Man, Go Make These Noodles

I feel like I’m as busy as I have been in a long time, what with a full-time job, a weekly column at JewishBoston.com, and a teething 7-month-old who is already standing and seems to be on her way to walking any moment now. (I can barely take the time to write this for fear she’s discovered some part of the house we haven’t yet gotten to baby-proofing.) And yet, even though I have zero time these days (even to call people back or email them in a timely fashion; sorry about that, and you know who you are) I have found the time to make these noodles which take well over an hour to prepare, and then need a good two hours of marinating.

Lilli-approved

I passed over this recipe at least a half dozen times in the past year, laughing at how long it took and how many steps there were to it, but then last week, when I miraculously had all the ingredients in the house, I decided to go for it. And my goodness, the outcome was so glorious, I found myself making them AGAIN less than a week later.

It’s an Ottolenghi recipe, from his vegetarian cookbook Plentyso you know it’s a keeper. I’m reminded of a few winters ago when I had his first cookbook out of the library and I found myself grating — by hand, no less, because I’d lost the stem of my food processor — raw rutabaga and celery root for a slaw. A slaw so good, I made it twice in less than a week. Do you see a pattern here?

First comes the marinade, which you need to heat and let cool before adding the lime zest and its juice. Then comes the shallow frying of two eggplants. (Oh, August and your perfect eggplants.) Then comes the cooking of the noodles. I actually love Ottolenghi’s tip about laying the noodles out on a dishtowel to dry them out completely and will be using that all the time now. As for the mango, that was the one place where I cut corners and bought one already cut up from Trader Joe’s. (You can do the same at Costco.)

These noodles are SO GOOD

These noodles defy a good description except to say they are extraordinary. When I served them to my sister-in-law last week, she emailed me the next day because she’d been thinking about the noodles. It honestly wasn’t such a strange email to receive; I’d been thinking about them, too.

Brief note: The first time I made this dish I used the soba noodles as suggested, but when I went back to Ocean State Job Lot they had run out of soba, and all that was left were udon and somen. All you want for this dish is a cold buckwheat noodle; any type will do. As for the frying oil, I just used the canola I had on hand. This recipe makes a ton of noodles. I ended up breaking down the noodles into four or five Tupperware containers that Rich and I took for work lunches for almost an entire week.

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Ingredients

½ cup rice vinegar

3 Tbs. sugar

½ tsp. salt

2 garlic cloves, crushed

½ fresh red chile, finely chopped

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1 cup sunflower oil

2 eggplants, cut into ¾-inch dice

8 to 9 oz. soba noodles

1 large ripe mango, cut into 3/8-inch dice or into 1/4-inch-thick strips

1 2/3 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you can get some, use Thai basil, but much less of it)

2 ½ cups cilantro leaves, chopped

½ red onion, very thinly sliced

Directions

In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to 1 minute, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chile and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Heat up the sunflower oil in a large pan and shallow-fry the eggplant in three or four batches. Once golden brown, remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel.

In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. You can now leave this aside for 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well, then pile on a plate or in a bowl.

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Whiskey A Go Go

Lilli is seven months old, and she’s crawling and trying to stand up. She’s a bit of a handful, and after we get her down at night I have rediscovered my taste for alcohol, which I thought I’d lost during the pregnancy.

The only way I can go to the bathroom.

The only way I can go to the bathroom.

Since I’m getting back into the game, I thought I would consult an expert. Jordan Mackay, the James-Beard-award winning wine and spirits writer for San Francisco magazine. His writing on food, wine, spirits, and beer has also appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Decanter, The Art of Eating, Wine and Spirits, Food & Wine, Gourmet and many others.

Currently, he writes regularly for San Francisco, as well as a monthly pairing column in Cooking Light. His first book, Passion for Pinot, was published in 2009, and his second, Secrets of the Sommeliers (with Rajat Parr– no relation), was released in October 2010, winning the James Beard award in 2011. His latest book, Two in the Kitchen, with his wife Christie Dufault, was published in late 2012. Currently, he is working on a book about Texas barbecue and two more books on wine. He lives in San Francisco.

