In which I go back to my (South Indian) roots
India being the huge country that it is, there is a lot of variation between people in different parts of it. That way you could almost call me mixed race. Or mixed culture at any rate. My parents belonged to widely varying parts of the country, and although I grew up in Calcutta in the heart of Bengalhood, I still have a South Indian heritage. I love the food at any rate! My South Indian father has been living here, in Calcutta, for the better part of the last 30 years and he misses the food. A lot. So I decided to give him a treat by cooking him something from his native state. The bonus would be that I would get to have it too! Yum.
Ennai Kathirikai or Andhra aubergine curry
4 small purple aubergines
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon ginger paste
2 dried red chillies
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
10-12 curry leaves
2 tablespoons tamarind pulp
2 teaspoons powdered red chillies
2 tablespoons powdered coriander
Cut the aubergines in to 2 inch pieces.
Make a paste of all the ingredients in section 1.
Now take all the ingredients in section 2 minus the curry leaves and powder them in the blender.
Take all the ingredients in section 3 and make a paste with 2 cups water. Be careful to take out the tamarind seeds.
Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a dutch oven. Err on the side of generosity because aubergines soak up a lot of oil.
When the oil is hot, release the ground spices into it along with the curry leaves.
Fry for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.
Now add the onion-ginger-garlic paste and fry till the oil separates out.
Add the aubergine and coat thoroughly with the spice-onion mix. Fry till they change colour and shrink somewhat.
Now add the tamarind water and wait for it to boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat till it comes to a gentle simmer.
Simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the water has evaporated and the gravy has thickened. Adjust seasonings.
Serve over a bed of hot rice.
In which I bake my last pie for the time being
I broke my pie dish. I was in the middle of baking a spinach, mushroom and homemade ricotta pie when I banged it against the door and dropped it and that was the end of everything. Pies in my opinion are the best comfort food along with custards (and being south Asian, all combinations of rice) and I am in a situation where I need a lot of comfort food. There is something supremely comforting and serene about rolling out the perfect buttery crust and filling it in with buttery, creamy, eggy goodness and putting it in the oven to condense and become the perfect pie. And then there is the eating of it. Not as comforting, but still. I am one of those cooks who love to give away all the food they make because once it is made it loses all its allure for me. There have however been a few things I have baked in my life which I have loved eating as well and this pumpkin pie is one of them.
Comforting pumpkin pie
For the filling:
1 kg pumpkin plus 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cream
50 g butter
3/4 cup sugar put through a blender to make it superfine
4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks (I use small/ medium eggs)
1 tablespoon mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves)
For the pastry shell:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar blended to make it superfine
100 g butter cubed and frozen
Ice water, if required
When it occurs to you to make this pie, start a day earlier. Cube some cold butter and bung it in the freezer to harden overnight. This needs at least a few hours.
In the morning when it is still cool, take out the butter and put it in a blender alongwith the flour and the sugar.
Pulse a few times until the mixture looks shaggy and there are small pieces of butter coated with flour in it.
Empty this in the bowl you’re going to work the pastry in.
Beat the egg and add it to the mixture making a well in the middle as you do so.
Gently bring together the buttery floury bits, mixing with the egg, taking care to not overknead. There should be whole bits of butter in the prepared dough. Add a bit of ice water if necessary. The aim of this is to not get the butter to melt.
If you feel the butter is melting, put the dough in the freezer for 10/ 15 minutes before taking it out and working it again.
Once the dough just comes together, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate (not freeze) for two hours. It is very important to not knead this dough because that will melt the butter. You need the butter to be whole and solid so it can melt in the oven and help the pastry puff up.
Coat the pumpkin liberally with the two tablespoons butter and bake in a 190C oven for an hour and 10 minutes, or until a knife goes in without any resistance. Wait for it to cool, and when it is cool, scrape off the flesh using a spoon, a fork and a knife.
Purée this in the blender along with the butter, cream eggs, sugar and mixed spice till pourable.
At the end of two hours, preheat the oven to 165 C, take a large piece of wax paper (if you are in India tracing paper does fine) and flour it liberally. Seriously you cannot have enough flour.
Take your pie dish and cover it with aluminium foil.
Take out the dough and put it on the floured surface and coat it liberally with flour.
Roll it carefully and don’t worry if it cracks. Just push it back in and roll again.
Upend the prepared pie dish on the rolled out pastry and using the paper as backing flip over the pie dish along with the pastry. Peel off the paper. If you have used enough flour, it should not be a problem.
Lift the pastry a little bit from the edge using your hands, a bit at a time and push it in towards the inner edges of the pie dish, so as to not leave any gap between the pastry and the pie dish.
Using a knife cut off the overhang. Prick the pastry all over with a fork.
Now cover it with another sheet of aluminium foil and fill the dish with pie weights. (I used red kidney beans. You can use any kind of beans or coins). This is to help the pastry to not puff up or shrink.
