The first sign of reopening in my town was the emergence of white pole tents in unexpected places. They popped up like mushrooms in parking lots and green spaces next to local restaurants to protect patrons who feel safe dining six feet apart. If you feel the need to break out but aren’t ready to dine out, try doing it virtually. Come into the kitchen with me and make your escape by creating a new taste experience.
Just this week, I took a virtual cooking trip by turning a pasta recipe from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA into one a home cook near New Delhi might prepare. I left the basic moves unchanged: the pasta and cauliflower were cooked al dente, tossed together and sprinkled with a soft cheese. The cultural divide showed up as soon as the pan hit the cooktop.
Instead of sautéing the cauliflower florets to a slightly caramelized finish à la française, I soaked them in cold water and steamed them which preserved their mustard aroma. Rather than adding a pinch of red pepper flakes called for in the Chez Panisse recipe, I added as many chopped green chilis as my palate could comfortably tolerate. The finish was decidedly different too.
The French recipe aimed at balance with the addition of lemon juice and crunchy walnuts to complement the cauliflower. I added ginger, garlic and turmeric which are staples in a north Indian kitchen to mollify the heat of the chilis. This combination had the effect of sweetening the taste of cauliflower. The flavor in each bite was different and inviting.
My fanciful culinary flight was inspired by the cooks I observed in private homes on a recent “real food” trip through Rajasthan and in Goa, India. You need not have travelled that distance to experience a break out this summer. Come travel with me to Morocco via Zoom on Saturday, June 20 when I’ll prepare a fish tagine with charmoula and a skillet bread.
BREAKOUT PASTA WITH CAULIFLOWER
Ingredients for 4 servings:
1 head cauliflower, cored, separated into florets
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1 red onion, halved, peeled, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 + long green chilis, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 - 3 ounces feta cheese
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped
Soak the cauliflower florets in cold water while preparing the other ingredients.
Heat 3 quarts of water to simmer with 2 tablespoons salt and cook pasta al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain all but the last 1/2 cup water and reserve with the pasta, tossing occasionally to keep the pasta moist.
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet. Cook the onion slices over medium heat until they begin to wilt, about 3 minutes. Stir in the ginger and garlic pieces for a minute. Add dried thyme. Mix in the turmeric for 1 minute. Drain the cauliflower and add curds to the pan along with the green chilis. Stir for 1 minute, add the salt, cover the pan and cook over medium low heat until the curds are just tender, 5 - 7 minutes. Add fresh thyme. Fold in the reserved pasta, water and briefly reheat in the skillet. Add more salt if needed. Crumble the feta over the pasta and sprinkle on the cilantro.
Note #1: In India a cook would add 1 teaspoon ajwain seeds rather than thyme.
Note #2: The French version of this recipe is in Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters, page 84.