Every Indian knows how much we love Chinese food (well, our version of it), but another cuisine that has come in from across the shores and become firmly entrenched in our hearts (I should say stomach) is Italian, with its pastas and pizza.
Even small restaurants with no pretensions to serving anything but Indian food will invariably have some “pizza” on their menu! It is an entirely different matter that no self respecting pizza would even look at this rather sad street version smothered in tomato ketchup topped with melty cheese!
It is probably to remedy this situation that Ritu Dalmia decided to write a book on authentic Italian food.
Ritu Dalmia, chef and restaurateur, owns and runs Delhi’s well known Italian restaurant – Diva. She also runs the café at the Italian Cultural Centre and Latitude at Good Earth. Even though she doesn’t have a culinary school background, her passion for food has made her an authority on Italian food and wines.
The word “khana” in Hindi means food, so Italian khana is nothing but Italian food. It’s also the name of Ritu Dalmia’s cookbook which features purely Italian recipes. The original cookbook was published in 2008, but a version of that book has been recently published as a set of 4 mini cookbooks.
The publishers, Random House India, sent me this series of 4 books along with their Biryani book.
These very affordable books are titled Pasta, Vegetarian, Dinner Party and Desserts and each book contains recipes specified by the title. All the recipes in each book also come with a Hindi translation.
Since the books in these series can be bought as individual copies and not necessarily as a set, it gives the person buying it the freedom to choose exactly what would suit her/ him.
Spaghetti/ Linguine With Peppers
The recipes are simple with quite short ingredient lists, well presented and quite easy to follow, though some of the techniques like “cooking al-dente” and “saucing the pasta” could have been better explained.
The recipes are for easily cooked food and perfect as an introduction to Italian cooking. Each recipe comes with a short introduction from the author with her sharing some information about it.
Ritu Dalmia also offers suggestions for variations on some recipes, as well as helpful tips on almost every page in her books.
On the negative side, I couldn’t understand why all the pictures in each of the books were bound together right in the middle. I would have preferred it if the pictures had been placed along with the respective recipes as this would have made a more visual impact on the cook.
While all the recipes in English have been printed with black text on a white background, the Hindi version of these recipes have been printed in white on green (or purple/ orange/ red depending on the book) backgrounds. This makes the English recipes easy to read while the Hindi recipes are more difficult to see!
I would also like to point out to the Ritu Dalmia or whoever it was that decided to add the Avocado Mousse to the “Vegetarian” book, that one of the ingredients for making the mousse is gelatin which is most definitely non-vegetarian!
Going through the books, a couple of things would have added to these books.
Since these books are meant to introduce Italian cooking, it would have been nice if the author would have included a small chapter at the beginning on the various types of Italian pasta and their shapes with small pictures/ thumbnails of each type.
The other thing that I felt would have been welcome was a list of alternative ingredients to substitute for some of those which are either expensive or difficult to source.
The author says that ingredients like Philadelphia cream cheese, ricotta or mascarpone, fresh mozzarella, double cream, ready-made filo pastry, zucchini, asparagus, etc are easily available in the shops. While this might be true in the bigger cities (metros), they can be quite expensive. I’m not sure these ingredients are even available in the smaller cities.
While I appreciate that substitution of ingredients means that the recipes are no longer authentic, that list would have been welcomed by home cooks eager to try some of the recipes.
If you are like me, cook without kitchen scales and use cups to measure ingredients when you have to, it will take you a little more time to convert all the weight measures into cups! I’m not sure how many Indians use kitchen scales to weigh their ingredients.
Bruschetta With Tomato And Basil
I did try some of the recipes from the books (one from each of the four books). I made the Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil (Vegetarian), Pesto (Dinner Party), Linguine with Peppers (Pasta) and Banana Semifreddo (dessert).
I have to say that all the dishes were easy to put together and absolutely delicious. Based on this, I would say these books are not at all a bad a buy if you wanted to try your hand at Italian cooking in your kitchen with minimal fuss.
Here is Ritu Dalmia’s recipe for Linguine with Peppers. I didn’t have linguine and used spaghetti instead. I also left out the breadcrumbs and the tomato sauce.
200 gm linguine
100 gm fresh mozzarella
2 yellow and/ or red peppers
30 ml extra virgin olive oil
400 gm basic tomato sauce
250 gm fresh tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
50 gm bread crumbs
a handful of fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper for seasoning
Roast the peppers in the oven or over the fire till they’re well cooked. Peel the skin, remove the seeds and cut the peppers into bit sized pieces.
In a small pan heat the oil and cook the garlic till brown. The idea is to infuse the oil the aroma of the garlic. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon.
Add the chopped tomatoes and the basil leaves. Add the peppers and cook for another 7 to 8 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, boil the pasta in a lot of water and cook till al-dente. Drain.
Sauce the pasta and for every pasta recipe, add a little bit of the water in which the pasta was cooked.
Remove from the fire, add the mozzarella cubes and serve. Make sure the mozzarella is added after the pasta is off the fire. The idea is that it should melt slightly with the heat of the pasta.
This recipe serves 3 to 4.