Mamma mia! And not married yet? February 18, 2007Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.
If you’re a hungry bachelor and can make a Mama Mia dinner all by yourself, you might never need to think of anything else, says C. Y. Gopinath
I WAS A HUNGRY BACHELOR ONE SUNDAY EVENING IN DELHI. It was winter, bracing and very cold, when the stomach like to pretend it is celebrating its birthday and that everyone should be nice to it. I have always treated my stomach well, and am known to take some trouble to hunt down unusual delights to please my gastronomic machinery.
Masala Manor was the name I had given to my humble terrace flat in South Extension, though no-one but I knew this. The kitchen was large and airy , and on its shelves were all manner of fresh spices, lovingly bought at the INA market, a mere autorickshaw’s throw away. Curds would be set plump and firm every day in an earthen vessel, and on special days, breakfast would consist of ajwain ka paratha, gobs of butter and pachranga pickles from Ludhiana.
The day I invented the Mama Mia Dinner, I was, as usual, wondering when dinner would be served. And what it would be. And why on earth no aromas were about yet. Then I remembered — my amazing cook Chhotu had left on annual leave that morning. The conclusion was inescapable — I would have to make my own dinner.
It was during the next few minutes of desperate introspection that I remembered the fuzzy outline of an Italian dish that I had read about in a cookbook long ago and far away. I had tried making the dish at someone’s house but, being young and clumsy, had failed miserably. Many people who ate it that evening then completely severed ties with me. Papaya, they told me, ought never to be deployed in an Italian salad.
I have named the following trio of dishes the Mama Mia Dinner. It contains no papaya, will not affect your social life, and is designed specially for bachelors and other people who have a little time in the morning and hardly any in the evening. You have my word that it is colourful, unusual, very wholesome, full of open-sesame surprises and will make you feel warmly towards Italy.
There are three parts to it: the cold soup; a fettucini entreé; and the tour de force — the salad.
Let me run you through the the cold soup first: its ingredients are buttermilk, walnuts, lots of garlic, cucumber, sea salt, lemon and parsley. The walnuts, garlic and cucumber, the former crumbled and the latter two chopped, must be pureéd, being merged with buttermilk. Chill the ensemble after squeezing some lemon juice into it and adding salt. Throw in a sprig of parsley before serving.
Being a bachelor, you must take the first few steps towards the Mama Mia entreé in the morning. You will need some large, purple aubergines (baingans). Slice them into circles, salt them liberally, and leave them in a shallow dish for about an hour. Being hygroscopic, the salt will draw the bitter water out of the vegetables. Pat them dry, and leave them in a warm place or out in the sun to dry. By evening, when you return home, they ought to be ready.
Julienne the aubergines into strips about an inch long. Heat some cooking oil — it should be pretty damn hot. Throw in the aubergine and let it fry to a golden brown crispness. Keep aside. Cut as much ham, or salamis, as you want into strips.
In a vessel, boil some fettucini (ribbon pasta; you can get it in most grocery stores). Don’t expect me to tell you how to do this, the packet carries instructions.
Separately, cut ham or salami into small strips. I am somewhat primitive about this, and prefer to shred them with my bare hands. The entreé is done when you combine ham, aubergine crisps and fettucini in a bowl that has been lightly buttered. Sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper. The final dish will be a pleasing, robust combination of pink, light cream, deep purple and golden brown.
The salad — cube the following ingredients: apples, peaches, cucumber and Gouda table cheese. Shred some capsicum. No papayas. Toss the lot together, with a little salt. Now do some magic — take some sesame seeds (white til, the sort used in til laddus). In a tablespoonful of oil, fry them till they begin to turn golden. Toss them over the salad — and know that you have done something few have done before.
Give the whole thing a good shake. If you have called guests over, then have an answer to questions like, “What is that taste? It just came for a moment and then disappeared. Is it something in the salad?”
If you have wine, bring it out — red is usually appropriate. Being a bachelor, light a candle, sit all by yourself, eat contentedly, feeding the dog a bit now and then. When the meal is over, lean back, release an Italian-type belch and ask yourself if “Mama Mia!” does not somehow seem like the best way to express your feelings.