Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lombardian Food Festival at ItALIa, New Delhi ~ A Celebration With Friends

ItALIa, an authentic Italian cuisine restaurant invited us to their Lombardian Food festival. It’s on from the 21st Jan – 6th Feb 2011, It’s located on the 2nd floor, DLF Promenade, Vasant Kunj. A must visit for it’s food, ambience and service.
Lombardy lies in the North of Italy and is famous for its food, culture, fashion, joy for life and football. Culinary delights from this part of Italy are rich and mainly consist of rice, cheese and meats. Rice being popular in the region, is often found in soups as well as risotto, such as "Risotto alla Milanese". Regional cheeses include robiola, crescenza, taleggio, gorgonzola and grana padano (the plains of central and southern Lombardy allow intensive cattle-raising). Butter and cream are used freely. Single pot dishes, which take less work to prepare, are popular. In Bergamo, Brescia, and Valtellina, polenta is common. In Mantua festivals feature tortelli di zucca (ravioli with pumpkin filling) accompanied by melted butter and followed by turkey stuffed with chicken or other stewed meats.

Favorite dishes from this region are Risotto Milanese, Veal ossobucco, Cotoletta alla Milanese (veal cutlets), Cassoeula (pork and cabbage stew), Baked Polenta Gnocchi, Pasta Norma, Tortellini Bolognaise to name some, all of which we found at the festival.

We started with a bread basket while deciding our drinks, seated in the open air dining area. We had a few cocktails and our choice of wine was Canalleto Montepulciano.

The starting note hit a high with Polenta Frita(pan fried polenta cakes topped with pancetta and mozzarella) which was delicious, it’s crunch from the coarse cornmeal grain n evenly cooked patty topped with melted mozzarella cheese left us anticipating what the rest of the meal would be like. Then came the Insalata di Barbabietole e Formaggio Caprino(oven roasted beetroot and goat cheese salad with balsamic and aragula). None of us on the table are beetroot fans.... We were in a ‘bring-it-on’ mode, so we tasted some and were hooked.... It was absolutely amazing... We are now converts.... We love roasted beetroot... the salad dressing had a sweet caramel taste to it along with the balsamic vinegar..... This salad was a Winner for me.... our clean plates would have told the story back to the chef in the kitchen.

The next course was soup, Minestrone al risso was made well, my friends enjoyed it but somehow I was in a cheesy, indulgent mood and vegetables minus cheese just weren’t my calling. Since I asked for a cheesy evening my next was Pizza con Patate, pollo e gorgonzola(pizza with potatoes, chicken and gorgonzola cheese) This was a first for me, potatoes on pizza..... was enjoyable... The crust of the pizza was quite thin... as in really thin n wafer like..... someone’s working very hard in the Kitchen..... The potatoes n chicken put together have this way of comforting you with melted cheese like no other....
The only part of my meal which I didn’t quite enjoy as much was the Risotto ala Milanese(classic saffron risotto), Tortellini alla Bolognese(mince meat dumplings with parmesan cheese) and Ravioli de Zucca(pumpkin ravioli butter walnut sauce) Can’t put a finger on what wasn’t right with them, but all of us on the table weren’t very excited about these 3.

Can any post be complete without the POSER INC..... :) That’s Shuchi, Gauri and Radhika.

We met Rahul and his family at the festival who had come down from West Delhi and very happy with their evening at ItALIa. They felt the service was good, seating was comfortable and ambience was nice too. They liked the pizza and pasta they ordered but weren’t too happy with the chicken and named another outlet which they preferred for chicken. Another thing they mentioned which I would agree with is that the tables are a bit small for the seating, even we had to join 2 tables to seat 4 people. That’s Rahul with his clan of lovely ladies.

The next course was Cotoletta alla Milanese(breaded veal escalopes, spaghetti tomato basil sauce) and Gnocchi di Patate(potato dumplings with a mushroom sauce). This platter took our hearts (read stomachs) away.... The veal was coated just right and fried to perfection..... cooked just right... The spaghetti with chunky tomato sauce was a delight and refreshingly different from the saucy pastas served in most Italian joints. If the silence on a table with 4 ladies is anything to go by..... The chef must take this silence as a compliment.

Then came the Pangasio al forno(baked river sole with mustard potatoes and salsa verde) and Malfatti Ricotta e Spinaci(ricotta cheese and spinach malfatti). We all love our fish, mushrooms, cheese, and olives.... We would have loved to say this was the best but sadly the salt content was a bit high especially in the sole n mushrooms. As a result, we couldn’t enjoy our favourite flavours to the hilt. The ricotta cheese and spinach had me whistling the Popeye Whistle. Delicious ricotta and spinach gnocchi come from both Lombardia (called malfatti) and Casentino (Tuscany), the main difference being that gnocchi del casentino are cooked and served in a meat broth while malfatti is sprinkled with cheese. Malfatti, which translates to “badly-made” shape in Italian and this one was soft and smooth with melted cheese on top.

