O’live it Up !!



In this post, I am going to talk about the olive fruit, which is a very common ingredient in Italian and Mediterranean dishes such as pastas and pizzas.Olives do not grow in India. The ones you see under the Del Monte brand in supermarkets are imported from Spain, which is the world’s largest producer of olives.

Olives are inherently bitter in taste.Hence they need to be cured so that they become more palatable.The Del Monte olives are cured in brine (which is nothing but salt water).Oil and lye can also be used for curing olives.

Olives are available in two colours, green and black.The green ones are picked when still unripe, whereas the black olives are fully ripe.The green olives will therefore be firmer to bite and more bitter and tangy compared to the black olives.The black olives are generally more smooth and bland in taste.However, as a general rule, the taste of olives does not depend on it’s colour but on the extent of curing and the nature of curing it has undergone.

Both the black and green olives are sometimes sold in the pitted form.This means that they have been de-seeded.They can also be sliced into smaller pieces before being packaged.The Del Monte brand of olives also consists of green olives that are stuffed with pimiento which is a type of sweet red pepper.Since, I am not aware of many dishes that require whole olives, I generally go for the sliced olives.The stuffed olives also pack in a lot of flavour, but I have not used them yet in any of my dishes.For most other purposes, the green and black olives can be used interchangeably.

Olives are rich in Vitamin E. The Del Monte olives have a shelf life of 36 months.Apart from being used in pastas and pizzas, olives can also be used in salads, sandwiches and burgers.It is really a must-have ingredient for any avid cook :)

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Having Fun with Pasta

Although there are more than a hundred different varities of pasta, most of us living in India would be familiar only with Macaroni pasta.That’s because Macaroni is the cheapest form of pasta available here and is manufactured within India.Most of the other forms of pasta such as Spaghetti,Fusilli,Penne,Lasagne etc. are imported and hence are more costly and available only in selective supermarkets.(However I have not yet managed to spot Lasagne sheets in any of supermarkets I’ve been to in Bangalore)

Pasta is generally made of wheat flour,water and sometimes eggs.If the pasta contains eggs , it remains fresh for only a few days, whereas pasta that does not contain eggs can remain edible for at least a year.The ingredients that go into making the pasta determine it’s taste and colour e.g if a herb paste is added to the pasta dough, then the pasta colour would be green.The tricolour pastas that you see in the market have been flavoured with tomato and spinach powders. The shape of the pasta does not influence it’s taste, however it does have a bearing on the pasta cooking time.Different kinds of machines are used to make different pasta shapes.Some of the most basic pasta machines can even be ordered online.They are extremely useful if one wants to make fresh pasta.

Pasta is cooked by using the boiling technique.Once the pasta has been immersed in the boiling water, the water should be allowed to just simmer.Also don’t forget to add salt to the water, else the pasta will taste absolutely bland.If during the process of cooking, the pasta starts to get sticky, it’s advisable to put a few drops of oil in the water.The common guideline for cooking pasta perfectly is that it should be cooked till it’s al dente.This means that the pasta should not be too soft and should be firm to bite.The cooking time of pasta depends on it’s shape and thickness.The cooking instructions can generally be found on the plastic cover.

The most common way of cooking pasta is to serve it with some kind of sauce with a sprinkling of cheese on top.There are a huge variety of sauces that can be served with pasta.Most of these are simple to make, and some are even available pre-packaged in supermarkets.However, the pasta sauces available in supermarkets are not only expensive, but they also have a certain marked taste due to preservatives.Using fresh sauce is recommendable as it mostly just involves pushing in few ingredients into a blender to form a paste and later cooking that paste in a saucepan with some milk or cream and cheese.Apart from this, pasta can also be served cold as some form of salad.

Pasta dishes are traditionally prepared in olive oil.However, olive oil is expensive and if you don’t wish to purchase it, you can still use the usual refined oil for cooking pasta.

Most pasta dishes require microwave baking towards the end.This is needed to melt the cheese and to bind together the different components of the dish.But since I don’t own a microwave yet, I usually skip this step and the results are not at all disastrous :) .

In my later posts I will be sharing some pasta recipes.As pasta is one of my favourite dishes, it is only fit to have started this blog with a post on the mighty pasta.Bon Apetite!!

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Culinary Recognition in India

Today afternoon I was watching the repeat telecast of the NDTV Food Awards that was being hosted by the funny highwaymen Rocky and Mayur.The event was brief and classy, and had some enchanting song performances by Shafqat Amanat Ali.It was the first ever food awards being organised by NDTV (maybe it was high time as the channel has a significant number of excellent quality food shows) and awards were given away on a total of 10 categories, including Best Bar, Best Dhaba and Best Regional.

Although it was an excellent initiative on the part of the channel, I was slightly let down by the rather paltry number of award categories.Some categories like “Best Asian” and “Best European” were very broad-based and could have been classified further along the lines of Italian, French, Mediterranean,Oriental etc. cuisines.Some categories sounded incomplete, e.g “Best North Indian”, but no vis-a-vis “Best South Indian”.Similarly, the Best Regional category could have been broken further into Punjabi,Avadhi,Gujarati etc. as it’s probably not fair to compare say Bengali food with Punjabi food.With New Delhi restaurants bagging most of the nominations, it left room for doubt on the nature of restaurant coverage that was considered by the jury.

With increased curiosity, I then scoured the net for similar culinary achievement awards, but could only find the Times Food Guide and Nightlife Awards that deserved any mention.The Food Forum India awards were another noteworthy awards, but they are focussed on excellence in food retailing, in other words the business aspect of food and not the food itself.With India having such a rich culinary history and considering the rapidly expanding food business in the country, it is really appalling to see the lack of platforms for recognising culinary achievement in India.

When watching Masterchef Australia episodes on tv sometime back,  I learnt about the restaurant grading mechanism that is prevalent in Western countries ,most prominent being the Michelin Stars (Europe), Mobil (US) and Chef Hats (Australia).Once again, I couldn’t find any similar grading mechanism for Indian restaurants.Although, there are a good number of food guides published annually, these guides generally talk about everything under the sun , like the restaurant ambience,service,value for money, food quality etc. but stop short of grading. A standard, widely accepted restaurant grading scale is thus, currently lacking in the Indian food industry.

Culinary recognition initiatives by NDTV and TOI are indeed very promising starts. However, having a more comprehensive recognition and grading mechanism would go a long way in raising restaurant standards, which would ultimately also benefit the regular restaurant goer.Because as Jamie Oliver said in one of the Masterchef shows “Life is too short to eat crap“.

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