Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Spaghetti in basil & tuna pesto - Simple Italian Dinner

 I remember the first time I was initiated to the world of pesto. That first bottle of basil pesto sunk two inches deep in a thick film of olive oil must have attained the most-satisfying moksha as far as basil pesto bottles go. Because I used it on practically anything Italian from salads to grilled fish dishes and everything (read pasta) in between. And I discovered, to my absolute delight, that basil pesto is a delightful accompaniment to the humble, homegrown curd rice.

Not too long after, I stumbled upon fresh basil leaves in the supermarket and tried my first pesto from the scratch. Seriously, once you try and make basil pesto at home (which is not all that difficult, I tell you. Only if you find making chutneys difficult at home that is.), your hands will never hover over the pesto bottles in supermarket shelves deciding on which brand to settle. But again, it depends on the availability of fresh basil in the city you live.

Basil is a hardy herb that loves sunshine. It works as a great indoor plant as well. If you get a sapling, you can have a steady supply of fresh basil leaves in a tropical country like India. Seeds are easy to germinate and once you have a plant, they easily reproduce and sustain your kitchen needs.

This recipe is inspired by an episode of Jamie’s 15-minute meals but heavily adapted to work around the non-availability of ingredients (say for instance canned anchovies that I could just not find anywhere). I substituted canned tuna flakes in brine. The result was a mildly tuna flavored pasta with the roasted tomatoes and garlic giving it just the required amount of tang and crunchy spiciness. 

Ingredients you need (serves 2):

Spaghetti – 150 gms
Canned tuna in brine – ½ can (100 gms)
Fresh basil leaves – 1 cup
Almonds – 5
Cheese – just enough to garnish
Cherry tomatoes – 15 to 20 or 3 regular ripe tomatoes
Garlic – 4 cloves unpeeled
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Pepper – as required
Salt – as required

This spaghetti is super simple to make!

How to prepare:

  • Set a pot of water to boil. When it boils, add salt and a teaspoon of cooking oil.
  • Take a heavy bottomed pan, slit each cherry tomatoes or quarter the regular ones. Smash the cloves of garlic with the side of a knife. Mix with the tomatoes some olive oil, salt and pepper and keep it in a preheated oven for roasting for 15 to 20 minutes at 1800 C. 
  • Meanwhile, throw in the basil leaves, almonds and half of the required tuna and some salt in your food processor and grind to a paste.
  • Cook the spaghetti al dente and drain it in a colander. Add the pesto to the spaghetti and toss well.
  • Add the rest of the tuna, salt and pepper to adjust the taste.
  • Add the roasted tomatoes and garlic on top of the spaghetti.
  • Garnish with cheese and serve.
Tip: Let the dish sit for 5 minutes before you serve so the basil loses its raw taste. However, if you are using pesto from a bottle, you can serve it immediately. This pasta tastes great as a leftover too. 

Note: The header you see on the blog is picture in this post.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Spinach - Ricotta Pizza

A pizza recipe is in three parts, two of which have been explained in great detail in two previous posts i.e. Pizza Bites and Nidi. With these out of the way, we would like to concentrate on other aspects of pizza making - Toppings, pizza base stretching/shaping, important points about baking the pizza and serving it. Don’t worry; this post also tracks back the previously mentioned recipes for dough making and sauce making for your convenience.

Read on to learn how to make pizza like this. It is not that difficult. Really.
The measurements here are for two medium sized pizzas. Serves about 2 adults.

Part 1 – The Pizza Base (read this recipe for a better idea of dough making here)

For the dough

2 ¼ cups of flour (we used all purpose, if you are using maida = 2 cups of maida + ¼ cup whole wheat flour)
½ to ¾ cups of water to knead the dough
½ teaspoon yeast
Olive oil
Baking paper (greased)
  • Check the dough making process used for ‘pizza bites’. The same applies for pizza as well.
  •  The trick to get a crisp crust, you need to roll the base out not-so-thin using a rolling pin. Follow this with stretching the base using your hand till you achieve a fairly thin base.
  •  We can write any length of techniques about dough stretching/shaping. But it’s like trying to learn swimming by reading a swimming manual. Practice and practice, at one point you will zero down on the technique that works for you. A separate post on pizza dough stretching coming soon.
  • After stretching the base, lay it on greased baking paper.
Part 2 – The Sauce (read this recipe for making the most simple delicious pizza sauce here)
For the sauce

400gms of ripe tomato
1 blob of butter
10 peppercorns
2 gloves of garlic
Salt to taste
Olive oil

Prepare the sauce according to the recipe and apply it on the base

Apply a thin layer of the sauce on your pizza base

Part 3 – Toppings

A word or two about toppings – a good pizza is not loaded with too many toppings with overlapping flavors. A well developed base and the sauce have flavor and have to stand out. Go for two or three toppings at the most, the cheese being counted as one of the toppings. The cheese also does not have to cover the entire pizza as one sees on the pizza pies of fast food pizza. Unless of course you are making an exclusive cheese pizza (like Quattro formaggi) in which case you have select the cheeses you are going to use. We use cheese very sparingly on pizza and in this one we have used a fresh homemade ricotta. You may use any soft melting cheese you like.
Load your pizza with toppings of your choice.

Here is what we used for toppings.

One bunch of spinach leaves
Cheese (we used homemade ricotta and a less than generous shaving of Parmesan)
Basil leaves
  • Sauté the spinach leaves with oil after washing them thoroughly. Set them aside to cool.
  • Scatter the spinach on the base, sprinkle with cheese.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C with the cookie sheet / pizza stone.
  • Slide the pizza onto the hot cookie sheet / pizza stone and bake your pizza until done (for about 12 - 15 minutes on top rack).
  • Garnish with basil leaves after the pizza is out of the oven and shave Parmesan onto the pizza if you are planning to use. Enjoy your pizza. 

Pizza ready to go into the oven

a big slice

If you do not have a pizza stone, bake your pizza on the back of a cookie sheet. Remember, the cookie sheet has to be hot. So either preheat it in the oven or heat it on the stove.

Final word - No, you cannot use ketchup / sauce to eat with your pizza. Trust us - that ruins the entire taste and experience.