While I do like my pasta to be nearly smothered in a healthy portion of tomato sauce (not floury, creamy, white sauce), this kind of pasta is light and beautiful, goes perfectly when you are serving a vegetable soup as a part of the meal.
In my case, I made a light Minestrone (no pasta in the soup) with plenty of celery. Since the soup was already tomato based, this aglio olio pasta was the perfect accompaniment. The addition of celery was inspired by the fresh beautiful greens that came along with the celery stalks. They are so incredibly fragrant, that it is a shame to chop them off and discard them. I will even go to the extent of saying that pick your celery with the tops on. It shows that celery is fresh, it keeps well for longer and you can put the leaves to good use, like my recipe below.
Celery greens are very rich in nutrients too!
If you are just getting started with Italian cooking, this is the perfect recipe to get started. Few ingredients, simple steps and it gets done in no time. And, does it look pretty or what!
2 cups of celery leaves, picked, washed thoroughly
Paneer from 1/2 litre cow's milk or half cup cubes
A cup of dried short pasta (I used Farfalle)
2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
3 dried red chillies, crumbled or finely chopped (1-2 tsp of chilli flakes)
1 tsp each dried basil and parsley
Parmesan cheese (optional)
In a large pot, boil water with salt and 1 tsp oil for the pasta and cook as per instructions on pack.
Finely shred the celery leaves.
Meanwhile, pour 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large wok, once moderately hot, add minced garlic and chilli flakes.
Saute for a few seconds, then add the shredded celery greens. Once the greens wilt (1-2 minutes), add the crumbled or cubed paneer. Sprinkle salt and pepper, along with any dried herbs of your choice.
Toss gently for 1-2 minutes.
Once the pasta is done, drain and add to the wok.
Toss well to coat. Check for salt and adjust.
Serve hot with a topping of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
In a vessel, bring the milk to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add a tbsp of white vinegar stirring continuously till the milk separates into solids and clear whey. If the whey is too milky, add some more vinegar and stir. Filter out using a sieve or a muslin cloth and press to remove excess liquid. Cover in layers of clean kitchen towel and keep a heavy weight on the top, such as a marble slab. Cut into cubes to use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight box with some whey.
Minus the celery leaves and paneer, this becomes a simple aglio olio pasta dish, which is one of the easiest pasta dishes to make. No chopping, saucing required.
Adding some toasted pine nuts or walnuts towards the end, adds an extra texture and taste to the dish.
In place of celery leaves, feel free to use any of your local greens, or herbs like fennel greens, basil, or even vegetable greens like carrot tops or cauliflower leaves.
Farfalle pasta made from durum wheat - from Waitrose Aisle of Hypercity, Cyberabad
Celery with greens - Spar, Begumpet
Parmesan Cheese by weight available at Spar, Begumpet
Dried herbs - Fabindia, Keya's herbs available at most supermarkets