Jordan MacKay - smaller

Jordan is running a Whiskey Camp seminar at noon on Saturday, September 21 at the 8th annual Newport Mansions Wine & Food FestivalBut if you can’t make it, consider this interview a free preview.

Take me through a whisky tasting: how do you taste it, what are you looking for, and how do you manage to get through without getting blind drunk?

Tasting whisky is a little different than tasting wine, because, for instance, it’s much much stronger. You generally can’t hold it in your mouth as long nor smell it directly. Still, the same principles apply. Here are the things to pay attention to: 

  1. Choose the right glass (a small spirits, cordial, or sherry glass is perfect) and season it with a tiny bit of what you’re about to taste, then toss it and pour an ounce or so.
  2. Smell the whisky. Open your mouth when you inhale through the nose. This will give you some air flow and keep your nostrils from being singed. Sniff once, lightly, to get acquainted. Wait a couple of seconds, then sniff again, more deeply. Repeat as many times as desired.
  3. Taste it. First a tiny taste to whet the tongue and to season your mouth (as you did the glass). Then take a sip. Hold for a few seconds then swallow or spit. Be attentive as the flavors smolder on the tongue. Watch them, see how they morph and evolve. Then drink!

In the past few years we’re seen craft distilling take off, and now distillers like Maker’s Mark are lowering the proof of their whiskys to improve flavor. What’s the next trend you see over the horizon for whisky?

Actually, Maker’s is no longer going to reduce their proof. Speculation was that Maker’s was doing that in order to stretch its dwindling supply in the face of overwhelming global demand. But the backlash against the move by customers forced them to retract the plan.

But other trends I see are greater profiles for Japanese whiskeys, which are really interesting. The Mad Men Effect: More whisky crafted to the assumed tastes of women (read, softer, smoother and rounder). Sia scotch is an example. Beyond that, I see the future ever brightening for Irish whiskey and rye. Overall these are very good times to be a distiller. 

Ice, water, or neat, and why? 

It really depends. I rarely drink whisky neat anymore. A splash of water is my usual method. I do believe it opens up the spirit and makes it more attractive to drink. It might be slightly less intense, but the complexities and nuances are more available with a little dilution. But on a warm day an ice cube can be awfully nice. Seriously, there are no rules, and no one should ever take any heat for drinking a whisky any way they choose. Look, the much maligned whisky highball is all the rage in Japan. And those can be super refreshing. 

You also write about beer and wine and other spirits. What is the best thing you’ve ever drunk?

The best beer I’ve ever drunk was in a can and came from a vending machine in a neighborhood of Vienna was I was 20 and traveling through Europe with a backpack. Such sweet nectar! 

The best wine is usually what I’m drinking with my wife on the weekend when we have dinner together. Her company makes everything taste so much better. 

The best whisky? Well, the Port Ellen 29-year-old (8th release) that we drank in the warehouse of its (long shuttered) distillery on a misty day the Scottish island of Islay was pretty great. 

There are too many great elixirs in my past—and hopefully future—to count. What makes something epic is the setting, the mood, and the people you share it with. I truly believe that. 

