Thursday, October 20, 2016

An Easier Way to Cook Pasta (and requesting your best Mumbai tips)

I've heard the newborn period being referred to quite accurately as the "best worst time" and the "longest shortest time". How true- the days stretched on endlessly in a series of feeds, naps and diaper changes but 7 weeks of maternity leave went by in a flash. I've transitioned into work and the schedule is suddenly very tight. V and I have very minimal ambitions these days, namely to do the least amount of housework required to keep all three kids (baby, preschooler, dog) well fed and relatively clean while leaving plenty of time for snuggling, story-time and walks respectively.

The one thing that the whole family looks forward to is a hot and hearty dinner every evening. The One Hot Stove kitchen is in maintenance mode, churning out no-recipe-needed basic but wholesome fare from fridge and pantry staples.

Pasta is frequently on the menu. To streamline the pantry, I keep only two shapes on hand, one short and one long- white fiber pasta shells and whole wheat thin spaghetti.

Cook pasta isn't exactly rocket science to begin with, but these days I make it even simpler by using a passive pasta cooking method. Read about it exhaustively here and here. But in a nutshell, I boil water not in a gigantic pasta pot but instead, a fraction of the amount of water in a medium pot, add salt, bring to boil, dump in pasta (either the shells or spaghetti broken in half), bring water to boil again (takes only a few seconds), stir and turn the heat OFF with the lid on. Leave it alone for several minutes, check to see that pasta is cooked, then drain. Done. Use in recipe.

Basically the pasta cooks in enough hot water to submerge it rather than in a large pot of actively boiling water.

Once the pasta is cooked, I combine it with plenty of vegetables and some kind of sauce. Some favorites:

1. Peppers, zucchini, eggplant, greens with a red sauce and a splash of cream and parmesan. Often I'll add mock sausage.

2. Peppers, red or green cabbage, sautéed tofu cubes and a peanut sauce.

3. Roasted broccoli and cauliflower with pesto and parmesan.

4. Winter squash with a garlicky cream sauce. Here's a quick recipe for this one:

  • Microwave an acorn squash for 5 minutes to soften it. 
  • When cool enough to handle, peel and cube squash. 
  • Saute onions and garlic, then add cubed squash and saute until squash is tender.
  • Season with freshly ground black pepper, smoked paprika and salt.
  • Add cream and some pasta cooking water and simmer the sauce for a few minutes.
  • Stir in cooked pasta and parmesan
As simple as this is, I swear it tastes like something from a fancy bistro. Not that I remember what food from a fancy bistro tastes like any more ;) 

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One of my dearest friends is headed to Mumbai for a short vacation in mid-November and asked me for suggestions on where to go and what to do. Edited to add: She will be staying at a hotel in Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai.

I've been friends with her for 15 years and will never forget the times when this all-American girl made me sambar and rice when I was working crazy hours finishing up my dissertation. Clearly she likes to cook and loves to eat Indian food and Bombay/Mumbai being a foodie's paradise, I know she will love the food there (like me, she is a lacto ovo vegetarian.)

Some must-eat foods in Mumbai...what am I forgetting?
Pav bhaji
Paper dosa
Gujarati thali
Batata vada
Coconut water

Does anyone know of good food tours or walking tours?

When I lived in Mumbai (all my teenage and young adult years), what I liked to do the most was walk walk walk all over the city, stopping for snacks here and there and diving into second hand book stores. I was also a culture vulture to the max, taking in as many dance performances, art galleries and Marathi and English plays as I could. But Mumbai was home, and I didn't do much touristy stuff ever.

What am I missing? What's the latest and greatest in Mumbai these days? Please do chime in with your suggestions. Thank you!!