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Food blogger talks about her prize-winning pasta recipe

In love with unique flavours and culinary experiments, 21-year-old food blogger Samina Patel spills the beans on the pasta recipe that has won her a trip to Italy

When you browse through The Cupcake Confession, a blog on exotic bakes like Brown Butter, Malt and Orange Oreo Crepe Cakes, Pretzel Buns, Chai Spice Chocolate Brownies and Pink Lemonade Macarons, you'd be forgiven for thinking that an experienced chef has created (and plated) these tempting dishes. However, these are dished out by a 21-year old Vashi-based food blogger, Samina Patel, who started this page in 2013.

Food blogger Samina Patel with Strawberry and Mango Macarons with Basil Custard. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Food blogger Samina Patel with Strawberry and Mango Macarons with Basil Custard. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Now, she's added another feather to her talented chef's hat by winning Del Monte Italian Escapades campaign with her innovative recipe, Orange Butter Sauce Spaghetti with Fennel Italian Meringue Kisses. Judged by celebrity chef Ranveer Brar, Patel beat 200-odd food bloggers for the prize of an eight-day all-expenses paid trip to Italy (Florence, Venice and Rome) that will help hone her culinary skills. "I've always wanted to go to a culinary school but I couldn't afford it. So, this trip is very important to me," says the BMM graduate from SIES Nerul.

Filling basil custard in a macaron shell
Filling basil custard in a macaron shell

Hot off the oven
However, making this dish was no cakewalk. "I wanted to go beyond the usual tomato-basil or pesto recipes. I'd read somewhere that orange and fennel salad is popular in Italy, so I used that flavour combination in the pasta. I balanced the citrus-ey orange flavour with the creamy and salty butter sauce. Meringue is usually associated with desserts but I wanted to add it to a savoury dish.

The winning dish, Orange Butter Sauce Spaghetti with Fennel Italian Meringue Kisses
The winning dish, Orange Butter Sauce Spaghetti with Fennel Italian Meringue Kisses

Making it was a challenge because of humidity; it needs dry weather to set. Every Italian pasta dish is completed with parmesan on top but I couldn't find parmesan in the supermarket. So, I garnished the dish with some crushed fennel bulbs, which thankfully had the same effect," shares Patel, who's been dabbling with desserts since she was seven. She recalls, "I would get muffins from a store, melt jam on a stove and try fancy icings. I love baking desserts, especially, because they always look so beautiful. The process may be complicated but the end result is worth it."

Spiced Orange Mocha Hot Chocolate got popular on Pinterest

Instead of merely replicating recipes from the web or cookbooks, Patel, who is glued to TLC, and shows like Masterchef Australia, tweaks them to create innovative, and often, healthier versions. For instance, she makes macarons with oat milk instead of almond milk, while marshmallows are made using honey instead of sugar.

"I came up with the macaroon recipe in 2009. At the time, I had limited pocket money. Almond milk is expensive, so, I substituted the ingredient with oat milk that was lying at home and it worked well. I also want make more sugar-free desserts," she reveals. Apart from her blog, Patel's recipes have also gained popularity on Pinterest. "The Spiced Orange Mocha Hot Chocolate, that I created last Christmas, has been pinned 6,000 times," she informs, adding that she intends to study at a business school next year and start her own food venture.

Log on to: thecupcakeconfession.com

Samina Patel's winning recipe of Orange Butter Sauce Spaghetti with Fennel Italian Meringue Kisses

Ingredients:
For Butter Sauce:
85 grams butter, chilled
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 fat cloves garlic
Chopped parsley, a handful.
1 - 2 tsp Italian mixed herbs
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar (optional)
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
2 tsp chilli flakes
Salt and pepper, as per taste

For Italian Fennel Meringue kisses:
90 grams sugar
25 ml water
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp fennel powder

