When I was a young student at the IHM Kolkata, I could almost understand and relate to most subjects taught there as I had a reference point to most of them including cooking, housekeeping, accounting and maintenance. But the time when I felt completely lost was during the classes on wines. In the second year of our college, we had to learn about international wines, their origins, specialities, making process and other deeper characteristics such as acidity, body, tannin content, alcoholic content, sweetness etc. But it was only after I started working and critically evaluating wines that I came to understand and appreciate its subtleties, finer nuances and how it enhances the overall dining experience. India has traditionally been a low wine consumption country with the per capita wine consumption among the lowest in the emerging economies, but the situation is fast changing. As per a report on ‘Research and Market.com’, the wine market of India has observed a growth rate of more than 25% CAGR over the last five years and continues to be quite robust. In this article let us discuss the history and modern-day nuances of food and wine pairing and try to understand how different wines can be used to complement the overall dining experience. Also Read – Add new books to your shelfHistory Historically wine has been served alongside food for many millennia; in fact, wine and food together find mention in many historical and religious books. One of the reasons could be that wine was consumed as another dietary staple and was often found to be more hygienic, perhaps even plentiful than the local water supply. Armies and travellers would also find wines to be relaxing and invigorating after their heavy and demanding physical labour. In the modern context, wines and foods are paired to enhance the dining experience. In Europe and the Americas it is quite common to have at least one variety of wine with meals, especially dinners. Also Read – Over 2 hours screen time daily will make your kids impulsiveSome guidelines Although there are certain guidelines or rules that have come about regarding the pairing of food with wine but in my personal belief, food and wine pairing is a personal perspective and many people that I know do not want to stick to the traditional combinations. But nonetheless, it does make sense to be aware of these broad guidelines and then decide for yourself. Great with Great: This is among the first and the easiest principles to understand. When pairing wine with food, do remember that the really good quality wines will always taste better with really good quality food and vice versa. If I were to put it in context, a good quality Merlot or Sauvignon will definitely be a better accompaniment to a well prepared, elaborate meat dish rather than a salad or a sandwich which could do with more humble choices. Red to Red, White to White: Another universally accepted rule to food and wine pairing is to serve red meats such as lamb and beef etc with heavy bodied red wines such as red burgundies, ‘Merlot’ or ‘Shiraz’ and white meats such as seafood and fish and lighter dishes will pair well with white wines such as a ‘Chardonnay’ or a ‘Pinot Grigio’. One of the reasons for this combination is that wines can help accentuate dominant flavours of the dish and red wines with their strong tannins and intensity help in developing the inherent flavours of red meats. Similarly, the light floral characteristics of white wines help in enhancing the subtle taste of fish and other white meat dishes. Salt-Sweet-Acid: Generally, the components of salt, sweet and acidity in foods should be balanced with the same three dominant components of the wine. The saltiness in food, for example, is a great contrast to acidity in wines. Similarly, sweeter wines lend themselves to sweet dishes and dishes with inherent sweetness such as sweet water fish. For example, it is a good idea to pair high acid wine such as a ‘Riesling’ with Asian dishes heavy on saltiness due to use of soy sauce. Also, it is a good idea to use a sweeter wine such as a ‘Sauterne’ to accompany desserts, taking care that desserts are not too sweet in comparison to the sweetness of wine, otherwise it will hide the softer, floral palate. Think flexibly: Although it is always a good idea to pair food and wines carefully, especially for formal and high profile occasions, there certainly are quite a few wines that go well with most foods and should be kept in stock, just in case a wine lover visits you inadvertently. Among red wines, ‘Chianti’ and ‘Pinot Noir’ varieties are most flexible since these are flavourful and robust, yet have strong fruity notes and lots of tannins, making them good accompaniments for a wide range of dishes. Among white and sparkling, the most common example can be the ubiquitous Champagne which goes well with almost everything. Besides