A Woman of a Certain Age

Soon after Lilli and I came home from the hospital – it’s hard to say how long, but I had been a mommy for less than a month, a magazine arrived in the mail. On the cover was Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order: SVU, one of the handful of shows I regularly watch. But I set it aside, wondering why on earth Ladies’ Home Journal was being sent to my house. The next month, Tina Fey was dropped off in my mailbox. Yes, Tina Fey. So I picked up the magazine and started flipping through it. “I don’t know why I get this magazine,” I remarked to Rich. “I didn’t order a subscription, and look at this: This magazine is for mommies and women in their mid-thirties who have cats… Oh.”

tomato tart

After I got over my supreme mortification that I was now solidly in a new, ahem, mature, demographic, I started to really read the magazine. Sure, like most magazines, there are great articles and some duds, but the food section has generally been in the keeper column. In fact, the May 2013 issue (with Sela Ward – remember Sisters?) encouraging me to “Have A Tart,” did just that. They provided a very basic tart crust – get out your food processor, easy – and I’ve been using this summer’s CSA to make their various suggested versions. I am not going to share with you the Lemon Thyme Goat Cheese Tart with Summer Squash, which, I promise you, was as delicious as it sounds, but was very time-consuming. I had to blind bake the crust, and also had to get out the mixer to cream together the goat cheese, lemon zest, thyme and heavy cream.

squash and goat cheese tart

Now, then, let’s talk about the Tomato Tart. It is August, after all, and we should all be talking about tomatoes. The recipe calls for 1 ½ lbs. cherry tomatoes (a mix of orange, red, and yellow), but I simply used the pint from my CSA and added more Jarlsberg cheese. If you can’t find a farmer with fresh pints of cherry tomatoes, I would bet that the plastic containers of grape tomatoes in the supermarket will work like a charm.

Now, about the cheese: I was a little nervous about sending you out to buy a cheese, as cheeses can get expensive, and this is Cheap Beets, after all. But there was a sale on Jarlsberg at the local market last week, so I considered it a sign that I should move forward with this recipe. And, honestly, the cheese was key to this tart. I can’t imagine it with another type.

Lilli and Maggie

Oh, hello!

The basic tart crust actually makes enough for two tart crusts. When I made the squash goat cheese tart, I froze the second flattened disk, and it was fine when I returned to it a few weeks later to make this tomato tart. Because I used the doughs for two separate recipes, I did not employ the cheese and herb crust variation for the tomato tart; I actually incorporated the thyme into the onion mixture. I’ll include the directions for the crust variation here, in case you want to make this tomato tart twice, like I’m actually going to be doing this week. But if you just want a good, solid tart dough to have on-hand in your freezer, make the simple variation.

Although the dough comes together with a few whirls in the food processor, the dough still needs some time to chill, let alone the time the tart needs to bake, so it’s best to make this on a Sunday afternoon, and eat it during the week, rather than hoping to make this when you get home on a Tuesday after a long day at work. It would also be a great weekend brunch dish.

I love this recipe. I didn’t really have cravings when I was pregnant, but I did, and still do, love a good slice of pizza. The roasted cheese and tomato in the buttery crust tastes like a more mature pizza. One that might read Ladies’ Home Journal, in fact.

Tomato Tart from the May, 2013 issue of Ladies Home Journal

Basic Tart Crust  — Makes 2 single crusts

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) very cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 egg yolk

½ cup cold water

  1. In a food processor combine the flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until butter is the size of peas. Whisk together the yolk and ½ cold water. Drizzle the liquid into the food processor while pulsing to combine. Pulse until the dough holds together when you pinch it, adding liquid as needed.
  2. Turn dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form into a ball. Divide in half and warp each half in plastic wrap, flattening into a disk. Chill until cold or ready to use, about 30 minutes.
  3. On a floured surface roll dough until it’s 3/16 inch thick and large enough to fit in the tart pan. (Pinch edges of dough as you roll to prevent cracks and tears.) Place dough into tart pan; gently lift into place without stretching and press into pan. Use the heel of your hand or a rolling pin to trim the edges flush with the pan.

Cheese and Herb Crust Variation for Tomato Tart

Add ½ cup Jarlsberg cheese and 2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano or thyme to the food processor with the flour and salt. Proceed as directed.

