When it comes to cuisines I love eating and cooking, Indian food will definitely rank first but Italian food comes a close second. And it may seem odd that I hold both cuisines dear cause they are so diverse in flavours and even cooking methods. But for me there are so many similarities amidst the obvious differences. Both countries have a strong agricultural identity and that shows in its food and popular recipes. The dishes are unpretentious, wholesome and – despite what the diet fads want us to believe – very healthy.
Italian food too has that simple and rustic nature and what I am most amazed by is how much flavour you can pack with few ingredients. Can you believe that this is all that I needed to make this yummy pasta dish:
To make pasta dishes more suitable to an Indian palette, you need to be a little generous – in comparison to Italians – while using garlic. Most Italians will use the whole garlic without chopping and later even discard it. But for us, its best to finely chop it and even add more than what an authentic Italian recipe would suggest. And Italians enjoy spice too, albeit in a different way than us. So be generous with the crushed pepper and chilli flakes, if you are so inclined. But one thing I wouldn’t do is use turmeric, chilli powder and other certain Indian spices that are foreign to this cuisine. It’s better to make your pasta dishes “Indian” with a more pronounced use of garlic, pepper and chilli flakes.
Now I know it’s always best to work with fresh ingredients but I have tried many, many times to make this sauce with fresh tomatoes – blanched, skinned, deseeded and whatnot. It does not work the same way a tomato puree does. You need the concentrated puree flavour to make a good tomato pasta sauce. Fresh tomatoes tend to be extremely acidic and it becomes difficult to balance it out. Tomato puree has just the right amount of tanginess that can be easily balanced with the sweetness of the onions and a pinch of sugar.
But another thing that makes this pasta sauce is the addition of chicken (maybe even vegetable) stock. The meatiness of the stock is needed to add depth to the sauce. Given the fact that an average urban Indian pantry doesn’t stock up on – well stock, chicken or otherwise, I tried to create this recipe that will give us the desired effect minus the hunt for overpriced chicken stock (although you should know its awfully easy to make stock at home). So I have added chicken (with bones) in the very beginning of the cooking process and allowed the tomato puree to simmer in it – thus, allowing the juices into the sauce. In the end you need to separate the meat from the bones and add it back to the sauce – and the bones could turn into a feast for your pet dog if you have one (win-win!).
So here we go, this is the way I cook pasta in red sauce and, not to brag, it is bellissimo! And you know what, you can build many variations using this as the base recipe. Go ahead, give it a try and I would love to know how it turned out. I am all ears (or eyes, so to speak) on instagram and twitter.
- 2tbsp olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
- 100-150gms chicken (with bones)
- 1 packet tomato purée (200gms)
- Pinch of sugar
- Salt to taste
- Coarsely ground peppercorns
- Dry Italian herb seasoning
- Chilli flakes (optional)
- 1 cup water
- 150-200gms fusilli pasta (about three fistfuls), cooked
- Fresh basil leaves
- Handful of black olives (or more)
- Heat olive oil in a pan on medium low flame. Add finely chopped onion and garlic, and cook till translucent.
- Add the chicken and cook for about 2-3minutes. Increase the flame and get slight caramelisation on the onion and chicken in the pan. Don't burn or char it though.
- Reduce the flame and add the tomato purée. Add a pinch of sugar and season with salt, dry herbs, coarsely crushed peppercorns and chilli flakes (optional). Let the puree cook for a minute or so. Add water, cover the pan and let the sauce simmer for 30-45mins on a low flame.
- Remove the chicken pieces and separate the cooked meat from the bones. Add the shredded chicken, cooked pasta, fresh basil and olives to the tomato sauce and cook for 5minutes or so. Serve the pasta with toasted bread or baked potato wedges.
For a vegetarian version: Replace the chicken with mushrooms (about half the packet, that’s roughly 50-70grams).
Variations: Consider this as a base recipe to create more intense, yummy flavours. You can add chopped bacon along with the onion in the beginning. Add mushrooms along with the chicken to add more depth to the tomato sauce. If you want to introduce more veggies, like broccoli and bell pepper, add them in the end along with the pasta to the sauce. You don’t want to overcook the broccoli or peppers.