Food isn’t just about necessity… it does everyone a lot of good to weave in pleasure and then some extra smiles will be on their way to you. Add a pinch of Bollywood to it and smiles may get garnished by applause as well.
Now I’m sure you’ve watched that Bollywood blockbuster ‘Queen’ where in one scene Kangana Ranaut asks for an Italian dish and insists on adding more than a handful of Indian spices to make it conform to her taste. We loved the comedy in food there and nodded sympathetically to the utterly confused indignation of the chef. Well, I think an Italian pasta dish made in Indian style to suit the western taste buds is Bollywoodian enough… but I’ll go one step ahead and insist on using Shimla Mirch for Capsicum, Tamatar for Tomato, Jira for Cumin, Namak for Salt, Kali Mirch for Black Pepper, and Paneer for Crumbly Cottage Cheese that we make in our homes.
Believe me, the dish will remain as edible as its definition that Ambrose Bierce once gave: ‘Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.’
I looked at the Del Monte Penne Rigate pack and immediately dedicated a two-line rhyme to the beautiful pasta smiling at me as I poured some on a plate…
With a musical sound, pasta rolled on my plate
As if inviting me on a fusion culinary date!
As I put some of Del Monte Penne Rigate to boil, I went on to other tasks that were also to be done. Like grate some Shimla Mirch for garnishing just before serving… cutting both Shimla Mirch and Tamatar and making sure that the paneer that I have from one litre of double-toned milk is crumbly enough… and making sure that I have ground roasted jira that isn’t the one that is sold in packs in the super stores.
But let me first just let you know that adding salt to the water in which you boil pasta seasons it… and without this step, the pasta will tend to sulk and retain an identity detached from saltiness, however salty its dressing might be. This is quite correct because as I was pouring pasta into the water being heated, I heard a voice say, ‘Have you made sure that there is salt in the water?’
I turned and asked Specky, my wife, who was in the kitchen with me, ‘You said something?’
So I guess it was the pasta giving me a last-minute tip.
Ah! The shredded Shimla Mirch is important because it is finally going to lend the flavour a degree of rawness and compliment the crunchiness of the dish.
‘Crunchiness? But you’ve boiled your pasta, haven’t you?’
‘Yes, I have. But you need to wait for the coming steps.’
Let us now get on with what some call the dip or the dressing… but I will call it Queen’s Masala. The reason is simple. I am going to first put some Shimla Mirch and Tamatar in a chopper and give it a few extra chops. I do this because I do not want my veggies to become a ground pulp but retain a few small pieces.
This mish-mash is then given a fry session with a dash of olive oil, namak, jira, and ground roasted jira… and our masala is ready. Some of it is going to be plated and some of it will go to form the DNA of the pasta dish. This is obviously the first secret of my dish and I’ll call it my SHIMATAR masala… remember, it has Shimla Mirch and Tamatar!
Jira or Cumin, as we know, is the dried seed of Cuminum cyminum, from the parsley family. I read somewhere that ancient Egyptian civilizations used it both as a spice and as preservative in mummification… but don’t worry, we’ll be using it for yummificaion! Not just yummification, jira in Sanskrit means that which helps digestion. And after having my dish, I surely wouldn’t want anyone to even think of indigestion. There are people in India who drink jira-water (made by boiling water with jira in it) for heart disease, swellings, tastelessness, vomiting, poor digestion and chronic fever. Jira, by the way, is also having anti-oxidant properties.
I must clarify here that I really do not like the ground roasted jira that is available in stores… I love it when it is pound coarsely using a mortar and pestle or put in the electric grinder for a duration that is less than what converts it into a fine powder. It is this coarsely ground roasted jira that gives me the flavour that I strive for in my cooking.
Now let me reveal my second secret… I deep-fried a few raw pasta pieces straight from the pack. As an experiment I fried some boiled pasta pieces as well as I wanted to taste the difference. Will reveal later what I think the difference is.
We are now into the final stages of the preparation… and all we need to do now is to first fry transversely cut onion pieces in olive oil until they are a sun-tanned brown and then add the SHIMATAR masala along with some more namak and ground roasted jira as we are going to add to it the bulk of Del Monte Penne Rigate pasta and diced Tamatar as well as Shimla Mirch with the crumbly home-made Paneer.
Mix well. Make sure that the pasta pieces are well rolled into all the wonderful masala and veggies… and then we’re ready to serve.
The ‘Queen Paneer Pasta with Fried Pasta sitting on SHIMATAR masala’ is what we are going to serve. Gently place a large serving on one side of the plate and then slide some shimatar masala on the other side. Sprinkle some crumbled paneer to form a bed and arrange the fried pasta to look like yogis meditating and ready to warm your appetite for culinary wisdom!
I first served this dish to my 83 year old father who is just back from a 15-day holiday in London and had stayed there with his grandson and grand daughter-in-law and was full of wonderful stories of great tasting dishes.
‘Pasta,’ he said, ‘I’ve had a lot of it there and loved it every time.’ Then he had a forkful to munch and rolled his eyes, saying, ‘The flavour is Indian… so I wish I had some papad to have with it.’
I said, ‘Smear one of these Penne pasta kept on the side with the masala and have it.’
He did and the crunchiness surprised him. ‘Crunchy!’ he said and then repeated it several times, ‘I don’t think papad could have justified partnering this pasta, but these fried pasta sticks do.’ He also added later what Monika, his grand daughter-in-law had told him about pasta… ‘This is good carbohydrate,’ he repeated, ‘good for my brain, my muscles, and for my blood. I’ve heard that vitamin B and iron are there and that it is cholesterol free.’
And I added, ‘It is affordable as well and we do have a good stock of it here.’
Well, I’m sure you’ll all love it when you prepare this #ItalianEscapades flavoured dish at home. As I ate my share, I was reading these lines by Pablo Neruda and found them complimenting the euphoria that my taste buds were busy with:
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
(from “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII”)
Crunchy Queen Paneer Pasta
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Equipment used: Chopper/ grinder, strainer, grater, colander, 1.5L pan for boiling, 1.5L kadai/wok for cooking/frying, and a spatula
Pasta Del Monte Penne Rigate: 100 gms
Crumbled Cottage Cheese/Paneer: 100 gms
1 medium Capsicum/Shimla Mirch
1 medium Tomato/Tamatar
1 medium onion or Pyaaz
Cumin/Jira seeds: 1/2 tsp
Salt/Namak: 3/4 tsp
Roasted and ground Jira/Cumin: 3/4 tsp
Post written for Del Monte’s #ItalianEscapades campaign
18 August 2015