The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cooking up a storm

Zuppa Crème Di Pomidoro is simply how the Italians would say Creamed Tomato Soup. Saute one large chopped onion in butter, sprinkle in some flour, stir well, cook for a few minutes taking care that the onion does not brown. Add eight large tomatoes — peeled and chopped — then salt, pepper and a good pinch of sugar and a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Simmer until the tomatoes are very soft. Pour in two pints of hot meat or vegetable stock and continue cooking for 15 minutes.

Blend with an electric hand-held blender (one of the greatest inventions since the wheel), stir in a knob of butter and half a cup of cream. Serve with Parmesan Fingers. Make these by cutting several slices of stale white bread into fingers. Soak these for 15 minutes in milk, sprinkle with salt and pepper and coat thoroughly with grated parmesan cheese, patting the cheese well into the bread with the back of a wooden spoon. Fry the fingers in hot oil till brown and crisp.

A robust start to a meal, with a main course of fish or meat or pasta to follow. If you are a light eater, just a salad with cheese, olives, tomato, green pepper, cucumber and lettuce and a nice dressing, and you are done.

Or if you want to go Oriental, here is a nice recipe which can use lamb, pork or beef. Dice the meat (it should be boneless) and marinate it in a mixture of light soya sauce, sugar and oyster sauce, for at least an hour. Saute some spring onions and chopped green chillies. Add the meat and brown it and when it has released its water, add some green peppers cut into eighths and keep stirring for a while. Then add some stock and salt and simmer, covered, till the meat is tender.

In another wok, stir fry in hot oil on a high flame vegetables such as diced onions, carrots, broccoli, babycorn, mushrooms and cabbage, adding those vegetables that cook easily towards the end. Throw in some monosodium glutamate when the vegetables are still crisp, add some dark soya sauce and some Hoisin sauce. Mix well and serve with the meat in oyster sauce along with steamed rice.

Or you can go Trans-Atalantic and start off with tortilla chips served with a range of dips and salsas and follow it up with perhaps the most celebrated of Mexican dishes, Chilli Con Carne, of which there are many variations, but this is a nice recipe for it. The meat of choice here is beef, but lamb can also be used, though purists would shudder at the thought.

The meat should be roughly minced or cut into small, bite-sized pieces. Brown the meat with chopped onions, garlic and green pepper. Cover the meat with red wine, bring gently to a boil, cover the dish (it should be a heavy-bottomed casserole type of dish) and simmer for about 45 minutes after lowering the heat. Blend chilli powder with flour in a little of the hot pan juices and add to the casserole at the same time as bay leaves, cumin powder and oregano. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and simmer till the meat is tender.

Serve with boiled red kidney beans (rajma) and rice, or add the beans with their juices to the meat and mix well before serving.

Common to all these dishes is that none of them would have been possible as home cooking even just 15 years ago. Some ingredient or other would have been impossible to lay our hands on. But today, whether you live in Behala, Jadavpur, Ballygunge, Shyambazar, Kankurgachi or Salt Lake, within 10 or 15 minutes you can get to a supermarket where virtually everything is available and practically any dish of your fancy can become a reality in your own home.

Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, parmesan cheese, oregano, fresh or dried parsley, mushrooms of several varieties, affordable wine to cook with, olives, broccoli, babycorn — it’s all there, and much much more. Browsing leisurely through the food and ingredients sections of C3 at Gariahaat Mall and Lee Road, it was a pleasure to see that home cooking can now take on dimensions never imaginable before. There are many smaller supermarkets too, dotted all over the city which stock a similar catalogue; of course not every item is available every day, but compared to the ’60s and ’70s when one had to go to New Market even for some green pepper (we like to call it capsicum), it is like being on a different planet altogether.

Apart from the sauces mentioned, for Oriental cooking there is also plum sauce, black bean sauce, shrimp sauce, fish sauce, satay sauces of several varieties, terriyaki of Japan, ready marinades for meat and poultry and rice wine vinegar.

Heading west, there are pastas of every variety — just to name a few basic ones, apart from coloured and flavoured pastas, there were fusilli, cannelloni, farfalle, penne, fettucini, lasagne, macaroni and of course, spaghetti. Ready-made sauces to go with them as well — pesto, arabiatta and so on. Red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar for use in dressings.

Fresh fruits and vegetables for cooking or for fruit salads or dessert — all varieties of bell peppers, leeks, asparagus and avocados and exotic fruits like mangosteen, kiwi fruit, passion fruit, rambutan, dried apricots, pitted prunes.

A Chennai-based organisation called Seafood Club marketing fresh bekti fillets, prawns, lobster and crab meat (no fuss — all ready to cook) and salmon fillets.

And if you go for canned foods, every variety of chicken and pork products from cocktail sausages to salami to luncheon meat, and also tuna, sardines and salmon. And of course, pickles and preserves of every kind. One product to look out for is the brand “Turuk Kothi’s”, based in south Sikkim. They make fish, chicken and pork pickle and something called Dallay Paste, a fiery sauce for your curries.

Home cooking and eating never had it so good. Bon apetit.

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