Ready or not…fall is here. At least for those of us shivering away in Munich. We all keep hoping it’s just the phase of the moon or a bad luck moment…but the cool days seem like they’re here to stay. I find the biggest telltale sign is the type of recipes I am pinning over on Pinterest. Cool breezy fruity drinks? Still summer. Spinach salads? Fig tarts? Corn? Getting to the end of summer. Lentils? Pasta? Mushrooms? Pasta and mushrooms? Fall has arrived. Accept.
It’s not so bad, really, as long as you love fungus. I didn’t as a kid. Now I can’t get enough of them and I was like a little kid in a candy store at the viktualienmarkt on Saturday buying up various mushrooms. Crimini, shitake, three kinds of oysters, chantarelles…no porcinis here, but I’ll get those too soon.
The challenge (I challenged myself) was to make a pasta dish that used Japanese flavors but made the eater feel like it was Italian pasta. Not just the noodle, the whole dish. I love the satisfied feeling I get from a simple bowl of pasta with a rich tomato sauce. I wanted that feeling. But with Japanese flavors, which generally just don’t do it for me when it comes to pasta. I decided to make soba noodles as the base.
I found a recipe that called for a mix of flours for the noodles. 2/3 buckwheat, 1/3 farina. Apparently this makes the noodles easier to handle – adding the flour with the gluten – which buckwheat lacks – makes it easier to work the dough. But it keeps much of the flavor of soba, and is not quite so “slimy” when you’re done.
After mixing the dough (calculate 100 grams flour and 50 grams water for every person eating and use the ratio above for making the dough), I let it sit while I went for a run. Came back and rolled it out with my pasta machine – you can see from the cracks on the edges that the dough is a bit harder to work and a bit drier than a typical semolina. I just sliced off the edges and added them back into the rest of the dough. Cut the noodles by hand so I would have a bit of natural shapes, as well as thicker noodles. I let them lie out for the rest of the evening before making my sauce.
In the end, after they’ve dried for a bit, you can just roll them all up in your towel and dump them in your boiling water when you’re ready to cook them. These took about 5 minutes to boil because of their thickness.
For the sauce, I decided to roast the chopped mushrooms in the oven with a handful of fava beans, a handful of reconstituted wakame seaweed, a couple cloves of thinly sliced garlic, a few glugs of olive oil, and a fair shake of two spice mixes my sister brought me – a Japanese herb and spice mix (citrus, seseme, chilis, etc.) and an umami salt mix (salt, essence of mushroom, who knows what else). Left everything in the oven at about 200 for a good 15-20 minutes until the mushrooms crisped up a bit on the edges.
Meanwhile I made the sauce. More of the same (more mushrooms, garlic and the spice mixes), but also onions, spinach, cream, white miso paste, a dry white wine. It all came together well – the umami salt punched up the flavor a lot.
Finally, for the protein (beyond the buckwheat) I wanted something still reasonably light – so I went for tiny quail breasts. They’re great sauteed lightly in a pan for a few minutes and then roasted on low heat for about 10 minutes more to finish them off.
After draining the noodles – I cooked them in a broth with a porcini mushroom base – I began to carefully toss them with all the components.
And it worked. I really had the feeling as I ate the dish that it had the richness of an Italian pasta (ehem, cream? :-O) but had captured also the flavors of Japan. At least many of them. To finish the dish, I sprinkled it with toasted sesame and some sliced sheets of nori.
Will try out the soba noodles again with some other combos. Perhaps just a simple tomato sauce.