Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

The best tomato basil soup I ever had in my life is at my college. I went to Penn State University in Erie. They used to serve Tomato Basil Soup with cheese ravioli in it on every Wednesday. Since then I have tried to replicate that soup many times, using many different recipes, but with not much success. Yesterday, I just made the soup out of jiffy, and surprisingly it turned out delicious.

I had a lot of basil leaves left from making stuffed pasta shells over the weekend, so I decided to try again one last time, to make tomato basil soup. And I am glad that I tried because the soup turned out so good that I couldn’t stop eating it even though I wasn’t very hungry.

Instead of using heavy cream, I used ricotta cheese in my soup because that is what I had available at home. I also didn’t buy any fancy croutons, but instead made some at home from whole wheat bread slices. I also had some carrots in the fridge, so I used one in the soup.

Here is the recipe for making Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

For the Soup
6-7 Juicy Tomatoes (I Used Roma Tomatoes),
1 Medium Carrot,
3 Big Cloves of Garlic,
1/4th Cup Olive Oil,
6-7 Black Pepper Corns,
½ Cup Water,
Salt to Taste,
10 Big Italian Basil Leaves, Washed and Patted Dry
2 Teaspoon Ricotta Cheese,
A little less than 1/4th Cup Milk,
½ Teaspoon White Pepper Powder, or Per Taste
A Pinch of Saffron Strands, Optional (It gives good color),
1 Teaspoon Sugar

For Croutons
2 Slices of Bread Your Choice (I Used Whole Wheat)
2 Teaspoon Olive Oil,
1/8th Teaspoon Italian Seasoning


For the Croutons:
Place one slice of bread on top of the other. Make vertical and horizontal cuts at 1 inch intervals on both breads at a time so that the pieces are of the same size. Lay these pieces in a single layer on a baking dish. Sprinkle 2 Teaspoon olive oil and Italian seasoning on the bread pieces.

For the Soup:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the tomatoes in half length wise. Cut the carrot in big pieces. Add the tomatoes, carrots, garlic, olive oil and black pepper corns in a deep baking dish and cover with an aluminum foil. Puncture the foil at 4-5 locations with the help of a knife. Keep aside.

When the oven heats up to 375 degrees F, place the deep dish with veggies on the center rack and the bread slices on the bottom rack of the oven. After 15 minutes, check the bread once. It should have hardened up into croutons. Take them out. If the bread pieces haven’t hardened up, cook them a little longer. Cook the veggies for 15 more minutes (30 minutes in total from the start time) so that the tomatoes get soft. Take out the veggies, remove the foil and add ½ cup cold water to aid in cooling.

While the veggies are getting cooled, take 3 basil leaves, lay them on top of each other and roll them up. Cut into thin pieces. Separate the cut pieces. Now you have thinly sliced basil ribbons for garnishing!! 

Mix the ricotta cheese and milk in a blender and blend into smooth paste. Once the veggies cool down, add the remaining (uncut) basil leaves, sugar and the cheese paste to the veggies and blend it to make smooth puree.

The following step is optional. Take out 4-5 croutons which are cut from the sides of the bread. Add these croutons to the veggies while making puree. The addition of croutons gave the soup a good texture, and thick consistency. You can opt out from adding croutons to the veggies if you like your soup to have very smooth texture.

Transfer the puree to a cooking pot and add the saffron strands, salt and white pepper powder to it. Cook on medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Take off the stove and serve hot garnished with croutons, chopped basil ribbons and some olive oil.

Note: Do not overcook the soup otherwise the basil will loose its flavor.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Spinach Stuffed Pasta Shells

I had a big bunch of spinach in the fridge, and didn’t want to make the usual palak panner, or palak paratha with it. So I decided to make spinach stuffed pasta shells. It tasted great, and made for more than 4 servings:), so we had it for dinner, and took the rest for lunch the next day. I used readymade pasta sauce instead of making it fresh at home, but you can definitely use your favorite recipe for homemade pasta sauce.

Here is the recipe for making spinach stuffed pasta shells.

