As covid-19 recedes, and restaurants get at least some of their buzz back, we have chosen not to join the crowds. After all, in Bengaluru, the roads are rivers whenever it rains hard and rivers of traffic on the sunniest of days.
I say, keep the party at home.
Quite apart from the hassle of travelling, I certainly do not have money to splurge in these days when journalists like me are either unemployed or unemployable. To remind you: Food made at home is cheaper than the cheapest available outside. And here’s the bottom line—I am quite tired of eating food that is often overpriced and cajoling staff to tell the chef to reduce oil, cut the sauce and hold the butter .
Food at home is almost always healthier too. If you pay enough attention, it is also tastier. You do not need to be a professional chef to turn out food of the best quality. As I always say, if I can, anyone can.
If you have the time and inclination, you can always produce a spread that is worthy of the best restaurant. If you do not, well, as our friend Gayatri Menon says, there is always Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food.
Menon, a professor who does long commutes to work, knows a thing or two about producing light, delicious food in the shortest possible time. “As a single person, when I have a party, I don’t like to spend time in the kitchen,” she said. “All the stuff just needs to be put on the table and people can help themselves whenever.”
She told me this when we were at her quiet home in Bengaluru, during a week when frequent downpours had lengthened her one to one-and-a-half-hour commute to three-and-a-half hours—that’s one way.
On that balmy night, she had on the table a roasted red pepper and tomato salad, slices of roasted brinjal dressed in pomegranate molasses, roast beef and foxtail millet. Everything was made in advance, and only the last two needed gentle microwave reheating.
“Indian food needs a lot of things to be heated up,” said our host, who spent no more than 10 minutes in the kitchen and most of the evening with us and the wine. She swears by Claudia Rosen’s The New Book Of Middle-Eastern Food as a guide for culinary quick-fixes but she has always had the ability to keep it simple yet delicious.
I needed that reminder of simplicity because in recent months I have tended to sometimes abandon my own quick-and-easy cooking mantra to complicate things a bit. I have tended to overplan and overthink menus, with the result that I have spent far too much time in the kitchen.
I changed tack last weekend, inspired by Menon and urged by the wife, who has started to set the culinary agenda, even though she does not cook. She knows I do not take kindly to orders, so she has taken to “suggestions” delivered with a smile, then simply buying ingredients and delivering a fait accompli.
That’s what happened when she bought prawns and squid—which I had never cooked before. Why don’t you make a seafood pasta? she asked sweetly. I furrowed my brow and looked at her suspiciously. She reminded me that I often ordered seafood pasta in restaurants but always griped about the oil and the amount of sauce, so why didn’t I just make it at home?
She was right. It was a one-pot meal, most of it could be kept ready and put together at the last moment, with perhaps 10 minutes in the kitchen. That is exactly what happened. The vegetarian version is easy: Just remove the sauce before the seafood is added.
As my recipe makes clear, the pasta and the sauce can be made earlier. Since prawn and squid cook in five minutes and care must always be taken to not overcook and render them rubbery, the final effort is minimal. You can add more seafood than I did—small cubes of fish perhaps. The version I eat in Bengaluru’s legendary Sunny’s restaurant always has half a crab in it.
My picky 12-year-old said the spaghetti was “just like Bologna”, referring to a restaurant with one of the best seafood pastas in town. Praise, pouring rain and toothsome food—what could be better?
SEAFOOD SPAGHETTI WITH SQUID AND PRAWN
Half kg medium-sized prawns
250g squid, cut into rings
1 packet of spaghetti
5 medium tomatoes, boiled, skinned and chopped
1 can of tomatoes
Garlic, 1 handful
Fresh basil, 1 handful
2-3 tsp dried or fresh oregano
1 tsp fresh black pepper
Salt to taste
1 tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil
Bring salted water to a rolling boil. Break spaghetti into half and drop into water. Stir gently until spaghetti is cooked, drain in a colander, retaining half a cup of the water. Toss the spaghetti in 2 tsp of olive oil. Set aside.
In a non-stick pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil gently and fry garlic for a minute. Add chopped tomatoes and mix well. Add canned tomatoes with liquid, and crush and sauté on medium heat until it all starts to become the consistency of a sauce. Add the water in which you had boiled the spaghetti, depending on how thick you want the tomato sauce. Add salt and pepper. Reduce heat. Set aside if serving after a while. Just before serving, reheat the sauce and stir squid and prawn into it. Add oregano and adjust salt.
Pour sauce with seafood over the spaghetti and toss with basil leaves.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. @samar11 on Instagram.
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