nosy neighbours and hot pasta sauce

Somewhere in the middle of 2005 I moved into what was “my first apartment”.

Roasted Tomatoes

A double-bedroom apartment that had a balcony overlooking one of Baroda’s busiest crossings. It was an open plan with a kitchen-cum-dining-cum-living and the kitchen was anything but. It was lined with pink granite counter-tops on two sides and the sole appliance it housed was a double gas-burner. The rest of the space was used for storing mounds of sheets and rolls of paper. The roles piled one on top of the other formed a mountain that almost reached the ceiling, short of a feet or two. They threatened to topple down on our heads at any moment, but their threats fell on deaf ears.

My half of the apartment included a single bedroom that was airy in summer and warm in the winter. It had an attached bath that was approximately the size of a small bento box and a large window that occupied an entire wall. The window overlooked a large courtyard and a common corridor that was always drenched in rainwater during the heavy monsoon months.

The corridor was also my nosy neighbour’s favourite hangout apparently.

She would take a stroll through it, up and down, every hour or so, pausing near my window every time she crossed it and then extend her long neck to take a peek inside. It was her regular routine. For the first year that I lived in that apartment, this habit of hers was torture. I would look up from my work and jump in panic as I’d spot her face floating on one corner of my window. After working long hours through the night, I’d take a long nap. And as I would open my droopy eyelids and turn my head, there’d be her face. Floating at my window. Again.

I spent that entire year arguing with her, starting with politeness and ending in sharp words, as I would try to make her see how she was invading my private space. I tried sarcasm. Then I moved on to anger. I resorted to contorting my face into ugliness as I spoke to her, hoping that my expressions would scare her off. I even tried threatening her with letters to the building management. And I also started to keep my curtains drawn at all times blocking out all the daylight, which, was not fun. But in my entire comparatively short-life I have never met any woman with such great will power as hers.

By the second year, I was used to her nosiness and too tired and busy to complain. But silently kept looking for a solution to the problem. The solution arrived sooner than I expected. In the shape and form of a man – a half-Goan-half-Portuguese curly-haired student of commerce. We had met over a roadside chai stall frequented by students of the University and an episode of puppy-love had followed. And besides all the drama and petting-rituals this relationship demanded, it also kept me watered and fed. We used to share our evening over episodes of How I Met Your Mother, bowls of spaghetti in watery tomato sauce, pressure-cooked chicken and tuna sandwiches from Subway. There was also the incident where we were too busy exchanging affections to notice that the apartment had started to flood due to a leaky faucet. Um…I’ve grown since.

I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this. In fact, I’m positive that you’ve already guessed how I scared off my neighbour. Oh well. Let’s just say, her floating head disappeared permanently from my window since that fateful evening when my friend showed up.

He did show up with another packet of supermarket spaghetti and another jar of watery tomato sauce and we never really got to eat much, but in retrospect that was a price I was willing to pay for revenge on a nosy neighbour.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Indianised salsa di pomodoro
inspired by Gordon Ramsey’s tomato soup in Chef’s Secrets

Any kind if tomatoes will do for this one, but try it with tomatoes on the vine as well. In that case, don’t remove the vine before roasting them. We like it hot and spicy over here, and if you do too, notch up the heat to two chillies instead of one. As an alternative, try roasting the tomatoes for 1 1/2 hours at 150 deg C. To turn this into a lovely tomato soup, just heat the sauce along with 1 1/2 cups of chicken/vegetable stock. The soup can be served with a dollop of crème fraiche and a toasted baguette. The recipe doubles easily if you require a larger batch.

5 medium tomatoes, in thick slices
2 medium red onions [or Spanish onions], sliced
1/2 head of garlic, skin on
1 red chilli [we keep the seeds intact, but remove the seeds if you prefer]
1 tsp of dried basil
1 tsp of dried thyme [or 2 tsp of fresh thyme leaves]
1 tsp of turmeric powder
1 tsp of ground coriander
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil, as needed
Juice of 1 lime [or half a lemon]
2 tbsp of honey
2 tbsp of barbecue sauce [store-bought is just fine]

Pre-heat oven to 170 deg C. Scatter tomatoes, onions and garlic on a baking tray. Sprinkle basil, thyme, turmeric, coriander over and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, about 4-5 tablespoons, all over the ingredients. Roast for 45-50 minutes till the tomatoes start to fall apart. Let everything cool in the tray for 15 minutes before squeezing the garlic out of its skin. Blitz everything in a blender or food processor till smooth. Add lime juice, honey and barbecue sauce and stir well.
The sauce will keep for a week in an air-tight jar kept in the refrigerator. Use it as a dip or as a pasta sauce. To use with pasta, heat it up in a pan before adding cooked pasta along with fresh basil leaves and a handful of grated parmesan.

happy sunday

Lazy Sunday morning.

