Farfelle Aglio Olio with celery leaves and crumbled paneer

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.

Making Paneer
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.

Shopping guide
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

Thakkali Chutney (Tomato chutney)

During my early blogging days, I posted pics of tomato chutney made with both red and green tomatoes and wrote that I'll post the recipe soon. That 'soon' never came until Sowmya posted a comment on that old post, a couple of days ago asking for the recipe.
Since it also fits with my theme of the month, easy cooking with few ingredients - here it is. The photo is a capture from the iPhone of the breakfast we had earlier this week.

Choose firm but fully ripe red tomatoes for this. I have chosen the Bangalore variety as it is fleshier with less water content and seeds compared to the local variety, which means this chutney takes lesser time to get dried up and ready. It may be less sour than the local variety, which you can remedy by using some tamarind extract or ready tamarind paste.

Authentic Tamil Brahmin style will not have garlic. This is my addition and it tastes equally good minus the garlic.

5 large ripe red tomatoes, cubed roughly
1-2 tbsp gingelly oil

For tempering:
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
3-4 dried red chillies, broken into bits
fat pinch asafoetida
1 tsp Chana dal
1 tsp udad dal
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1-2 sprigs curry leaves
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced (optional)

1 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 - 1 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder

  1. In a heavy bottomed kadai, heat the oil. Splutter the mustard seeds.
  2. Add chana dal, udad dal and stir until golden.
  3. Next, add the asafoetida, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, red chillies and garlic and stir for a minute or so on medium heat. 
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and the salt. On medium to high flame keep stirring until tomatoes break down, get cooked and become pulpy. This should take roughly 8-10 minutes for this quantity. Towards the end, add the turmeric and red chilli powder. Check for salt and adjust.

Serve with idlis, dosas or mix into steamed and cooled rice to make tomato baath. You can also use this as a sandwich spread.This will stay for 3-4 days in airtight bottle in the fridge, but we use it all up at one go.
Traditional Tamil chutneys, pickles are mostly made with gingelly oil. It gives its own taste to the preparation. You could however use any oil of your choice, including mustard oil for a sharp pungent taste to the chutney. Garlic is completely optional. You will get a whole different taste dimension just by using or omitting this one ingredient.

Add a handful of chopped mint leaves or a tsp of dried mint to this during the cooking process.
If you find that the tomatoes are not sour enough, add 1/2 tsp of tamarind paste to the tomatoes while they are cooking for that tangy mouthwatering effect.
Try this with green tomatoes, when they are in season.

Dry capsicum subzi / Bell pepper curry

Whoa, it is a month into 2011 and I have already fallen back on my resolution to make 2011 the year with maximum posts on the blog.

However, I must share with you the menu for the year end dinner I hosted for friends, a completely vegetarian Lebanese Menu. Details and links to the recipes here.

Most of Jan was spent outside of home, partly visiting family and then a small vacation to Hong Kong. Being vegetarians, finding good vegetarian food in HK turns into a mini-adventure by itself. I must write about some of the good stuff we tried there, in a different post.

I have a blog-plan in place for this month. It's going to be the month of simple recipes, beginner-friendly even, all of February. The first in this series is a dry capsicum curry, which can be had with rotis or even to spice up a basic dal-rice menu.

I use green capsicums for this as it does not have the sweetness of the red or yellow variety. If you like that taste, then go ahead and substitute this with that, or even use a medley of colours to make the dish look pretty.

Dry capsicum subzi / Bell pepper curry
Serves 2-3
Time taken - Under 20 minutes

4 medium sized green capsicums or 2 large ones
2 tsp oil
1/4 tsp each - fennel seeds, Nigella seeds (kalonji), fenugreek seeds (methi), mustard seeds (rai)

In a small bowl, mix together-
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp amchoor powder (dried mango powder)
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp salt or as per taste

Wash and cut the capsicums to a medium dice, removing the membranes and seeds.
Heat the oil in a non-stick wok and splutter the fennel, nigella, fenugreek and mustard seeds.
Add the diced capsicum to this, toss on high flame for a few seconds, reduce the flame to medium and cook for 6-8 minutes, till nearly softened.
To this add the mixed spice powders and toss well to coat evenly. On a low flame, let this cook for another 5 minutes until the raw smell of the spice powders is gone.
Using a non-stick pan makes it very easy to prepare this, as on a regular wok, the spice powders will stick and burn as we are not using too much oil.
Remove from wok and serve hot with rotis or rice.

You could also add a handful of frozen sweet corn, peas or boiled and diced potatoes to this dish.
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