A lot of people have been asking me for the recipes to some of the dishes I had recently made. Frankly, I do not know them myself. I have just been adding stuff to very basic dishes and they turned out great. I had decided a long time back that I would eat the right food with the right ingredients. Turns out, maintaining that lifestyle on a regular basis is tough and expensive. Too expensive.
Still, like any other successful Need for Speed game, there are cheat codes. Less expensive and locally sourced products can often replace items that you might have to buy off a supermarket rack. I tried a few of those recipes with ‘inferior’ ingredients and they turned out to be quite good. Okay, some of them turned out good. The rest were not failures, but a lesson on how to do things right.
So here is one of them – a recipe to a very simple pasta dish. It is easy to make, good to eat and most of all, light on your pocket. Just stick to the list.
A handful of spaghetti – Now you can go ahead and buy the imported brands like Ragu, but you could also go for Del Monte or even Bambino. Agreed the quality of pasta may be very different, but you can compromise that one bit. And trust me, its the sauce that makes this dish great.
Olive Oil – The most expensive component of the dish. You will need a nice glug at the beginning, some in the middle and at the end. There are many varieties of olive oil in the market. Chose the one you find least expensive. In case you want to skip olive oil altogether, you can use any clear vegetable oil and add a spoon of butter. Try the unsalted one from Mother Dairy, Nandini or Amul.
Italian spice mix -Dried (or even fresh) oregano, basil, thyme or rosemary can quite costly. Keya offers a wide range of individual and cumulative dried herbs and you could use them. But they are always priced around the Rs 100 range per bottle. There are cheaper brands available and you will get them at any good supermarket/store or your local vendor (just ask them specially to get you a few packets if you are on good terms.) Else, here’s what I do sometimes. Get the cheap dried herbs, mix them with a few spoons of the good quality herbs you may have from earlier. Dry them in an oven with very low heat, or in sunlight. Trust me, it works. Okay, it won’t be as good as Keya’s, but then this was a low cost alternative. Oh, and you can use the left-over packets of oregano mix from Domino’s or Pizza Hut as well! I do that a lot!
For the rest of the ingredients, like mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, chillies and garlic, there is only way – haggle. Try and find a reasonable price with the local vendors or carts. Better still, visit the local mandis on weekends; they offer far reasonable prices.
Tomato puree – Buy MRP. Can’t help it. Unless you want to roast a few tomatoes on the stove or the oven till they are nicely burnt. Add a few garlic cloves, dried herbs, a dash of olive oil (or any vegetable oil), salt and pepper and blend. I do that and it tastes way better. Make it a day or two before, and use it as a chutney, pasta and pizza sauce or salsa. Roasting the tomatoes just elevates the flavor. Try it and tell me!
So, boil the pasta/spaghetti as you normally would, till al dente. Always add salt to the water. A nice big spoonful will do. In another pan, heat a spoonful or two of your chosen oil. Add 3-4 garlic cloves and stir till they begin to turn slightly brownish. Add a big chopped onion and saute till it turns soft and brown. I usually take a little time to fry the onions. Simply put the heat on sim, and cover for about 4 minutes. That way it can caramalise on its own without burning. The spaghetti should get done in the meantime. Drain and add a little oil to the pasta to stop it from sticking.
Add the dried Italian spice mix to the onions. I like to add a small spoon of chicken masala as well. It really gives a good dimension to your sauce base. Add two ripe chopped tomatoes and a spoon of tomato puree. If you have your roasted tomato sauce, just add it to the pan with some oregano mix but, without the puree. Add some tomato ketchup instead. Now, turn up the heat and soften the tomatoes. Squish them with back of a spoon. Add a dash of pasta water to create a sauce. Stir in the cooked spaghetti and coat it well.
I eat it straight off the pan with some bread. But if you are looking to impress friends, family or anyone special, just serve a cute portion on a plate. Garnish with some more oregano (and coriander if you have any.) You can also add a little cheese, I do that sometimes. If you have some leftover daal, chicken curry, paneer curry or anything spicy dish, just add it in generous portions to the pasta. It works! I tried it with chaana daal tadka and it was absolutely delicious!
There is no limit to a making a dish, there are no guidelines. If it tastes good to you, people in your circle will definitely like it. I was uncertain about my dishes and bakes to begin with, but people have given a good response to them. Cooking makes me happy and that is the entire exercise. It’s a stressbuster, team builder and chance to express yourself. So get off that lazy ass and start cooking.
As Chef Gusteau said in Ratatouille, anyone can cook!