Under my byline

Masta of pasta

Posted in Architecture/Design, Foodie, Profiles by Rrishi on 13 April 2008

Architect Sonali Srivastava Rastogi speedily assembles an enormous Italian meal

In Delhi’s posh but staid Panchsheel Park, one house quietly stands out from the rest. It doesn’t loom over the lane, though, reserving most of its bulk for the distant rear portion.

What faces forward is a wood-sheathed façade with deep-set but enormous glass windows. At the moment plywood hides most of it, since finishing touches are being put to the top-floor deck, which carries a swimming pool.

Its masters are the Rastogis, Manit and Sonali, architects and joint chiefs of Morphogenesis, one of India’s leading architecture firms. They see all their buildings as “containers of programmes in flux” — which is true, perhaps, but certainly the planning and construction work has little to do with flux. They’re much too well-organised for that.

Inside the house, good sense (and a hint of hubris, always a happy sign) shows everywhere. Rooms are large and bright, good wood is everywhere, and ceilings are far away. But the kitchen — located right at the centre — looks rather small.

“But there’s lots of space,” explains Sonali Rastogi, pointing out the masses of concealed storage (no handles clutter the surfaces). And, she says, “I cook everything fresh, I don’t like to stock food.”

There’s also the fact that five of us are standing in this kitchen without stepping on each other’s toes — including Gayatri, their cook, who “is the backbone of our cooking”, as Rastogi says.

Rastogi’s making us three different exotic pasta dishes, as well as a soup and a salad. Two recipes are deconstructed below; the others are spinach fettuccine with fresh pesto, spinach cannelloni with white sauce, lasagna-style, and a nutty, crunchy, delicious salad of spinach and rocket leaves.

Some of the greens are from the Rastogis’ front garden. “To me,” she explains, “spinach is so pretty”, so it proudly rubs shoulders with more ornamental herbage. “We grow all our herbs,” she says. “From the market they send you a bunch, and all you need is a sprig.”

“When we travel,” which they do several times a year with their two children, they love to eat, and “the kids will make a list of favourite foods. So I think let me buy the ingredients now,” she says, and those dishes can be made at home as well.

She and Gayatri “devise the recipes together. Elaborate cooking is only fun if you have an assistant. It’s nice to have a discussion on the food, opinions shared,” says Rastogi, adding a dash of white wine to the soup because “It prolongs the flavour.”

Five dishes at once — no sweat. It’s all about planning and forethought (“pre-preparation”, in her words), which is how the Rastogis manage their giant building projects. Everything is at hand at exactly the right time — not early, not late. It’s a recipe for success. We leave with full tummies but a light step.

FAVOURITE RECIPES

SQUID-INK PASTA WITH PRAWNS

Squid-ink pasta (imported from Hong Kong)
1 white onion
1 whole garlic pod (large)
6 tomatoes, finely diced
1 tbsp tomato purée
5-6 fresh prawns

To make the tomato sauce, purée together onion, garlic and tomatoes, and add the tomato purée. Boil squid-ink pasta as usual. Separately blanch prawns and sautée quickly on a grill or non-stick grill pan. Add sauce to pasta and toss. Arrange prawns on top and serve.

ASPARAGUS SOUP

15 stalks fresh asparagus
1½ white onions
1 tbsp dry white wine
2 tbsp light cream
2 tsp light butter
Chicken bones
½ carrot
5-6 whole black peppercorns
½ tsp salt
Basil, thyme or tej patta

To make the stock, boil chicken bones in a pressure-cookerful of water with half-onion, half-carrot, peppercorns and herbs. Strain well, cool and store in freezer in various-sized containers for use. (Matured stock is best.) For the soup, cut off asparagus tips and keep aside.

Finely chop rest of asparagus and one onion and sautée together in light butter. Blend two bowls of reheated stock and sautéed asparagus/onion in mixie.

Cook together with two additional bowls of stock and the white wine/vermouth, on medium flame. Add cream and turn off immediately, continuing to stir to mix. Steam asparagus tips briefly in microwave with a little water and add to soup for crunch factor.

(Visit the Morphogenesis website.)

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