that, wines with slightly high acidity such as a Riesling can be a good option. So what to drink with my Chicken Tikka? Considering the universal acceptability and craze for Indian food, it is a fair question to ask as to which wines will go well with our Curries, Lababdars and Kormas. The general rule of thumb can be, the richer the curry, bolder the wine. So if you have a Mutton Rogan josh or a Chicken tikka masala, think about pairing it with a robust ‘Pinot Noir’ or a ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’. A good ‘Riesling works well with almost all Indian dishes owing to its fruity and hearty characteristic. Also, if a dish is quite heavy, it is a good idea to pair it with wines that are slightly acidic, such as a ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ or ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’. In the end, all I could say is that wines are a personal preference and although rules are good as guidelines, don’t restrict yourself from trying out new combinations. Don’t forget to try the recipe of a wine based dessert mentioned above. It is among the simplest but most flavourful desserts you could ever make. Red wine poached pears with ginger Sabayon Ingredients: Fresh pears 4 Good quality semisweet red wine (such as a Merlot or a Cabernet) 300 ml Water 100 ml Sugar 50 gm Cinnamon stick 1 inch Star anise 1 Fresh thyme 10 g Egg yolk 4 Fruity White wine (such as a Riesling) 100 ml Ginger powder 10 g Sugar 50 g Method Pour the red wine, water, sugar, cinnamon stick, star anise and fresh thyme in a saucepan. Peel the pears and put all of it (along with the stem) in the liquid. Simmer gently till the pears are tender and the liquid has reduced by half, 30-40 minutes. Cool. For the Sabayon, whisk the egg yolk and sugar until pale. Add the wine while whisking continuously, and finally add the ginger powder. To serve, place the room temperature poached pear on the serving plate with a little of the reduced poaching liquor. Spoon over the Sabayon, serve immediately. A dollop of cream can be served along if desired.
If I were to ask today, what is that single culinary dish in modern cuisine which has the attributes of being a please all dish, can be assembled quickly, is cheap to make, has a very high energy value, has a long shelf life, and to top it all, if you really need to prepare it fresh, requires only two ingredients, what would be your first guess?Also the said food dish is available all over the world, is justifiably among the most popular food items, and has 600 different types of forms and shapes. You would probably have hazarded a guess by now, and it would most likely be a correct one, for, there are only a very few dishes or that can have claim to such fame. Of course, it is the world’s favourite food – the humble and ubiquitous pasta. Also Read – Add new books to your shelfHistory of Pasta Like most things culinary that have been around for centuries, the story of pasta is also a chequered and a hotly debated one. While we all know and accept it to be an Italian origin product, there are some indications to suggest that the world’s favourite starch was actually discovered by Marco Polo in the 13th century when he returned from a trip to China in 1271. Although it can be a possibility, my own hunch says that a product made simply out of grains and moisture would have existed much earlier, perhaps since the time the people gained the know-how of grinding food grains. It is also said the first pasta was made by the Greeks when they founded Naples in the 3rd century BC. Also Read – Over 2 hours screen time daily will make your kids impulsiveThere is another theory that says, the first staple pasta was brought to Italy by Arabs during their invasions in the 8th century and was made out of durum wheat which Sicily specialised and therefore it and took immediately to the new food. To date, under Italian law, dried pasta or pasta ‘secca’ can only be made with this kind of wheat. By the late 17th century in Naples, pasta had become the staple food for the common man right up to royalty. There are many accounts on how the people there were colloquially called ‘macaroni eaters’ and also how some very gifted papal chefs created great new menu variations out of the pasta using complex cooking techniques, exotic ingredients and sauces. Why it became so popular The pasta popularity to the ‘new’ world started to take off after the Italians started to migrate en masse to different places. Apart from the reasons that I have already enumerated, one of the best things about the pasta is that it is the ultimate comfort food. The simplicity and ease of preparation makes it everybody’s favourite. Also, the dish is such that it fits the menus of both ultra fine dining restaurants as well as street food vendors. In countries such as India, pasta is quickly becoming an