Blind bake this in the oven for 15 minutes and then take out the pie weights and the aluminium foil and bake for another 3 minutes or so.
Pour in the blender mix, taking care to not overfill the shell.
Bake for 30 minutes, until the filling jiggles slightly when nudged.
Let it cool in the oven for 20 minutes to 1/2 an hour before taking it out and cooling it. The pie bakes in its own heat so it is not advised to cool this in the fridge.
Once cooled completely, demould and eat with whipped cream.
In which I am a cheesemaker
When I saw this recipe for homemade ricotta on Smitten Kitchen I was immediately entranced. I HAD to have homemade ricotta, no matter how many gallons of milk I wasted in the process. There was just one snag. I didn’t have a candy thermometer. I had been meaning to get one for ages (mostly because of caramel candy) but hadn’t got around to doing so. When I saw this recipe I immediately went and bought one, so great was my desire for homemade cheese. But I simply couldn’t wait for 2/3 weeks for it to arrive (international shipping, MEH). So I decided to forge ahead nonetheless. I found this recipe by searching for ‘homemade ricotta without a candy thermometer’ and it proved to be extremely helpful. It took just 20 minutes, at the end of which I was rewarded by rich creamy goodness. Cheesemaking is not easy but some things can certainly be made at home. The process is incredibly similar to the Indian chana or paneer except this is creamy and soft instead of hard cubes. I f you have balked at making your own cheese, I urge you to try this because really, nothing can be simpler.
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
Juice of 1 1/2 small lemons
A large square of cheesecloth (if you live in india and don’t have a cheesecloth, use one of your mum’s or grandmum’s old cotton sarees, the really thin white ones)
Pinch of salt
Blend together the milk and cream and pour into a large dutch oven or a pot with a thick bottom.
Once the milk starts foaming, add the lemon juice and the salt.
Wait for it to curdle and then turn down the heat to the lowest it will go.
Keep it like this for a couple of minutes before taking off heat.
Strain the mixture through the cheesecloth into a large bowl, bring together the edges of the cloth and tie it with a strip of cloth that you have torn from the main piece earlier. You can also use a heavy duty rubber band.
Hang this to drip on the tap of your kitchen sink.
Once this has cooled down enough to handle, squeeze out the whey with your hands.
And your beautiful ricotta is ready.
In which I recreate a favourite dessert
Since I have acquired my pie dish, I have been on a baking spree. Pies, tarts, custards - you name it. My first crème brulee was last winter at a Cafe Rouge at Canterbury with my then boyfriend. It was delectable and I told him that I would do him serious harm if he tried to steal any. Then I relented and gave him a spoonful. But only a spoonful! Creme brulees also always remind me of Amelie. When I first saw the film at 18 I had no idea what that was, except that it was something wonderful. Now that I (mostly) have all the equipment, I thought I would recreate this at home. Caramelising sugar without a blowtorch is a pain, and as you can see, it wasn’t evenly caramelised. Next time, I will just make the caramel by hand and pour it in instead of sticking the whole thing under the broiler. I always thought things this delectable would be hard to make but this was super easy. Just blend together eggs, sugar and cream and bake for 45 minutes. That’s it!
1 cup cream
1/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar, put through a blender to make it superfine
1 tsp vanilla essence or if you can get hold of it, the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
1 tablespoon more sugar for the caramel
Blend together the first 6 ingredients and pour into a pie dish or individual ramekins if you are rich and fancy.
Bake in a water bath for 45 minutes, until a sharp knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Do not worry if the top begins to brown, it will be covered in caramel anyway.
Cool the custard completely in the fridge before sprinkling it with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Stick it under the broiler for 10 minutes or so, or again, if you are rich and fancy, use a blowtorch.
Alternatively, make the caramel yourself by heating some sugar till it caramelises (be very careful, it’s extremely easy to burn this) and pour it over the custard. Wait till it sets before cracking open the shell with a spoon and devouring.
In which I invent the best recipe of my life.
After the lemon tart was made, we had enough pastry left for another one. We proceeded to get high and while so we had a plan of truly Jane F. proportions. White stoned we would bake the …mango tart! This is the height of mango season in Calcutta. And the mangoes here really are the best in the world. I have always wanted to incorporate this fruit into things I bake and I could not think of a better way to do so than mango tart. And the results are sublime. My best friend who hates fruity desserts said that this is the best fruit dessert she had ever had, even better than our favourite mille feuille at Mangio. High praise indeed.
Sublime Mango tart
6 small mangoes or 3 large ones (Himshagor is the best, that is what we used)
100 g butter
Sugar is optional (seriously these mangoes are THAT sweet)
One pastry shell as in this recipe
Icing sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 165 C.
Blend together the first four ingredients.
Pour into pastry shell.
Bake for 25 minutes for a 6” pie dish and 35 minutes for a 9” one.
Once cooled, demould, dust with icing sugar, and DEVOUR!