Italy on my plate: A tummy travel tale!

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his tummy. Sometimes, so is the way to a new country. Especially when you’re low on finances and find your bank balance trembling at the very thought of pushing that ‘book’ button. This Independence Day, I had the urge to tummy-travel to the country whose flag is so similar to our own – Italy, the land of pasta, pizza and parmigiano!

Take a look:

India and Italy: Simply a play of colours
India to the left and Italy to the right: Simply a play of colours

Independence Day around the corner and Italy on my mind – how was I to reconcile both these factors and also make my tummy happy? The pack of Del Monte penne rigate lying on my table stared back at me dolefully; wondering what fate I had in store for its delicious contents. I decided to listen to some Verdi for inspiration and as the dramatic opening notes of dies irae filled my ears, an idea floated to me on tricoloured wings – tricolour pasta.

Tricolour pasta: Bringing India & Italy together

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 3 hours

Be warned, there are three sauces to whip up for this visual and culinary treat and it might take you three hours to do it, but the effort is worth it. It’s perfect for Independence Day lunch fare or an Italy-starved soul like me.

Tricolour pasta by Ankita Shreeram
Italy to the left, India to the right. All it takes is a twist of the tummy travel plate.

#ItalianEscapade 1: Green sauce (salsa verde)

This one is my favourite, for its rich aroma, mouthwatering flavours and healthy virtuousness. And so I decided to begin with the parsley and basil-laden Italian green sauce (salsa verde). This is my personal version, tailored to Indian kitchens and my own palate.

Parsley and basil
Parsley (left) and basil (right), the stars of this recipe and a lot of Italian cooking

The ammunition: Ingredients

Ingredients for salsa verde (Italian green sauce)

Parsley leaves – 1 cup

Basil leaves – 1 cup

Extra virgin olive oil – 1/2 cup

Garlic – A few cloves

Salt and pepper to taste (try and use freshly ground pepper for extra flavour)

Optional ingredients: Pine nuts (for extra flavour), parmesan cheese (if you like it creamier but I do not recommend it as this dish includes white sauce as well) and red wine vinegar (if you can find it)

Get to it: The method

Blend all the ingredients in a blender until smooth (add water if required – I used 150ml).

Pour into a bowl and let it stand while you prepare the other two sauces.

You are allowed to slip a finger into your mouth to taste its scrumptious flavours and imagine that you’re in a kitchen garden in Florence. Yes, parsley and basil taste totally different from similar looking Indian herbs such as coriander.

Tip: Do not re-heat the sauce; it’ll make it bitter. Warm it up gently in the microwave before you pour over the pasta if you like.

Your secret weapon: Freshly ground pepper

Italian green sauce (salsa verde)

#ItalianEscapade 2: Italian red sauce 

When I go to restaurants, usually there is no option for green sauce with pasta (unless it’s a gourmet restaurant). One has to choose between red and white and I usually go for red because it’s lighter and spicier. The Italian version is both sweet and spicy and you can tilt towards sweeter or spicier depending on your tastes.

The ammunition: Ingredients

Ingredients for Italian red sauce

Fresh tomatoes – 3

Diced onion – 1/2 cup

Basil leaves – 1/2 cup

Extra virgin olive oil – 1/2 cup

Garlic – A few cloves

Cloves – 6

Sugar – 1 teaspoon (or as per taste)

Freshly ground pepper – 1 teaspoon (or as per taste)

Salt to taste

Crushed red pepper (optional; I like it for some spice)

Optional ingredient: Grated parmesan cheese

Get to it: The method

Boil the tomatoes and puree them in a blender after removing the skins, along with the basil leaves. Hum a Puccini tune and dream of the colourful houses of Palermo.

Saute onion, cloves and garlic on a pan in olive oil.

Add sauteed ingredients to puree and blend again.

Pour into a bowl and let it stand while you prepare the white sauce and pasta. The sauce needs to simmer but that can be done while adding it to the pasta.

Tomatoes and onions
(Left) Tomatoes getting ready to be skinned; (right) onions, garlic and cloves getting the hot treatment

Tip: If you’re preparing this sauce for later use, simmer it for a while on a pan before pouring into a container for storage. In traditional Italian cooking, the tomatoes are slow cooked for hours on a low flame but for our purposes, the process has been speeded up by blending the tomatoes instead.

Your secret weapon: Crushed red pepper flakes

Italian red (tomato) sauce

#ItalianEscapade 3: Italian white sauce

This one is a guilty pleasure; creamy, cheesy and oh so yummy that it is. The basic recipes don’t include any spices or garlic but a dash of thyme or oregano (if you have it) makes a huge difference to the flavour. Parmesan cheese is the whole and soul of this recipe.

Shredded parmesan cheese
The Italians call it ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’. Sounds like an entire sentence, eh?

