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Create your own pasta

There is enough to compensate for the missing pizza at the Italian food festival at Taj Connemara



Chef Vikas making Italian salads. Pic. by S.R.Raghunathan

FIRST THINGS first: there are no Italian men at the Taj Connemara's Italian Food Festival. There's Italian food, of course. A cascade of Italian flags and quaint Italy-inspired diminutive hot air balloons. But uomini italiani? (See, I've been doing my homework on Google!) Nope.

Sigh.

And there's more crushing news. Once you get over the fact that you aren't going to be served an uomini with parsley sticking out of his ears, you are likely to look for the next most fabulous thing about the land of the leaning tower of Pisa. Pizza! And — I hate to do this but — there's no pizza either.

But be strong. There's plenty to compensate. Their live pasta counter, for instance, is a delicious way to learn some Italian cooking. And there's really no way you can go wrong with the pasta here, since all you have to do is tell the chef to throw in your favourite ingredients.

From a splash in the pan, your pasta will be built block by block. He'll throw in finely chopped garlic and onions and then add the fusilli. Or penne, or macaroni, or farfalle, or spaghetti, or fettuccine. You then choose a sauce and end with a smattering of flavour from the bright bowls of dried chillies, grated Parmesan, diced chicken, olives and parsley lined up beside the counter. It's like playing roulette, and always coming up with a winning number.

There's more good news. Chef Vikas Mykal from Mumbai's Trattoria (the Italian restaurant at the Taj President) has evidently put both care and imagination into the salad counter — an area that generally suffers thanks to the common assumption that generous lashings of mayonnaise can cover a multitude of sins. So, instead of sad sliced tomatoes and day-old onions here, there are buttery slices of aubergine in a gossamer light dressing and crunchy lettuce teamed with pickled cucumber.

Unfortunately, the main part of the buffet suffers simply because it is in a buffet. Creamy Italian cooking tends to wilt morosely if its not served straight from the kitchen and onto your plate. So, the tomato and basil risotto does tend to be dry and the capalati pasta, draped in a white sauce and covered with crispy bacon, becomes more chewy than succulent by the time the dinner guests filter in.

The stuffed and grilled eggplant and steamed fish with lemon butter, on the other hand, fare much better. And the baked seafood pie, covered with a thick crown of buttery potatoes and crumbly cheese, proves that pies and bakes are great buffet food.

The large spread of desserts is dominated by light-as-air soufflés, of which the fluffy tiramisu tasting of strong black coffee is king. But do try the deliciously chewy miele noce tart too. Crammed with nuts and generously topped with whipped cream, it ensures a `sweet ending' that really does linger.

The Italian Food Festival on at the Verandah, Taj Connemara, till October 24, from 7.30 p.m. onwards.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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