Pasta Alfredo with Broccoli and Bell Peppers… as you like it!
You know how you feel when you meet someone and you instantly know that you were destined to meet them. You hit it off and feel like you’ve known them forever… that’s exactly how I felt when I ate a Pasta dish for the very first time. It was… love at first bite.
And what’s not to love about Pasta. There’s cheese. And more cheese 🙂 And sometimes, just the illusion of cheese! (Now that’s a secret I’ll share with you in a bit.)
The love affair with pasta was always a threesome; me, pasta and my kitchen, and it goes back to a couple of years when my friend’s mother (an amazing cook) served me a bowl of macaroni oozing with creamy white sauce and the nutty flavour of nutmeg. Imagine my shock when I asked her for the recipe to find absolutely no cheese in the ingredient list at all. She told me the secret was milk! Now, here’s every mother’s opportunity to get back to those fussy milk-haters. Ha! A dish kids love made with something they absolutely don’t. One of life’s sweet ironies, this. Pasta with no cheese!
Ever since then I began my experimentation with white sauce, also called the Alfredo sauce. I’ve improvised and included bits and pieces in the ingredients that I’ve found to work well for the sauce. And that’s because I often feel guilty of being partial to cheese in my food. So over the years, I’ve experimented with a lot of techniques to make this version of the sauce. I substitute a little bit of cream with the milk, depending on how generous I’m feeling 😉 And cheese is mostly just an add-on and not the core ingredient at times. Heavenly, without being greasy on the stomach!
The funny thing is that the Alfredo sauce laden with cream and cheese is really not an Italian dish. The story goes like this… “Eager to please his pregnant wife, a man named Alfredo di Lelio in 1914, created a sauce made with Parmesan cheese and butter and poured it over some fettuccine. Di Lelio opened a restaurant and served this fettuccine dish, which instantly had many takers (for obvious reasons). He later moved to New York to open another restaurant and that is how the dish came to America. But it’s called Pasta al Burro in Europe, and is made without cream unlike in America.”
I mostly make Pasta whenever I feel like it 🙂 A bowl of yumminess to lift my spirit. Comfort food when I’m low. A wholesome meal that makes me happier in happy moments. And yes, sometimes just to indulge myself and treat the taste buds for going sober for a few days at a stretch.
While you can go low-fat on the Alfredo sauce itself, the other important task is to get the right Pasta and cook it properly. Thanks to the Italian food revolution in India, we now have good brands at our disposal at the nearest supermarket. I’ve found the brands Barilla, Borges, Garofalo to be fresh and good to cook. These are available at Hyper City or DMart stores, easily. Just make sure you check the expiry date. Sometimes there are a few layers of stickers that try to increase the shelf life of the product, as salability of products still hasn’t hit the masses.
If you are very conscious of the gluten intake in your food, buy Pasta that is gluten-free or a healthier wheat pasta instead of the one made with durum wheat semolina.
As for the vegetables, just add whatever you like. Broccoli, corn, baby corn, mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini. Or perhaps, nothing at all. The choice is yours. Kanika, you can maybe share with the non-vegetarians how to turn this into a meaty feast.
Here’s the recipe in three simple parts. The sauce, the pasta and the vegetables.
For the sauce:
2 teaspoon butter
½ teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons all purpose flour (maida) or corn flour
2 cups or half litre milk
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
7-8 peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 teaspoon of chilli flakes
Salt to taste
Half a cup of Parmesan cheese (or even Cheddar), or less as you desire
5 teaspoons of cream (optional)
For the Pasta:
2 cups of Penne Pasta
2 litres of water
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon Olive oil
For the vegetable sauté:
Red, green, yellow Bell Peppers, julienned and cut in cubes
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced
5-6 button mushrooms, sliced
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
Prepare the sauce:
For the sauce, heat a skillet on medium high flame and add the butter. I add a little oil so that the butter doesn’t burn. Lower the flame and add the flour. If you want the milk to thicken quickly, you can use corn flour. However, I prefer all-purpose flour (maida) although it takes time for the milk to thicken. Quickly stir the flour and fry it in the butter until golden brown. Be careful to not let it burn and also no lumps are formed in the flour.
Next, add the milk and turn the flame to medium high heat. You don’t have to bring the milk to boil, simply heat the milk while stirring continuously on medium low flame. Make sure no lumps are formed in the milk. When you can see the sauce thicken a little, add the crushed garlic, crushed pepper and chilli flakes and stir. Next, add the salt and oregano (if you wish). After cooking the sauce for about 15-20 minutes you will notice it turning thicker. Then add the cheese and mix it in with the sauce. The sauce is now ready and you can remove it from the flame and set it aside to be mixed with the veggies and pasta.
Note: If you want to add cream to your pasta, replace that much quantity of milk with it and add it along with rest of the milk.
Prepare the pasta:
While the sauce is thickening, you can prepare the pasta. You need to let it cool after it is cooked al dente else the pasta tends to overcook with the heat.
Take about two litres of water and bring to boil. Add the pasta, a pinch of salt and oil. Cook the pasta for as many minutes as mentioned on the packet, or else for about 8-10 minutes and with a quick bite, check if it is done. Once cooked, strain the pasta and pour cold water to cool it down. Set aside.
Note: I generally use the hot water from the pasta to blanch the broccoli florets for about a minute. You can also separately heat water and then blanch the broccoli in it. Cool it by dipping in cold water so that it doesn’t overcook as well.
Prepare the veggies:
Heat a skillet and add oil. Then add the sliced onions and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent, then add bell peppers. Add a pinch of salt and oregano. Then add the broccoli and zucchini. Quickly sauté them and set aside. The vegetables should not be over cooked because they add the crunch to your pasta and complement the softness of the pasta and creaminess of the sauce.
Heat a little butter and sauté the mushrooms for about 2 minutes or till they start releasing water.
Once all three parts of the recipe- the pasta, white sauce and vegetables are ready mix them all together.
Serve hot and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese. Pasta Alfredo is best enjoyed with Garlic bread toasted for a few minutes in the oven.
Note: Garlic bread is available across bakeries. Make sure the bread you buy is fresh. Toast it with olive oil or butter. I mostly buy Garlic bread from Birdy’s (Mumbai), and the bread is generously smeared with butter so I simply have to toast it and it’s ready to eat.
So treat yourself, cause come on, you deserve it! Indulge your taste buds and enjoy your Pasta Alfredo with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Chianti or maybe just add some Vodka or White wine to the sauce itself 😉 (If you’ve taken me seriously about the vodka/ wine bit then add about 2-3 teaspoons after the milk is heated and the sauce thickens a little)
And now excuse me please. As I soak in the sights and sounds of Italy from the quaint little window on the corner Trattoria between sips of Stella Pinot Grigio and my favourite Pasta. (Yeah, Pasta elevates not just my taste buds but also my senses and gives rise to the dreams of sitting in an Italian town, sipping wine)