Ode to an Italian dream with a little bit of Goa: Pasta in Tomato Cream Sauce and Choriz
I was hit by an intense aroma as I entered Raquel’s kitchen. It was an October evening last year. We were in Goa, at Roberto and Raquel’s quaint homestay, a house with a history of over 500 years.
The aroma seemed faintly familiar. I looked at Raquel with wonder. She had an impish smile on her face.
“I prepared Goan Choriz for you tonight, with noodles,” she said. “I know you will love it.”
I did. And that beautiful meal, partaken sitting at their wooden dining table in the bright, airy kitchen, with Raquel’s three children running around, has remained as one of my cherished memories.
It was Raquel’s dish that I remembered when I opened the packet of Del Monte pasta. After all, it is only food that can connect you to two different places with cuisines as different as chalk and cheese.
On an impulse, I decided to cook pasta, an Italian staple, with Goan Choriz or Goan pork sausages – a potent delicacy that only the feisty Goans can conjure up.
Italy. The name evoked another set of memories. Memories of teenhood. Of crying inconsolably over Italy’s defeat at the 1994 football world cup when Roberto Baggio hit the ball over the goal post, missing his mark and the cup. Breaking our young hearts. Memories of collecting photographs of Paolo Maldini, the captain of the Italian team, and filling up pages of scrapbooks. Drooling and sighing over his impossibly good looks, his curly locks of hair, his number 3 jersey on the field…
Italy had brought romance into our young lives.
All these ran through my mind as I busied myself, preparing for the pasta. Running my hand over the beautiful cylindrical penne pasta, I could visualize the golden pastures of an Italian countryside, flanked by a stately mansion. Interestingly, the very same picture presented itself as I slashed open the packet of Goan sausages, the mansion replaced by a village chapel - the Goa that I had witnessed in October when the fields were ready for harvest. Perhaps the rusticities of life were the same everywhere.
A village scene in Goa...or perhaps a countryside in Italy?
Coming back to my recipe for the pasta, I did not have too many ingredients at hand to make an elaborate dish. I decided to keep it simple, letting the flavours speak for themselves and not get lost in the melee.
Here is the recipe.
Penne Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce and a little bit of Goa (Choriz)
Cooking Time: 12 minutes
Serves: Two hungry souls
250 grams of penne pasta (I used Del Monte pasta)
100 grams of Goan Choriz/sausage
One large onion (I had only the small variety, hence used three of them)
6-7 garlic cloves
2 ripe tomatoes
100 ml fresh cream
3 tablespoons Sweet and Sour sauce (I used Del Monte Twango)
Cheddar cheese – 2 cubes (25 grams each)
10-12 basil leaves
A good sprinkling of assorted dried herbs – oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, chilli flakes (I used store bought)
2-3 drops of olive oil (optional)
Salt to taste
For the garnish:
A small sprig of basil leaves
Cheese crisps made out of 1 cube of cheese (recipe given later)
Let’s start by preparing everything for the pasta, so that nothing gets burnt or spilt over in-between chores.
• Boil the tomatoes till they are cooked. Then de-skin and mash them into a pulp. I left them a bit chunky as I wanted some texture in my sauce.
• Peel and dice the onion. Mince the garlic fine.
• Tear up the sausage skin. The meat will tumble out in bits. Rinse the skin in a little water and reserve the spiced water.
• Grate the cheese cubes.
Now for the real work.
Ideally, the pasta should be cooked by the time the sauce is done, so I tried to time it that way.
For the tomato cream sauce, heat a non-stick pan and tip in the meat. You can add a few drops of olive oil if you feel the sausage does not have enough fat. Within minutes, the nuggets of deliciousness will start to sizzle, giving off a wonderful aroma, redolent of various spices and vinegar – the famed recheiad masala of Goa.
Goan Choriz sizzling away
The tart and unabashedly spicy meat will release its own oil, enough for us to sauté the minced garlic and onion. Let the meat retain some of the fat and not get rendered totally. This will take the level of awesomeness notches higher.
The minced garlic and onion joins the meat ... a beautiful union frying away
When the onion and garlic are sufficiently softened (not caramelized), pour in the fresh tomato pulp, sweet and sour tomato sauce and the reserved spiced water. Stir well and let the sauce simmer for 3-4 minutes on low heat. Take care not to let the sauce reduce.
The tomato pulp and spiced water joins the fun!
Sweet and sour sauce is added..
Once the sauce begins to bubble and thicken, turning a luscious red, take the pan off the heat and tip in the cream and the cheese. Give a good stir so that the cream and cheese mingle well with the tomato sauce. Put it back on the stove at low heat.
Dollops of fresh cream and grated cheese
In the meantime, boil the penne pasta in salted water till al dente. Drain the pasta and add them to the tomato-cream sauce in the pan. Toss well.
Sprinkle the assorted dried herbs and basil leaves over the pasta and give the pasta a good mix. In case the sauce seems too dry, add a few spoonful of the pasta water. Thankfully, mine turned out just right.
A sprinkling of dried seasoning and fresh basil leaves
Wait till the basil wilts a bit and take the pan off the gas. And don’t forget to check if the dish requires any salt. I did not have to add any salt in mine as the sausages and cheese already had a good amount of salt in them.
Time for garnish!
Honestly, I am bad at garnishing my food. I prefer to let the flavors stand out on their own. But I am a big fan of cheese crisps, particularly since they are so easy to make.
For the crisps, just heat a non-stick pan and spread some grated cheese on it. The cheese should be arranged flat and not in a mound. In a few seconds the cheese will begin to bubble and the edges will become golden. Flip over carefully and let the other side crisp up. Your golden discs of cheesy yumminess are ready!
Now, transfer the hot pasta into a bowl. Sprinkle some more dried herbs and grated cheese if you wish. Then, arrange a small sprig of fresh basil leaves and the cheese crisps on the bowl. Pick up a fork, a spoon, or a ladle. Just dig in.
I did not care for the heat as I took in a mouthful of pasta. For a sauce that I had made the first time, purely on instinct, it seemed to have just the right balance of salt, spice, tart and sweetness. The sharp, searing spice levels of the Goan Choriz was toned down by the fresh cream and tomato sauce. The basil leaves imparted a fresh zing.
And the pasta shone bright. It held the sauce within its slender rolls, so that every mouthful turned out supremely juicy and succulent. I realized that only good quality penne pasta could do justice to my sauce. Del Monte did not let me down.
As I sat back relishing my bowlful of pasta, I was transferred back in time… To a warm, sunny kitchen, with a cat preening itself in the windowsill and the patter of children’s feet around me. The window opened out to a large golden glade, bales of hay stacked against each other. Suddenly, the kitchen door would open and a tall Italian would stride in, his curly locks framing his aquiline features, and his arms circled around a football.
He would inhale deeply, turn around to face me and ask:
“Mia cara, is that pasta I smell?”