The ammunition: Ingredients

Ingredients for Italian white sauce

Milk or cream – 2 cups

Butter – 1/2 cup (I used garlic and oregano butter for extra punch)

White flour – 2 tablespoons

Grated parmesan cheese – 1 cup

Garlic – A few cloves

Salt to taste

A dash of oregano/pepper (optional)

Get to it: The method

On a saucepan, melt the butter and add flour to it quickly, stirring well so that they blend together.

Add the milk/cream, cheese and other ingredients and keep stirring until the mixture is smooth. You may use a whisk to blend it better. Think of the gondolas in Venice to keep your wrists from tiring.

If the sauce begins to get too thick, add more milk and stir.

When ready, pour into a bowl. This sauce thickens when cool but we’ll be reheating it anyway while adding it to the pasta so that’s fine.

Butter and flour
Adding flour to the butter

Tip: Use milk instead of cream; the sauce is heavy as it is because of the cheese and flour.

Your secret weapon: Garlic and herbs butter 

Italian green,white and red sauce
Italian white sauce, flanked by its green and red counterparts

#ItalianEscapade 4: The pasta

This one’s easy. All we have to do is boil water in a large vessel (around 3 cups for every handful of pasta), add a tablespoon of salt (or more, depending on taste) to it, and then the pasta. For this dish, I added four handfuls, as I was planning to feed my family of four (including myself).

I used Del Monte‘s gourmet penne rigate pasta for its superior taste and quality. Interestingly, although pasta is Italian, Del Monte is headquartered in California! Then again, if I can whip up an Italian storm in my very much Indian kitchen, it’s not that surprising, is it?

Del Monte gourmet pasta
My precious pack of Del Monte penne rigate

Stir the pasta and let it cook for a while. Taste the pasta when it seems to be done. If it’s al dente (cooked but crisp), then you’re done.

Drain the water and have the pasta ready for the final stage of this dish. Your tummy travel plane, powered by Del Monte‘s goodness is about to touch down in Rome.

Boiling pasta
Del Monte penne pasta simmering in the vessel

#ItalianEscapade 5: The tricolour pasta 

Ah, we’re finally getting there. In three hours, my tummy questioned me more than once whether we’d reached Italy yet and every time I counselled that good things took their own time to arrive. In this case, I reached Italian culinary paradise in just a little over three hours.

Vegetables are fun!

To add some pizazz to this unique dish, I decided to add carrots to the pasta in red sauce and bell peppers (capsicum) to the pasta in green sauce. Besides, we Indians like a bit of crunch in our pasta, don’t we? These vegetables are used in pasta salads and there are several others you can add if you wish to. Good choices include mushrooms, black olives, peas and broccoli.

Sliced carrot and bell pepper
My sliced carrot and bell pepper, ready for sauteing

Saute the sliced carrots and capsicum in some olive oil and set aside in bowls, to be added while stirring the pasta with the respective sauces.

Go green 

For the green part of our tricolour pasta, warm the green sauce slightly in a microwave or pan (don’t make it too hot) and then drizzle over the cooked pasta. Stir it up so that it covers the pasta completely and then, add the sauteed bell pepper. Once it’s done, set it aside in a bowl. Very soon, a spoonful of this will transport you to the coastal view of Naples.

Pasta in green sauce

Red hot!

Next, warm up the red sauce in a pan and add the cooked pasta to it. Stir until the sauce glazes the pasta completely. Add the sauteed carrots, stir and set it aside in a bowl. Enjoy the aroma of spicy cloves and sweet tomatoes. It’s the very aroma of Italian finesse.

Cooking pasta
The wonderful Del Monte pasta, about to be wedded to my red hot sauce
Pasta in tomato sauce
Now they are man and wife.

White magic

For the white part of the tricolour pasta, heat the now thickened white sauce in a pan and add the pasta when it starts to become thinner. Stir until it’s fully covered and drizzle with some grated parmesan cheese if you wish. Don’t if you’d rather continue to wear those skinny jeans (just kidding – some days of cheating are allowed!). I added an additional dash of pepper for spice. You can also garnish with oregano.

Pasta in white sauce

The proof of the pudding is in the plating

All three pastas are ready but it’s still not a tricolour pasta until they all come together in that wonderful process called plating. A handy trick is to line the middle of the plate with pasta in white sauce first. Then, it becomes easy to fill the spaces on either side with pasta in green and red sauces respectively. Finish up by adding a sprig of parsley on top. Don’t you love its heavenly aroma? It seems to have come straight from the kitchens of Italian chefs in Turin.

Tricolour pasta by Ankita Shreeram
Do you want a bite?
Tricolour pasta by Ankita Shreeram
Happy Indian Independence Day!
Tricolour pasta by Ankita Shreeram
Happy Italian Independence Day!

Try the tricolour pasta for yourself and let me know how it turns out. And don’t forget to use Del Monte‘s gourmet penne rigate because the devil is in the details, right? Buon appetito! And let me know which country you’d like to tummy travel to, next time.