There are times I wish I had grown up by the knees of an Italian nonna, learning how roll out homemade fettuccine. We’d be at it all morning, me watching and sticking my hands into the mounds of flour, she’d be scolding me between large swigs of limoncello. By a twist of fate, however, I was born to a Bengali grandmother who taught me how to balance complicated chemical equations, smelled of lavender and handed down a mutton curry recipe. It was a good deal, if you ask me.
That does mean I buy dry pasta from the supermarket and that owning a pasta maker is on the list. On the list, I said.
For a long time, pasta was my quintessential go-to meal. Those days, I’d wake up late in the afternoon and walk an often sleet-covered pavement, down to the nearest Sainsbury’s. I would then spend a whole hour eyeing the salmon fillets and logs of blood pudding, stocking up on dried pasta, chili flakes and bags of salt-n-vinegar crisps. I’d then spend another hours picking chocolate bars from new and un-heard of brands that seem to pop up every other day in England.
After trundling home with bright green bags of food, heat up a pan with oil and a pot with salted water. In the pan would go cubed salmon, garlic and chili flakes. I’d then proceed to tumble in the cooked pasta and finish off with a handful of grated parmesan. Sometimes bits of blood pudding would also end up in the pan with the salmon. But blood pudding is not something to be used regularly in pasta, let alone with something as delicate as salmon. Blood pudding is something you should stow away, to eat sauteed — with bread and lettuce when you’re alone, or scallops and mushy peas when there’s company.
The problem was, not once could I ever finish an entire portion alone. The smell of salmon and cheese had the incredible power to bring my housemates out of their afternoon hibernation. University students around food is like leaving a split-skinned banana out in the backyard. With the banana, you’ll find it half-eaten by ants and bugs. With the students, you’ll find empty plates licked clean.
Food is a calling. Invisible, and severely strong waves spread from plates of food, till they reach all students in the vicinity. Who then walk towards it like zombies hungry for blood. The food calls to them. Guides them to wherever it is. And that was always the case with pasta, or any food actually, in my house. I always liked to think I was performing an act of benevolence for the hungry masses.
How could you not have something called Slut Spaghetti in your repertoire?
But this dish is much less than that. A quick mix of minced chicken with garlic, chilies, tomatoes and dried oregano over al dente spaghetti.
Useful Pasta For benevolent Purposes
(for 2 people)
- Spaghetti for two (about 100-125 gms for each person)
- Olive oil to cook
- 1 spanish onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons of red chili flakes (or 2 red chilies, finely chopped, seeds and all)
- 500 gms of minced chicken
- 4-5 large tomatoes, cubed in 1-inch thick cubes (you can also substitute with a can of tomatoes, if you want a saucier sauce)
- 2 teaspoons of dried oregano
- Salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- Grated parmesan and basil leaves, to garnish
- Heat a deep-bottomed pan half-filled with water. Salt the water well.
- Once it starts boiling (full boil, mind you), drop in the spaghetti strands, and cook as per packet instructions.
- Reserve a half cup of pasta water, after the paste is cooked. Drain the rest of liquid away.
- Heat oil in a pan and when sufficiently hot, fry the chopped onion till translucent.
- Add minced garlic and saute for 30 seconds, to take their pungency off.
- Add in the chicken. Stir well. Cover and cook on medium for 2 minutes, till the chicken has turned completely white.
- Add tomatoes and oregano and the reserved pasta water. Cover and cook, till the sauce has reduced to the consistency you want (we like it to be thick and not runny).
- Add in the cooked pasta. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve hot with grated parmesan or fresh basil leaves to garnish.