I did not know what Italian food was till I was almost in my 20’s and moved out of the small town of Ulhasnagar to the big bad world of Mumbai. In fact as a child of the middle class 80’s I had no idea of what Pasta or Pizza really was. And horror of horrors I did not even know what real Cheese looked or tasted like. The only experience of Cheese that I ever had was the little triangles of “Laughing Cow” cheese that my uncle would get for us every year religiously from Doha when he would come visiting.
And that Cheese was guarded with life by my mother. It was more precious than Gold, and we were supposed to eat it sparingly because it was a gift from foreign. I remember how excited I would be to carry two slices of bread slathered with the Cheese for lunch and then show it off to the collective gasps of my school mates. And my god I hated that Cheese, there was something about the taste which my underdeveloped taste buds just could not grasp.
I remember my mother once caught me throwing away an entire piece of the Cheese because it did not smell good and the thrashing I got after that. However having said that the as long as the Cheese lasted in our house, I used to be a very popular girl in school. Because an ingenious child that I was, I would exchange the two precious slices of cheese for books for anyone who was willing to barter with me. My mother never knew better, and I would devour books during lunch breaks instead of Cheese.
But it all changed when I moved away and my horizons and palette broadened with trying different cuisines. And Italian cuisine and the number of cheeses in it became my favorite. Since then I can safely say Cheese and I have become good friends and just like I use Ghee in Indian cuisine unashamedly, I use Cheese in Italian food with no regrets.
And when we think of Italian food, Pasta has to be the first. To appreciate the beauty of this world famous dough shaped in different sizes, you need to eat fresh handmade Pasta. The lightness of the pasta will amaze you and pairing pasta with Cheese is always a treat.
One of the easiest Pasta Sauces I make is the “Bolognese”. I use Pork in the sauce, which I think is such an excellent meat to cook with, it works wonderfully in Italian cuisine.And even on days when I don’t want to cook, I can rustle up a pasta dish like a pro. You can use Beef or Chicken mince instead of Pork if you prefer. But please do not and I mean do not substitute the fresh Parmesan cheese with anything else because Cheese is what gives it the gooey deliciousness that we associate Pasta with. Also, if there is a good glass of Wine to serve the the pasta one can just pass away into food coma oblivious to the world.
Fettuccine with Pork Bolognese and a bucket full of Parmesan Cheese
Recipe (Cooking time for the Bolognese 60 minutes, for the pasta 10 minutes)
For the Bolognese
500 gms Pork Mince (you can also do a Pork and Beef mince mix)
One Medium Brown Onion finely chopped
Two cloves of Garlic finely chopped
One stick Celery finely chopped
Two cans of diced Tomatoes (400 gms each)
200 gms Button mushrooms sliced
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt to taste
1 ½ tsp smoked Paprika
One tsp diced Oregano
A pinch of Nutmeg
½ cup Red Wine (optional, you can use a tbsp of Red wine vinegar as well)
3 – 4 slices of anchovies (optional)
1 tsp Capers (optional)
Heat the Olive oil in a thick bottomed pan. Add the Capers and anchovies if using and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the Onions, Garlic and Celery and cook till translucent.
Add the Mushrooms and saute well for 5 minutes.
Add the Tomatoes and cook on a medium flame for 5 – 10 minutes.
Add the Pork mince and nutmeg and mix well. Add the Wine or vinegar and let it simmer for 30 minutes or till done. Season with Salt and Pepper.
For the Pasta
500 gms Fresh Fettuccine (you can use any pasta shapes that you like and dried pasta should be ok to use as well but I just love fresh pasta)
Salt to taste
A lot of water to boil the pasta.
While the Bolognese is almost done boil Water in a big pan with Salt and cook the pasta as per the packet instruction.
For the garnish
Lots of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
Divide the pasta equally into bowls, top up with the Bolognese, Oregano and be generous and I mean very generous with the Cheese.