Anybody who knows me knows that I love good pasta. I think that the first time that I tasted some good “Pasta” was @ a cheerful cafe / restaurant on charming Jersey Islands which is an hour away by plane from the U.K. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was hungry! The senior gentlemen from the bank that I was working for took some pity on the only Indian girl out there at the moment and treated me to lunch 🙂 Of course me being me, I thoroughly researched the few vegetarian items on the menu and selected the pasta. I had tasted this for the first time a few nights before thanks to my Indian boss who ordered me a veggie spaghetti version for dinner and felt it would be a safe bet. I didn’t know what would be served to me – all I knew is that it would have nothing in it which swam or walked in a previous life! Satisfied with my choice I waited for my lunch to be served while my eyes feasted on the market square which seemed to be buzzing with life and my brain was making plans to take a picture next to the sculpture of a huge Jersey cow…..
Then it arrived! That one bowl that would make me fall in love and start me off a culinary journey that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise – In fact my husband and me think that I must have been an Italian in a previous life and people who know me probably agree – That makes me an Itayengar, u know – Italy+Iyengar!! Ok sorry about jibe…..getting back to the pasta story, it was full of this diagonally cut cylinder like thingies which I learnt later were called penne! Yeah that’s how ignorant I was! And these little things were soaking in some pretty tomato sauce with plenty of fresh parsley. Again, it was the first time I heard of parsley and was momentarily taken aback by its strong fragrance that seemed to tease my nostrils….Then came the moment: The waitress wanted to know if I would care for some fresh pepper and wait for it………………parmesan??? Parmesan?? What’s that??? I asked with suspicion, while the 2 gentlemen smiled to themselves….Once I was convinced that it was cheese and nothing that had been running around before, I graciously accepted her offer…and since that day I have been hooked. It was the year 2001 and I was 22! 🙂
More than a decade and many plates of pasta, I finally tried to re-create what I had that day and this was as close as I could get:
What you need
- 2 cups penne pasta – I used whole wheat as I wanted to eat healthy, plus I am used to eating whole wheat anything and do not have a problem with a taste that is not pure maida. In fact whole wheat and grains makes me feel better about eating carbs 🙂 You can use the normal semolina pasta if you prefer that.
- 1 medium sized Onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 7 medium sized ripe tomatoes – Ripe tomatoes give a wonderful sweet taste along with the tanginess and I prefer this. Normal tomatoes would also do, but trust me it is not the same. Plus being a veggie lover I prefer a healthy amount of sauce / vegetables in my pasta compared to those that just eat pasta coated in some sauce, To put it simply – less pasta and more veggies! This explains why I used 7 tomatoes. Carbs can’t go wrong when comsumed this way right?? 🙂 I was tempted to dump some vegetables for this recipe but refrained as I was trying to re-create that yummy bowl I had that day.
- 1 large green bell pepper / capsicum – diced
- Freshly chopped Basil[about 30 grams]
- 1 small bunch freshly chopped Parsley [about 20-30 grams]
- Salt n Pepper per taste – I prefer freshy ground pepper cos I am blessed to have a small pepper mill and am the only one that uses this gadget at home. You can use normal pepper powder too….
- 1 tsp Oregano
- Parmesan Cheese
- Sugar – optional
- Tomato Ketchup 2 tbsp
- 3 tbsp Olive Oil
- 2 small cloves of crushed garlic – Like I have said before my use of garlic is very controlled as even I don’t like the smell or taste of over powering garlic.
Getting it done
- Cook the penne per the instructions on the packet and drain them and let them rest. Save about 1/2c of the starchy pasta water to add to the sauce.
Here is something I do with my pasta and I do this for any type of pasta or noodles. I think it’s especially good if you are someone who eats a lot of all-purpose flour based products…. Once I have drained the pasta, I run them under cold running water to get rid of the extra starch. Then I pour about a tsp of olive oil on the pasta and mix them well and leave them to rest until they are ready for the sauce.
In fact it would be good to prepare the pasta after the sauce of when the sauce is cooked to about 50% – this way the pasta still remains hot when it goes into the sauce. If you do this you do not need to toss the pasta with OO
- Add the olive oil to a hot sauce pan and toss the onions, bay leaf and garlic and add a pinch of salt. Saute them until they start turning transparent. A golden brown is good but take care not to burn them..
- Add in the diced bell pepper and saute for a few minutes
- Mix in the oregano and quarter of the chopped basil and parsley saute for about 30 seconds to a minute
- Add the tomato ketchup and incorporate it well with the veggies
- Add about 1/4 cup of the tomato puree and cook well until it starts leaving the sides of the pan.
- At this stage add the diced tomato and cook for about 1 minute and take care not to mash the tomatoes – finding chunks tomatoes in you pasta sure is a pleasant experience for a veggie lover.
- Now add the remaining tomato puree and mix well
- Add the salt and freshly ground pepper, and about 1/4c of water and allow the sauce to cook for about 5-10 minutes
- Keep stirring the sauce and also do taste check. At this point, ensure that the raw smell and taste of tomatoes are gone and that the salt and pepper is good enough for your palette.
If the sauce is too tangy, mix in some sugar – this always helps to reduce the tanginess. If the sauce has gotten too thick, add some of the starchy water and let it cook for some more time. Your sauce should not be too watery of too thick – it should be just right 🙂
If you are satisfied, add the remaining fresh basil and parsley and cook for about a minute and turn off the stove.
Add the pasta to the sauce, laden them into a bowl, garnish with parmesan shavings and serve with aplomb! Ask your diners if they would like some freshly ground pepper and if you really want to go gourmet on them forget the shavings and ask them if they also care for freshly grated parm. If they answer in the affirmative take you parmesan cheese block and grater and grate the cheese over their pasta bowl and there you have it 🙂