We didn’t even know what was going to hit us when the Polenta Pasticciata(polenta lasagna with lamb ragu and musrooms) and Ossobuco di vitello (veal shanks with parmesan herb rissoto and gremolota) were served.... They were superb... We loved them... The lamb ragu was a gastronomical delight. I would have to go back for these when I can enjoy their flavours on an empty stomach. The chef’s recommendation on the Ossobuco di vitello was spot on. The meat was cooked just right and the risotto was hitting just the right notes with me.....

While chatting with Chef Somopriyo Basu, we were informed that the cheese used in our meal (gorgonzola, taleggio, parmigiano reggiano) was all imported from Italy:
The goat cheese was imported from France. The spare ribs & sausages were imported from Holland. The tomatoes, pastas & arborio rice for risotto, extra virgin olive, balsamic vinegar borlotti beans, cannellini beans were from Italy.
He even bought out his block of parmigiano reggiano to show us how the original cheese makers pierced the cheese to ensure no fakes went around.

This dinner was so close to my birthday that my friends turned it into a celebration of sorts. Gauri of Backyard Baker baked an Almond Tosca... It’s something I hadn’t heard of... till she enlightened me about the classic Swedish cake. It was spongy and crunchy in the same bite.... A must bake. Thank you so much girls for the lovely thoughts, gifts and amazing evening.

A side of me which many of my friends know but not too many have captured..... am absolutely click-happy... most of what I eat is clicked.... More at ‘10 + 3 Things You Should Know About Food Bloggers’.

To be honest by this time we were stuffed with the delightful meal Chef Somopriyo Basu had put out for us and graciously informed us that Chef Anurudh Khanna, Executive Chef, The Park ,New Delhi helped & guided them in each step to make this festival a success. Then came the dessert which I was expecting to be Tiramisu but was pleasantly surprised with a Pannacotta alla Vaniglla e Lamponi [vanilla bean Pannacotta with raspberry sauce) which was creamy delight with refreshing raspberry sauce despite us being satiated with our huge meal.

The average price for meal for two: Rs.2500+taxes (without alcohol)

I would love to go back, this time to their private dining area and see what that has to offer.
Ps: One of us was a vegetarian and must say was very well provided for.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Heralding the New Year with Vegan Chocolate Cake and Friends

“People are so worried about what they eat between Christmas and the New Year, but they really should be worried about what they eat between the New Year and Christmas.”

Heralding the new year with friends.... Shuchi, Radhika and Gauri. Radhika very sweetly got us her new experiment to give the year to such a wonderful start.....

Radhika's Vegan Mocha Cake Recipe
Inspired n Adpated from here.

Ingredients for Chocolate Cake
2 1/2 cups of sifted whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar [doesnt make any difference if its granular or caster]
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of apple sauce/maple syrup/golden syrup
2 cups of warm water
2/3 cup of vegetable oil
2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoon of white or apple cider vinegar

Frosting Recipe
Half a 350 g package of firm tofu
4 tablespoons maple/golden syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup of soy or almond milk
100 g to 200 g 70% dark chocolate bar (melted in a double boiler) [i used few pieces of baileys liquor chocolate to give that extra kick]
1 teaspoon of Coffee Powder

Fresh Strawberries

Putting It All Together-

Directions: 350° F (175° C); for 15 minutes or less for moister cake

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Grease baking pans with Earth Balance natural buttery spread.
3. To ensure the cakes don't stick, place a handful of flour in each pan and shake pan until covered. Or, with a pencil, trace the bottom of the baking pan on the wax paper, cut out circles, and line pans.
4. Sift flour into a large bowl, adding flakes of bran back into the flour if sifted out.
5. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients.
6. In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients and whisk.
7. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until smooth.
8. Pour vegan chocolate cake mixture equally into baking pans.
9. Place pans in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until a fork comes out clean.
10. Allow chocolate cake to cool before removing from pans.

How to Make Frosting
1. Add all ingredients, except the chocolate and coffee powder, into a food processor.
2. Melt dark chocolate bar in a double boiler.
3. Blend ingredients until smooth and then slowly add melted chocolate and coffee powder.
4. Once blended, let cool in the refrigerator for a few hours so that the tofu has time to absorb the flavors. Frosting will also thicken as it sits.
5. If not chocolatey enough for you, melt and add more dark chocolate.

Frosting Your Vegan Mocha Cake
1. Place one cake flat side up on a plate and spread with icing.
2. Place other cake flat side down on top of icing.
3. Spread the remainder of the icing over the entire double-layered cake and serve.

This delicious mocha cake is perfect when served with fresh strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries.

A quick note: the texture and flavor of the cake with vary slightly depending on whether maple syrup or apple sauce is used. If you prefer a cake less moist, simply use two cups of sugar instead of apple sauce and maple/golden syrup.