Why is Pasta Cooked al Dente?

Pasta is cooked al dente for a reason

Around the world, pasta is cooked in different ways. In some parts of the globe it is cooked until very soft. Other parts keep the water just under boiling by adding cold water to their cooking noodles until they are poached to perfection. But traditionally, Italian pasta is cooked al dente.

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Provencal Tian de Courgettes, Tomates et Oignons | Tian from Provence of Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Onions

As the zucchini and tomatoes come into their best in Autumn, as one gets nostalgic for summer, this is the perfect recipe.

Although zucchini and tomatoes come into their best in Autumn, as one gets nostalgic for summer, this is the perfect recipe.

The tian is both a cooking dish and the name of what’s cooked in it. Summer vegetables are sliced quite thin, arranged in careful upright layers, drenched in quality olive oil and cooked in a slow oven until each individual vegetable surrenders to the others, becoming one.

A tian is also an earthenware vessel of Provence used both for cooking and serving. The dish is baked in an oven. The classic vessel is flattened at the base, flaring outward to a wider rim. It is traditionally glazed on the inside, and unglazed on the outside. But use any round or oblong earthenware dish, or failing that, any oven proof dish.

Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also like our Zucchini recipes . Or you might like to browse Tomato recipes. Check out our easy Autumn recipes.

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Ginger Root


Ginger is an erect plant with thickened, fleshy and aromatic rhizomes. Used in different forms as a food, flavouring and spice, it is related to turmeric and galangal, and is one of the most ancient culinary and medicinal spices around.

“Everything good is found in ginger”.
— An Ancient Indian Proverb

Did you know that 50% of the world’s harvest of ginger is produced in India? It is not surprising as it is one of the most used spices in India cooking.From vegetable dishes to desserts, ginger is a must in every Indian kitchen.

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Indian Essentials: Green Coriander (Cilantro) and Coriander Seeds

Green Coriander or Cilantro, is the “parsley” of Indian and SE Asia. And the seeds are ubiquitous in the cuisines of that region. Read some more about this delightful spice.

Coriander Herb and Coriander Spice

Green Coriander | Coriandrum | Chinese parsley | Cilantro

Green Coriander is the “parsley” of India and SE Asia — it is used ubiquitously in the way that parsley is used in European food. It is ground into fresh chutneys, mixed in with vegetables, featured in soups, cooked in dishes and used as a garnish. In fact it is related to both parsley and carrot. The leaves, stalks and roots are the herb, and the seeds of the plant are the spice; each smells and tastes completely different to the other parts. The leaves have been described as lemon scented, which is kind, and also as smelling like insects or cat pee, which is unkind. They smell of lemon peel and sage. The leaves lose their fresh flavour when cooked and so are most often used fresh. The root is widely used in Thai dishes, and are crushed with garlic and black pepper to make a marinade. Stalks and roots are also treasured throughout India and SE Asia.  Both roots and stalks can be frozen successfully, and make a great addition to stock.

In India, just the delicate, fragrant green leaves are used to make the most wonderful fresh chutneys, and  it is added to dhals for extra flavour. Coriander paste can be made to keep the flavour of coriander in the kitchen when fresh leaves are not available. No South Indian coconut chutney or spicy rice dish is complete without a garnish of fresh coriander leaves. It has a cooling effect and it is said to mend disorders due to an overstimulated digestive fire.

Green Coriander is called Cilantro in some parts of the world (primarily the US).

Coriander Paste

Coriander Seeds

Small straw-coloured ridged seeds with a faint orange or lemony flavour are sweetly spicy and cheap. They have a sweet, woody and peppery aroma that is enhanced by dry roasting and grinding. They are used widely in Indian cookery, and are often the major part of many spice mixtures.

The best way to buy coriander seeds is as whole seeds, and crush these before using. You can purchase coriander powder and if you buy in small quantities or use a lot, this is a convenient way to use it. If you grow coriander you can let it go to seed and harvest the seeds yourself.

home Grown Coriander Seed

Native to the Mediterranean region, the seeds are used in many countries – in India, the Middle East and Malaysia they are very common.

In Western India the seeds are combined with cumin, shredded coconut and other spices to make a “black masala”. In Kerala in the South, they are combined with fenugreek seeds, black peppercorns and red chillies, dry roasted and used to flavour dishes.

In the North, coriander, cumin and turmeric are a common trinity used in hundreds of dishes.

Coriander Seeds also make a handsome addition to herbal infusions/teas.

Coriander Seeds

In Ayurveda, coriander is considered a universal balancer of the doshas. Its taste is bitter and pungent. It helps to calm overstimulated digestion and aids in the absorption of herbs and food. It is used to heal skin rashes, inflammations a range of other ailments.

Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series. Or you might like to browse our Indian Essentials series here. Check out our easy  Coriander recipes here.

Coriander Seed




Indian Essentials: Cinnamon and Cassia Bark

Cinnamon and Cassia – which is which?

Nearly everyone can recognise the soothing and refreshing aroma of cinnamon sticks.But it can be quite confusing — what we normally buy as cinnamon may not be true cinnamon but the bark of the cassia tree. Similar in flavour, but a lot stronger, cassia is predominately sold under the cinnamon label. The flavour is stronger than cinnamon, and in many parts of the world it is preferred because of this.

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Parmesan Toasts

I don’t recall where this recipe originally came from, but a similar version has since been made very popular by Bill Grainger. Perhaps it was from him. These were a particular favourite in London when I would visit my daughter when she lived there. We would make them often. They are heavenly! Eat with soup, or as a snack, or any time.

Feel free to browse other recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also like our Soup recipes.

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Indian Essentials: What is Asafoetida | Devil’s Dung

Asafoetida is also called Devil’s Dung. Read more about this exotic spice….

So many spices have strong medicinal uses as well as imparting flavours to dishes. Asafoetida is one of these. Remember to store asafoetida well as it is very pungent – best to store it away from other ingredients.

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