1 Bunch Spinach,
1 Packet Jumbo Pasta Shells, (12 OZ)
Salt, to taste,
2 Garlic Cloves, Finely Chopped
1/3rd Cup Ricotta Cheese,
1/3rd Cup, Parmesan Cheese,
8-10 Italian Basil Leaves,
5-6 Mint Leaves,
2 Tablespoon, Italian Parsley ( I used cilantro, because that is what I had available at home).
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper, or To Taste,
3 Teaspoon Olive Oil

Cook the pasta per the package instruction, but cook it for a little less time, because it will continue cooking in the oven.

Separate the spinach leaves from the stems, and discard the stems. Heat olive oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic and chili flakes. Cook for a minute or two, then add the spinach leaves, mint leaves, basil, parsley and salt. Cook uncovered until the spinach starts wilting. Now add the ricotta cheese and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated. Switch off the stove and let it cool completely.

In the mean time, take a deep baking sheet and spread about two ladle full of the readymade pasta sauce on the bottom of the pan. Strain the pasta, and arrange them in a layer on the baking sheet. Do not put them too close together, or they will start sticking. Let them cool on the baking sheet.

Now, transfer the cooled spinach mixture into a grinder and grind to a thick paste. Do not add any water. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. While the oven is heating up, fill each pasta shell with the spinach mixture. I filled each shell with about 2 spoons of the mixture. Coat the filled shells with readymade pasta sauce. Make sure that all shells are covered with the pasta sauce, or the exposed shells will become dry. Spread the parmesan cheese on top of the sauce. Chop up 1-2 basil leaves, and sprinkle them on the cheese for garnishing. Cover the baking dish with an aluminum foil and bake on the center rack for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Take out of the oven and serve hot with some warm italian bread or garlic bread on side.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vegetarian Tomato Omlette or Pudla

Pudla is a Gujarati version of tomato omlette. Its quick, tasty and healthy too, since it is made with gram flour. Here is the recipe for pudla or eggless tomato omlette.

1 Cup Gram Flour (Besan),
2 Teaspoon Semolina (Suji),
2 Teaspoon Rice Flour,
Salt to Taste
3-4 Green Chilies, Finley Chopped,
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric Powder,
1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala,
2 Medium Tomatoes, Finley Chopped,
1/2 Medium Onion, Finley Chopped,
1/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro Leaves,
1/4 Cup Yogurt, (makes it soft and fluffly)

Method: Combine all the ingredients mentiond above except the water. Mix everything well. Start adding little water at a time while stirring the ingredients to make sure that no lumps form. Add just enough water to get a pancake batter consistency.

Heat a griddle or a non stick pan. Pour 1/4 teaspoon oil in the center. Pour about 1/3rd cup of the batter on the oil and spread it evenly on the griddle. Cook on medium high heat for about 2 minutes, or until the underside is golden brown. Flip the side. Cook for another minute. Take off of the griddle and serve hot with butter, ketchup or chutney.

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Eggless Pound Cake

Since I am a vegetarian, I am always trying some new ways to make an eggless cake, which can make the cake light, moist and fluffy. I think I have finally found a good recipe.

Here I am sharing a basic pound cake recipe. I added some orange zest for taste, and some walnuts for a bite, but you can eliminate these additional ingredients altogether, and still make a good pound cake.

1-1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour (Maida)
1/4 Lb (1 Stick) Butter, melted
1-1/4 Cups Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Ground Flax Seeds (Flax Seeds Powder)
3 Teaspoon Water
A Pinch Salt
3/4 Cup Sour Cream
1/8th Cup Orange Juice (You can use water if you don't want orange flavour)
1/4 Teaspoon Orange Zest (Optional)
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts (Optional)
A few strands of Saffreon, for some color

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degree F. In a big mixing bowl, add the butter, sugar and cream and mix well. In a small cup mix the ground flax seeds in 3 teaspoon of water and keep aside for 5 minutes to make a thick paste.  Add the flax seeds paste to the butter mixture and mix well making sure no lumps are formed. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, saffron, walnuts and orange zest in a pan and mix well. Now add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Add the orange juice (or water) and mix everything uniformly for one last time.

Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle some flour on all sides. Transfer the batter into the pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until a knife, when inserted in the center comes out clean. When it is done, take it out of the oven and let it cool completley. Cut into slices and serve.

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