It wasn't a food that we even craved for. As a middle class Bengali, way back in the 90's, I don't think we had much idea about Italy beyond Roberto Baggio,Salvatore Schillaci, Michelangelo and Pope John Paul 2, in that order. We weren't bothered about what Italians ate.
Though Pizza had found its way in middle class Indian homes in the early nineties and was described as a kind of "ruti" with ketchup and Amul cheese on it, it was embraced as a food which the rich Americans with poor eating habits, survived on. Very few of us deemed it as food from Italian kitchen. In those days, Domino's and Pizza Hut were not familiar names and Mongini's was where we got our pizza from. Mini round thick crusts with onion, pepper and cheese on them. I think they also sold pizza bases there which I remember getting a few times.
My Mother had this round electric oven, shaped like an UFO. It had a glass porthole at the top of the aluminum lid and couple of times a year, she used this contraption to bake a cake. On all other days it rested on the top of our Godrej almirah, wrapped in sheaths of plastic. I remember the few times that I made pizza in that oven. Squirting ketchup on the pizza base, shredding Amul cheese on it and then watching the cheese melt through the porthole, I am sure I felt like a pioneer ushering in a new cuisine at our modest dining table.
But did we ever try eating or cooking Pasta ? Nope. Never.
Until that is I started working in Bangalore in the late nineties and had a first taste of Casa Picola's delicious Pasta. I have no idea what kind it was but was in a creamy white sauce which was so subtle that it just tickled your senses without over powering it.It had capers and olives and was utterly delicious. That is what I thought was Pasta and loved it.
And then we came to the US. My first encounter with Pasta here was a disaster. At one of those "American-Italian" restaurants that are so popular here, I was served a plate of squiggly spaghetti drowned in a scarlet red colored marinara sauce, which was so bad that I sweared to stay off Pasta all my life. I never really tried eating or cooking pasta there after, except at a Bengali friend's home, who made elbow macaroni with onion, eggs, vegetables and soy sauce, in a similar manner that we make stir-fried noodles. It was so good and for a long time that was the only kind of Pasta I would eat.
But after Big Sis was born and started going to pre-school, pasta re-entered our home. It seemed like a lunch which a 3 year old could easily eat by herself at school. Even as I tried to come to terms with the wonder of pasta, elbow shaped Macaroni or "Macu" climbed the charts in Big Sis's favorite foods list.
In the beginning I stubbornly stuck to making Pasta like I would make Indian-style noodles and only very slowly did I start exploring, stepping out of my comfort zone and even making the scarlet red sauce that I once detested.
Pasta is now a staple in our home and though my Mother still doesn't think highly of it, it is on the dinner table very often.
It is very easy to make your own sauce for pasta or buy a jar of good quality sauce, marinara or otherwise. Cooking Pasta too makes for a very easy one pot meal. Usually I make enough to let me pack the girls' school lunch box for at least two days in the week.
You could make this Marinara sauce only with fresh tomatoes but I prefer to mix canned tomatoes and fresh ones. Also please don't tell your Italian Grandmother about this recipe, she might not like it. This is adapted for my home and has evolved over the last couple of years in my own way.
I usually make enough to last a week and this is how I do it
Home Made Marinara Sauce -- my way
Gather the following main ingredients
3 juicy red tomatoes coarsely chopped
1 can of organic tomatoes(crushed or whole)
3-4 fat clove of garlic -- coarsely chopped
basil leaves, a bunch
1/4th tsp of paprika or red chilli pepper
salt to taste
After this you can improvise and add oregano or onion or whatever you fancy.
In a deep bottomed saucepan, heat Olive Oil
When the oil warms up, add the chopped garlic.
As soon as the garlic starts to sizzle, add the fresh tomatoes. Stir them around until the tomatoes start to break down.
Now add the canned tomatoes along with their juice.
Add salt, paprika(or red chilli pepper) and cook the tomatoes until the raw smell is gone.
Now add about 1/2-1 cup of water. Put the basil leaves and let the sauce simmer until you see the oil floating and the kitchen starts smelling wonderful. I usually keep the heat low and let the sauce simmer for about 30 minutes or so.
After it is done, taste and adjust for salt and some sugar if needed.
Cool and put in a blender to make a smooth sauce. This sauce stays for a week to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Make any Pasta with this sauce. Here I share a pasta that we do with greens (spinach, chard and kale mix) and peppers.
1. Buy a box of Pasta. There is a lot of variety these days from whole-wheat to gluten-free. Since LS is bit picky and I want her to finish the lunch that I pack for her at school, I stick to whole wheat or regular pasta only. The shapes that we are most fond of is Farfalle, Penne, Elbow, and Rotini. For this particular recipe, I find Farfalle or Rotini to be a good choice.
2. Now bring a big pot of water to boil. Salt the water and let it come to a rolling boil. You will see it bubbling.
3. Put pasta in the boiling water and cook as per instructions on the box. Stir often and cook until tender. Over cooking will make it a mush, so stick to the time given on the package. I usually do one minute more than the time specified.
4. Drain the Pasta and toss it in olive oil. This prevents Pasta from sticking. If I am storing boiled pasta for later use, I rinse in cold water and then toss in olive oil.
5. While the water is boiling and pasta is cooking, do this.
Heat Olive Oil in a pan on medium heat. Add minced garlic to it. When the garlic sizzles add the finely chopped peppers and chopped greens. Saute until the greens wilt.
6. Pour 3 tbsp or more of the Pasta Sauce you made. I am not fond of too much sauce and so go with less. You can add as per your taste.
7. Add the pasta to the pan and toss it with the sauce and vegetables. Season with salt and paprika. Heat, stirring until the Pasta has absorbed the flavors of the sauce
8. Sprinkle Parmesan generously and serve.
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