extremely potent meal of choice for the urban middle class, especially with working couples and young children. Children are among the most important factors in the growing popularity of pasta, and the corporate food giants have been quick to encash this fascination by creating newer shapes and flavour variants that are appealing to kids. If I were to share a personal anecdote, I would share the preferences of pasta of my girls Devi, 10 and Ananya, 5. Ananya likes her pasta just as it is with a little butter, Devi likes it with a spicy sauce she makes herself, and my wife likes it with lots of vegetables and cheese, and all these three entirely different dishes can be made all at once, using the same pasta, just by tweaking the toppings a bit. And how does my wife, Ksenia find out exactly how much pasta to cook, well she doesn’t. She just keeps the leftover pasta in the fridge and prepares a beautifully toothsome salad in a jiffy the next lunch. This versatility, I believe is among the high points of pasta as a family food dish. Different Types of Pasta As per available information, there are more than 600 variants of pasta. For a food item that has a total of 2, sometimes 3 ingredients, that’s a mighty lot. Well, it so happens that the different kinds of pasta are, with some exceptions, basically the same dough with different shapes. These different shapes give the pasta slightly different textures, mouth feel and so they taste different too. Pasta is found in a multitude of shapes and sizes, there are extremely thin ‘angel hair’ pasta to the rather thick bucatini pasta. There are also many handmade pasta that are rolled by hand, while many are made especially for soups. Keeping the variety in mind, let us discuss the top few pasta types that are easily available in most supermarkets along with a little note on their correct use and cooking technique. As a rule of thumb, we chefs say that the shorter the pasta, the chunkier the sauce and the longer the pasta, more delicate and smooth should be the sauce. Also obviously, the shape of the pasta dictates how long it will take to be cooked perfectly, a term commonly used is ‘al dente’ which means that the pasta should be cooked through but still have a bite to it. So here is a list of some of the better-known kinds of pasta: -Spaghetti: The most common of all pasta, thin noodle like solid cylindrical shape, about 10 inches long, goes best with smooth and creamy sauces such as creamy tomato, pesto or cheese sauce. -Macaroni: Children’s favourite, short C shaped tubes, cooks quickly, Mac n cheese is a global favourite, goes best with cheese sauces. – Penne: Small tubes, typically 2 inches long and diagonally cut. Goes best with chunky meat sauces. -Fettuccine: Long, flat egg pasta typically ¼ in wide, goes best with thick sauces that cling on to the pasta such as cheese, Alfredo or Bolognese. -Farfalle: The classic bow-shaped pasta, available all across the world. Goes best in cold pasta salads -Ravioli: Stuffed pasta, normally made fresh, is a meal in itself, just simply tossed with a delicate buttery sauce or even just flavoured olive oil. Apart from the above, there are hundreds of other pasta but these are the best known in our country and most consumed, whether cooked at homes or ordered in restaurants.RECIPE I myself am a big fan of pasta and keep experimenting all the time with different recipes but my most favourite is the simple ‘agilo olio e peperoncino’ – a simple dish made with some freshly boiled pasta, some olive oil, garlic, herbs and red chilli flakes. I had this version on one of my trips to Italy and totally loved it. I am producing the recipe that I took from the chef there. Spaghetti Aglio Olio o peperoncino Spaghetti: 200 g Freshly peeled garlic: 20 g Olive oil: 50 ml (might feel like a lot but is required) Freshly chopped parsley: 20 g Freshly grated Parmesan cheese: 30 g Fresh Red chilly: 10 g Method -Boil the pasta in salted boiling water as per the package instructions. Do not overcook. -In another pan, start assembling the sauce. The trick is to cook the sauce at very low heat and create an emulsion with the olive oil, garlic, chilli and some hot pasta water. Put the olive oil, add the garlic and the chilly, cook until the garlic is tender. In Italy they do not chop the garlic but thinly slice it, which helps in better cooking and more mellow flavour. Add some hot pasta water and rapidly whisk. -Add the pasta and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese, toss to coat. Season lightly with pepper, salt would generally not be required due to salted pasta boiling water and salty Parmesan cheese. Some quick sautéed cherry tomato and deep fried basil leaves can give another dimension and texture and can be used optionally. -Serve immediately with an extra sprinkling of the parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.