Sunday, June 27, 2010

O'-I-Live to make it happen one day

There is an interesting observation at Italian Restaurants abroad, be it a small or an extravagant one, the moment you are seated the exhaustive wine list is brought out, the concierge helps you with the selection, with his/her mind reading prowess, he/she can guess your taste, liking, mood and the amount you are willing to spend, saving you the trouble of going cross eyed trying to determine the best choice off the menu as it involves rapid eye movement between the wines and the little amount column on the right (especially if you have "company").

Now comes the other interesting part, the wine once brought out, uncorked, poured and tasted, the practice, as is observed, involves a small shallow white plate to be placed in front of you. The assorted bread in its individual basket having a wide assortment of baked delights is unwrapped from its warm and snug white cocoon, and then in one swift movement your pristine white plate has a pool of rich olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. This is indulgence at its best, your pick of yeasty warm bread should be dipped into the olive oil balsamic vinegar mixture and savoured fresh off the basket.

I love this tradition, it's much like a bowl of peanuts or cashews with your beer, back in our Country. Unfortunately, in India, even though Italian Cuisine has fast caught on, the tradition of serving the welcome bread basket (except in a select few places, very few, in my case, probably only one of which I am aware) with the above oil-vinegar concoction is lost. Understandably, Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar is no easy on cost, but the fact that Italian Cuisine Restaurants are highly priced and in vogue with times, it should be made mandatory to serve up this divine delight. So what if its supposed to be complimentary!

Of course you can have this tradition replicated at home. The next time you serve up pasta or even garlic bread, have this on your table to delight your guests and make it your own little welcome:


From you nearest bakery, pick up dinner rolls, a French loaf, baby round breads and a few packs of your local pau (this particularly tastes amazing).

Mix Butter and a minced garlic clove and spread on the inside halve of Dinner Roll, fold close and pop in the oven to warm for three minutes on high.

Mix Butter, Paprika and your favorite herb and smother in the baby round breads, close and warm with the dinner rolls.

Slice French Loaf into thick slices, drizzle a mix of olive oil, Tabasco and parsley (coriander) onto the slices and grill for two minutes.

Your local pau can be heated, as is, with a little butter and served warm

Spread a pristine white napkin in a wicker or bamboo basket, mix and match random breads and place in the napkin, add a couple of bread sticks in the corners, fold napkin on three sides, leaving one side open as an outlet to release the hot steam. Serve immediately.

Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Serving 

As pictured below, I had got this bottle form one of those wine festivals in Goa, it was gifted to me by an Aunt who found the bottle quite quaint and thought it would be an innovative addition to my innumerable kitchen items. It was originally meant to be for wine, where it was to be used for chilling the wine by pouring it in the inner compartment and adding chilled water in the outer. Of course, I was super excited to be the owner of a typical Italian Olive Oil - Balsamic Vinegar serviette. The inner chamber now holds the highest quality Balsamic Vinegar, and super rich, extra virgin Olive Oil in the outer compartment.

Keep this on the table for your guests to individually pour out the olive oil  and balsamic onto their plates when you serve the bread.


One thing I give most high-end Italian restaurants in India credit for, is their choice of butter's served with the  Bread Basket. Every place has a distinct recipe and most of them go quite well with the assorted Bread. You can whip up some of them in your own kitchens and serve with your bread basket.

Garlic Butter: One of my all time favourites, whip softened butter till well blended, add 1 or 2 cloves of crushed garlic, salt and a sprinkling of garlic powder. With a spatula, cream the butter till well mixed and spoon out in a small bowl. Serve cold or at room temperature

Spicy Butter: Another exotic spreadable delight, In a mixer, combine one fourth cup of butter with 2 tablsp of  olive oil and lemon juice, process until well creamed, add garlic salt and chilli flakes and blend again. If you want it to be slightly more pinkish in colour, add a pinch of red chilli powder before blending once again. Spoon out in a small bowl and serve immediately.

Peppered Green Butter: This is an innovative creation. In a mixer, combine one fourth cup of butter with 2 tablsp of olive oil and few leaves of parsley or coriander, process until well creamed, add one chopped green garlic and freshly crushed pepper. Mix well and serve.

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