On the one year anniversary of the Menu column, Naveen Atwal shares a favourite recipe from her childhood, while looking to her family’s future.
Story by Naveen Atwal
I’m just weeks away from welcoming my little one into the world! It’s all resting and nesting from this point forward. Cooking is at a minimum, so when I have the energy to make something, I stick to classics, tried-and-true recipes, and comfort foods.
That doesn’t mean I’m still not thinking about food all time time! I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows because I find these types of shows very relaxing. But I’ve been especially intrigued by the cooking shows and competitions featuring young kids. Colour me super-impressed. These kids are a pure joy to watch – such talent, drive and passion in the kitchen.
Like these kids, I loved being in the kitchen at a young age and have many fond memories – from early days of playing with pots and pans, to helping my mom make Indian sweets for the holidays, to cooking my first dishes on my own (chai, basmati rice and Punjabi-style green bean saabji… not eaten at once!). I hope that one day my little one will grow up and join me in the kitchen, with the same curiosity and enjoyment that I had.
Much of how I learned to cook came from observation. I would hover around my mom in the kitchen, watching her ad-lib her recipes and was fascinated how a dash of this and that could turn into a delicious dish. She never followed a recipe, yet she always seemed to know the right ratio of ingredients.
This recipe is adapted from my mom’s version of Spaghetti Bolognese, or “Keema Pasta” as we referred to it at home. It’s one of my absolute favourite comfort food dishes. A bowl of this pasta is like a loving hug from mom. It’s perfect for these colder nights, with a side of crispy garlic bread to sop up every little morsel of rich sauce. It’s a classic recipe my mom has passed down to me, which I hope to share one day as a mom.
Not a goodbye, but a see-you-later
For the last year, it’s been a pleasure sharing my food stories with you. I hope you’ve been inspired to experiment in the kitchen and create memories of your own. I’m taking a break from this column as the only meals I’ll be preparing for the next while will consist of baby formula and pureed vegetables! Happy cooking and I’ll see you in a year!
Mom’s Spaghetti Bolognese (“Keema Pasta”)
6 oz of spaghetti (about 4 handfuls of noodles)
1 lb ground lean beef
1 5-to-6 oz can of tomato paste
1 28 oz can of tomato sauce, preferably San Marzano tomato sauce
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup stock, preferably beef
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp pepper flakes (optional)
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, for garnish
1. In a large, bottom-heavy pot on medium-high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of oil and cumin seeds. Quickly stir the seeds to prevent from burning. Once fragrant, add the celery and carrots and saute until they start to soften. Once the vegetables start softening, add the onions and garlic. Lower the heat to medium. Cook everything, stirring constantly. If anything starts sticking to the bottom of the pot, add a few more tablespoons of oil.
2. Once the onions are softened and the garlic has browned (but not burnt), add the ground beef and mix together. Break down the meat with your cooking utensil. Add the tomato paste and incorporate with the vegetables and meat. Then, add the stock and seasonings. Cook for about 10 minutes.
3. Mix-in the tomato sauce. Lower the heat to low, cover and simmer the sauce for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and reduced. Stir the sauce occasionally to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot.
4. When there’s about 10 minutes left before the sauce is ready, prepare the spaghetti al dente as per package instructions. Drain and set aside with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent noodles from sticking to each other.
5. Toss the pasta together with the sauce. Then top with a nice generous portion of freshly grated cheese. Toss together gently and serve right away.
Makes about 4 to 6 servings. Leftovers keep well in an air-tight container in the fridge for a few days.
Photography: Naveen Atwal and Wiki Creative Commons