Why I ditched the cheese when I cooked this Italian holiday inspiredprawn pasta

My mom in law loves cheese and is at her happiest when tucking into a cheese sauce drowned pasta.

Which is why she was aghast when I told her that I hardly came across any such cheese laden pastas during our recent trip of Italy. She felt so betrayed. 'But pasta has to have lots of cheese sauce' exclaimed mummy.

The truth is there was hardly any cheese sauce in the pastas we had there.

The casio pepe at Osteria Ragno and the carbonara at La Aquila that we had in Rome had cheese delicately draped on to the strands of the spaghetti, but the cheese kissed the pasta and didn't flood it.

The only place we had a cheese sauce doused pasta was in the gnocchi at a touristy place with a smiling Bangaldeshi steward near the Pantheon in Rome and that was unseasoned and tasteless and was one of my few bad meals in the trip.

The pasta of the trip, the seafood pasta at Cento Poverti at Florence, had no cheese at all and was cooked with seafood stock and white wine. Nor had the squid ink and cuttlefish pasta that we had at La Campana in Venice or brilliant the prawn pasta at Osteria San Marco or the spaghetti with clams at Testiere in Venice have any cheese!

It seems that they rarely add cheese to seafood pastas in Italy or at least in Florence and Venice. White wine perhaps and a couple of cloves of garlic and seafood stock with lots of extra virgin olive oil but rarely cheese.

This is what my friend Matteo Arvonio, who is an Italian chef at Mezzo Mezzo in J W Marriott Mumbai has to say about cheese and prawn pasta:

"True, as rule in the seafood pasta ( and in general in all the seafood preparation) you don't put cheese. But there are as well exceptions : ricotta salata (cured and salted from Puglia)) and ricotta infornata (baked from Sicily) are used in certain seafood recipes."

So I decided to go against years of conditioning and add absolutely no cheese to the prawn pasta I made last night.

I used frozen prawns from IFB, a Calcutta based company, which I bought from Bandra Nature's Basket, which were really good.

I added some toasted walnuts and fresh basil for flavour.

We didn't have white wine at home so I made a sacrilegious deviation and used a bit of the balsamic vinegar that we had picked up from Venice.

We were out of garlic so I used the Australian garlic olive oil that Kunal Dhume sent me rom Melbourne along with the artisanal olive oil that they gave us during the Madrid Fusion.

I should use spaghetti instead of farfelle though I think the rule of thumb is that you should use thin pasta for non-saucy pasta and thick, broad ones for pasta with sauce.

Here's the recipe of what I cooked. It's my recipe based on my inspirations from the trip. It is not an 'authentic or Italian mama vetted' recipe that I used so follow at your own risk!

My Prawn pasta with no cheese recipe

Ingredients (for 2):

1. 100  to 150 g pasta, boiled and set aside after the water is drained
2. 250 g prawns
3. 6 fresh basil leaves
4. 2 garlic cloves 
5. 5 to 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
6. 1 teaspoon sea salt (you get this easily in Mumbai grocery stores)
7. 1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper, chilli flakes (for the Indian in us). I used some seasoning salt From Keya
8. 4,5 walnuts, coarsely crushed with your fingers
9. 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar but authentically should be white wine, 1 cup instead

1. Heat 2,3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and a couple of garlic pods
2. Add 3 basil leaves and the crushed walnuts and stir for about 30 sec
3. Add the prawns. Let it lie on 1 side for a minute and then turn them around. Add the balsamic or ideally white wine, some crushed pepper, chilli flakes and salt at this stage
4. Add the pasta, some sea salt and about 2,3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and stir. Add some more fresh basil, stir, cover with a lid for a minute and turn off the gas.

That's it! 

Isn't it fun to bring back your travel memories to your kitchen? Makes for the best mementoes.