For Garnish:
Orange Segments Fennel flavored Italian Meringue Kisses Parsley

Method:
For the Fennel Flavoured Italian Meringue Kisses:
>> Preheat oven at 100 degrees Celsius.
>> Prepare your baking tray by lining it with parchment paper.
>> Begin by combining the sugar and water on medium high heat. Only stir until all of the sugar has dissolved.
>> While you prepare the sugar syrup, simultaneously take egg whites in a clean metal bowl and add 1 tsp lime juice. This helps keep your meringue stable.
>> Start whisking on very low speed using a stand mixer or hand mixer. It should start to get foamy.
>> Once your sugar syrup begins to come to a boil, keep your spoons away and leave the syrup undisturbed, only swirling the pan every so often.
>> Use a meat / candy thermometer to keep a watch on the syrup. It should reach a temperature of 115 degrees Celsius.
>> If you do not have a candy thermometer, keep the flame between medium and low and heat the syrup for approximately 5 minutes.
>> Pour the hot sugar syrup in a steady stream along the sides of the bowl, whilst still whisking at slow speed. You can ask someone to help you out whilst you do this since the sugar syrup is extremely hot and will burn you if it comes in contact.
>> On the highest setting, whisk the mix for approximately 4 minutes. It will start to increase in volume and look fluffy.
>> Add the powdered fennel and mix again on the highest setting for 1 minute.
>>> Pour into piping bags with your favourite nozzle and pipe the kisses on parchment paper placed in the prepared tray.
>> Let them dehydrate in the oven for about 1-2 hours.
>> When done, leave them in the oven to crisp up.

For the Pasta sauce:
>> Cook the Del Monte spaghetti as per the packet instructions. Drain and keep aside.
>> In a pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter and add chopped onions and garlic and sauté until softened.
>> Add the orange zest, juice and red wine vinegar and bring to boil.
>> When it begins to boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
>> Add the chilli flakes, Italian mixed herbs and parsley.
>> Add salt and pepper as per taste.
>> Take the pan off the heat and slowly add the remaining cold butter one cube at a time whilst constantly stirring the saucepan along the handle till the sauce begins to emulsify into a thick, cream coloured sauce. Do not use spoons to stir the sauce at this stage.
>> In a bowl, place your pasta. Add the orange segments, parsley and fennel Italian meringue kisses. Crumble a few meringues over the pasta. Serve hot.

Recipe of Strawberry and Mango Macarons with Basil Custard (No nuts, no seeds) by Samina Patel

Ingredients:
For the Strawberry Macaron Shells
2 egg whites
76 grams caster sugar
76 grams sifted strawberry flavoured instant oats
100 grams icing sugar
½ teaspoon pink food colour

For the Basil Custard Filling:
2 egg yolks
30 grams caster sugar
1 levelled teaspoon cornflour
50 mls fresh cream
50 mls whole full fat milk
6-7 basil leaves

For Assembling:
2 tablespoons Mango Jam (store-bought)

Method:

For the Strawberry Macaron Shells:
>> In a clean metal bowl, combine sifted strawberry flavoured oats and sifted icing sugar.
>> In another clean metal bowl, add the egg whites and caster sugar and whisk using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer until stiff and glossy peaks form.
>> It is best to start at a low speed till the egg whites get frothy, about 2 minutes, increase the speed to medium and whisk for 3-4 minutes and whisk on the highest speed for about 3-4 minutes for a total of 10 minutes.
>> Use a rubber spatula to fold the egg whites into the oat flour and icing sugar mix till it combines well and looks smooth. (Tip: drop a little mix from the spatula into the bowl and it should become even with the rest of the mix within 20-30 seconds. If it doesn’t, mix a couple more times).
>> Fill this mix in a piping bag and pipe circles on a parchment paper placed on a cookie tray.
>> Tap the tray on a flat surface to pop any air bubbles that may have formed at least 4 -5 times.
>> Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius.
>> Keep the tray in a cool dry place for the shells to dry. This takes about 15 – 20 minutes. When you lightly touch the tops of the shell, they’ll feel dry to the touch.
>> Bake them in the preheated oven for about 18 minutes.

For the Basil Custard:
>> In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, cream and basil leaves and let it cook on low flame.
> Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar till the yolks turn a pale yellow colour.
>> The milk + cream + basil mix will begin to scald, and bubbles will start to appear around the sides of the saucepan. Do not let it boil.
>> Pour the hot milk mix into the egg yolk mix very slowly and stirring constantly so as to not scramble the egg yolk.
>> Pour the mix back into the saucepan and on medium low heat cook this mixture till it begins to thicken considerably, about 3 minutes. Make sure to constantly stir. The custard is ready when it coats the back of a spoon or the spatula.
>> Transfer the custard to a clean metal bowl. Let it come down to room temperature and then cover with cling film and refrigerate.

Assembly:
>> Fish out the basil leaves from the custard and fill the custard in a piping bag.
>> Fill mango jam into a piping bag.
>> Take a macaron shell and add a generous dollop of mango jam into the centre of the shell.
>> Pipe the basil custard around the jam dollop
>> Sandwich with another macaron shell.
>> Repeat for the rest.

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