Four recipes & a gourmet.... Mediterranean Sausage salad, Snappy sausages, Prawns in pesto, Penne in bacon & fungi cream

Note: don't give up. Keep scrolling down. There are four recipes. The last was liked the most

Seems like Master Chef Australia has taken the world of Indian food lovers by storm. The drama, the comperes, the recipes, the camera-work and the food shots have won over many hearts. I am not an avid follower of it but do often dip into the episodes. I like the food photography and the liveliness ... but at times the format of a reality show comes in the way. The melodrama gets too much to handle. Some of the recent episodes seemed as if they were straight out of an Ekta Kapoor serials with Madras Cuts and stuff. Having said that, I do watch Master Chef episode for half an hour or so if its on TV when I am around.

One of the concepts of Master Chef is that of Pressure Tests where contestants are given a challenge to avoid elimination. I went through something similar couple of weeks back when I cooked with people around me. Something that normally unsettles me. I cooked three dishes - pork Haka noodles, egg plant balchow and Calcutta Style chili chicken. No calamities. Two meals in a row.

Then I had another Pressure Test this Saturday. Almost like a celebrity chef challenge. Gia had come over. Gia the 'Baking Goddess'. Gia who created magic with pork and beef when she called us over for dinner. And finished her spell with a wicked mousse. Gia who knows quite a bit about the culinary world. Gia who has a strong point of view on food and has very high standards. I had invited Gia over for dinner. Don't be taken in by her big smile. For once, I was nervous.

I asked Gia whether she would like Continental or Chinese. She opted for the former. My final bill of fare:
  • An on the spot sausage and feta salad
  • A sausage & capsicum starter
  • Lime & chilli prawns in a rather coarse home made pesto mix
  • Penne in bacon and fungi cream
Gia's verdict at the end, "better than the cabbage soup at home". 

Which, let me tell you, counts for lot :) Yeah, I am being mean. She was actually quite sweet about it.

Here are the recipes. All self conceptualised. All cooked after Gia arrived. Most ingredients shopped for in the evening at Jude Cold Storage, Sante & Lalu's Vegetable Shop at Pali Market, Bandra.

Ice hot Mediterranean Sausage Salad

This was not part of my original plan. Thought of it once I picked up the French creamy feta at Sante 
It's a pity that Milinda who introduced me to this Feta is no longer a part of the management of Sante. I miss her and her hummus and brownie cheesecakes

  •  Fry a tablespoon of finely chopped red bell peppers, some pine nuts, basil leaves, a few chopped mushrooms (I used oyster mushrooms) and 200 g of sliced pork sausages in olive oil. Add a bit of Tabasco sauce. Don't fry for more than thirty seconds. You want to retain the freshness
  • Put the mix in a bowl and chill it in the deep fridge for 5 min.
  • Liberally add chunks of feta (the salt will come from it) to the cooled mix. I used a creamy French feta. The feta would have melted if I added it to the mix straight off the pan
  • Dish number one is ready

    Snappy sausages
    • Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan
    • Add two tablespoons of finely chopped tomatoes and stir
    • Add 200 g of finely chopped pork sausages (cut into rings). Stir
    • Add a few chopped bird's eye chilies, a touch of tomato sauce to counter the chillies and stir
    • Add two slices of regular slim cheese to it. Let the cheese melt into the sausage
    • Your starter is ready before the first drink is over

      Chili and lime prawns tossed in a very coarse pesto

      This dish taught me a lesson in life. "Don't believe everything showed on TV". I have made pesto in the food processor before based on Jamie Oliver's recipe. It worked out to be pretty good.

      This time I decided to make the pesto in a pestle and mortar the way Jamie does and the way the folks did on a Master Chef Pressure Test recently. We finally bought a glistening white marble mortar that evening. I found out the making pesto requires super strong biceps and triceps, a strong back and a hellofa a lot of patience.

      Finally ended up with some softened basil rather than a real ground pesto. The dish turned out to be prawns in cracked basil rather than in pesto. It smelt like pesto and Gia was nice enough to praise the coarse texture. She said that we should have bought a mortar with a rough surface.

      • Pesto mix: a handful of basil, two tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of finely chopped garlic, a teaspoon of toasted pine nuts (you get pine nuts easily at grocery stores at Pali Market) and 50 g or Parmesan. Be smart and mix it in a food processor

      • Heat some olive oil in a pan
      • Saute some bird's eye chilies or chopped green chilies in it and thrown in some pine nuts
      • Add about 400 g prawns (I used Cambay's frozen medium prawns). 
      • Squeeze juice of half a lemon, add salt and toss for 3-5 min while the prawn changes colour. You don't want the prawns to overcook
      • We served this with pasta but would go well with nice dinner bread. Gia has promised to bake me some... I don't know when.
      • Gia praised the juiciness of the prawns

        Penne in bacon and fungi cream sauce

        This was Gia's favourite that night. She later told me that the pasta pictures on the blog would tempt her the most. I am so glad that I could make a pasta for her. I normally use olive oil in pasta. This time I pulled all stops and used butter. Did I say that I was nervous :)

        • Heat butter in a non stick pan
        • Add a teaspoon of chopped garlic and a few bits of bacon fat when the butter melts. This way you get the flavour and fragrance of bacon and garlic in your sauce
        • Once this sizzles, add 200 g of chopped backless (no rinds this way) bacon. Toss for a bit. You don't want the bacon to become too crisp
        • Add 2 - 3 slices of slim cheese. Let this melt into the bacon. Don't bother with fancy cheeses. The taste gets lost in the taste of the meat and garlic
        • Add 1.5 cups of milk with a tablespoon of corn flour dissolved in it. Add salt. 1.5 teaspoons with all that cheese would be good
        • Bring the mix to a boil and let it simmer till the sauce thickens.
        • Add 200 g of pre boiled pasta (I use Bambino's penne or Spirelli which is cheap and satisfactory). Boil some chopped mushrooms with this. I used oyster mushrooms this time
        • Stir a bit and add some sliced red bell pepper and sliced green chillies (Mrs Knife's touch and as she keeps repeating I learnt how to make pasta from her)
        • Add some crushed black pepper and oregano if you have any from pizza boxes
        • Cover with a lid and let it cook for 3 to 4 minutes
        • Have it straight off the pan. Reheated pasta is like a remixed Kishore Kumar song

          In case you are wondering, I didn't get eliminated at the end :)

            OK, now I must let Gia give say her version so here goes :)
            Kalyan, you are mad! You've made me sound like some food police monster! Come on, look at my goofy smile, how can I be scary ;-) All those things you say about me are just a figment of your imagination. I am no big expert on food, in fact I'm not even a passionate foodie like you. Yes, I do love good food and what you and K served me that night was fabulous! Not to mention the wonderful company, as always. And I didn't say it was better than the cabbage soup at home... I said, "This sure beats the cabbage soup dinners I have been having at home the last few nights." It was actually an understatement! It beat any dinner I have had in a long time.. honest! Everything was delicious - the salad was cool and fresh and I loved the pine nuts in it, the sausages were plump and juicy, and the prawns tasted amazingly fresh inspite of being frozen and I loved the pesto that you could actually bite into. But of course, I gave my heart to the pasta. It was perfect! The kind of pasta I often dream about having and actually crave for. The bacon, the chopped garlic, the creamy sauce (butter is always better!), the firm yet juicy bits of red bell peppers and that perfectly cooked pasta! The taste and memory lingers on... You have to make it again and again and again!!! Next time I'll be there with a loaf of bread, some cake, and hopefully the perfect mortar and pestle for you :-) - Gia
            6 October 2010 16:21