– My contribution to Honest Cooking so far. Working on a piece that simplifies curry for beginners and enthusiasts.

– Dreaming about Jensen Ackles. Because he is just the right amount of dreamy. Enough not to distract you from work and yet, make you hurry home and snatch the TV remote away from other family members just so you can watch him in all his demon-busting glory.

– Making green tomato sabji…or something you have with flat breads. Or in my case, on slices of bread.

– Can’t believe how perfect these are for me. Putting them on my “must-try” list, even though I haven’t had much success getting through the list so far.

– Sliced a whole bunch of onions for lunch today. Potluck at our place. Word on the street is that there’s a large pot of Chicken Makhni (butter chicken) making its way over here in sometime. Can’t wait.

Happy Sunday everyone.

store bought without apologies

Not a very good way to start this post would be by saying that I’m not fond of puff pastry. Just something about the flakes that scatter when I bite into it and then proceed to stick to my lips when I pull away. Ultimately, I keep wiping myself after every bite.

And this has kept me away from freshly-made croissants and cream puffs. I only eat the stale ones. Less flakes.

And all this hostility towards puff pastry, till I made it myself last week.

Well, being the lazy big-buttocks that I am, I had never imagined having the patience to roll, pat and fold over and over again. But I did. And yes, I could go on about how I achieved a sense of accomplishment and yada yada yada. But I didn’t. To say that the pastry I made went on to become lovely flaky chutney tarts, would be a lie.

After all the hard work, sweat and toil and unlimited glances at the recipe did not result in success. The first batch did not rise and came out half-cooked and soggy…sort of like sad deflated bread slices. It can’t get any worse, I thought foolishly as I raised the temperature hoping the even hotter air would make it rise. Then the second batch came out. Brown and burnt to a crisp with an even under-cooked center.

So I gave up. I went to the store and bought ready-rolled puff-pastry sheets. And no, I’m not ashamed of it. All you with your noses turned up can stick it really, because, the next time I’m trying my hand at puff pastry would be if I’m in either one of the following situations:

1) my children, off-springs of my own flesh and blood, request me to make some, or

2) someone has a gun pointed at my head.

That’s it for now. If you want a really good puff-pastry making guide try Keiko’s recipe.

Tomato & Pineapple Chutney

500 gm of tomatoes, diced
1 pineapple, diced
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
1/2 cup of honey
Pinch of salt
5 cloves
5 crushed cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup of sultanas

Combine everything in a deep-bottomed pan and put on low heat. Cover and cook for 15 minutes till the fruits have started breaking down. Add 1 cup of water. Raise the heat to medium. Cover and cook till the mixtures starts resembling a chutney, i.e., all the fruit has turned into mush and a thick syrup has formed. Take the cover off, and boil on high heat till most of the moisture boils off. Cool and serve with or after meals, especially Indian ones. Great on toast or cream-crackers as a snack…or just by itself, straight from the fridge. Keeps in the fridge for 3-4 days covered with cling film.

For the tarts:

Store-bought puff-pastry sheet, either ready-rolled or in a block
1 egg, lightly beaten
Tomato & Pineapple Chutney
Strawberries
Peanuts or Toasted Almonds or Pistachios, slivered or roughly chopped, to garnish
Lightly whipped double cream , to garnish

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Line a tray with baking parchment or greased aluminum foil. Cut the sheets into rectangular tart-sizes. I can get about 8 pieces out of one sheet. Make a grooved border all around, about 1/2 an inch away from the edges. Use a pastry brush to brush the borders with the beaten egg. Lay the tarts on the tray. Arrange the chutney, or strawberries on the inside of the egg-washed edges and bake in the oven till the pastry is all puffed-up and the edges are a crispy golden colour. It takes about 18-20 minutes. Serve immediately topped with the nuts or with lightly whipped cream.