Tomato Tart

Ingredients

1 single Basic Tart Crust dough (or cheese and herb variation)

1 Tbs. olive oil

½ small onion (1/4 cup) diced

1 large shallot, minced

1 tsp. chopped thyme

1 ½ lbs. cherry tomatoes (a mix of orange, red and yellow)

2 Tbs. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

¼ cup shredded Jarlsberg

  1. Heat oven to 375F. Line a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with the rolled-out crust. Trim edges of crust and chill in the freezer until ready to fill.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add onion, shallot, garlic and thyme and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl toss the tomatoes with the flour, salt, pepper and cheese. Add the cooled onion and thyme mixture and stir to combine. Fill the chilled tart shell with the tomato mixture. Transfer tart to a baking sheet and cover with foil.
  4. Bake 40 minutes, then uncover and bake 30 minutes more until crust is cooked through and tomato juices are bubbling. Cover with foil near the end of baking if tomatoes are browning. Cool tart slightly before removing the tart ring. Use a spatula to slide the tart from pan base onto a serving platter.

Summer Obsession

Out of all the food magazines out there, Food & Wine has been my favorite for more than a dozen years. So you can imagine how excited I was when the August issue arrived, with its “Vegetables Now” cover touting “25 Creative Fast & Delicious Vegetable Recipes”. So I settled in on the bus (where I do most of my reading these days) and opened up my magazine.

Watermelon and Radish Salad

They should have titled it “Vegetables Eventually,” because I had to flip through 96 pages of burgers and steak and sausages and mussels before I got to the vegetables. But before I got there, I read about Tom Colicchio’s favorite weekend recipes. I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I had to Google Top Chef because my knowledge of cooking competition shows begins and ends with the last 15 minutes of the season finale of Master Chef, and that was only because our friend Dave Miller was on it. Top Chef, the one with Salman Rushdie’s ex-wife. Got it.

But I do hope Tom What’s-His-Name reads this and invites me to his estate on Long Island, because I would like to personally thank him for this Thai-style radish and watermelon salad. It’s become my obsession this summer –like, stuffed pumpkin obsessed. I wanted to make it straight away. The radishes from the CSA were waiting in the crisper for me, and I spent my lunch hour collecting the herbs at Super 88. All I needed was the watermelon – not the easiest thing to schlep home on the T. With a baby.

Lilli and Rooster

I wasn’t alone in my obsession. I gchatted with Sylvie, who at the end of the chat left to cut up a melon. “Wait!” I wrote. “Did you see the new Food & Wine? There’s a radish and watermelon salad recipe that I’m obsessed with.” She came back to the screen. “Funny you should say that, because I bought this melon with that recipe in mind.”

After days of waiting and wanting, the weekend finally came, and so did a nasty head cold. I was so nervous about getting Lilli sick that I consulted my stepdad, a physician, about what to do: “Wash your hands like Lady MacBeth and wear a face mask when you’re near her.” His advice worked perfectly, but I knew that there was no way I could make the salad for our friends’ BBQ that weekend. So I put Rich in charge. “You know, dear, this recipe has A LOT of ingredients,” he said after reading the magazine. But he did it.

Finally, at the BBQ, I had a bowl of the salad – and was underwhelmed. I wished it had more punch. Maybe more fish sauce. Just a little more oomph. And then I heard hollering from across the back yard: “Oh my God! You guys, you have to try this watermelon salad! This is the best thing I’ve ever had. This salad, oh my God!” The other guests had spoken. Lesson learned: Don’t trust the girl with the cold when it comes to tasting new dishes.

A few notes: My wonderful friend Caitlyn was in from Portland last week. She lived in Thailand for five years so I had her take a look at the recipe. She said that everything about the recipe, except for the ginger, was dead on. She also made it clear that SQUID brand fish sauce is the only brand to use. Listen to Caitlyn.

Thai-Style Radish and Watermelon Salad by Tom Colicchio from August 2013 Food & Wine

¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 Tablespoon Asian fish sauce

1 Tablespoon sambal oelek or other Asian chile sauce (use the Siracha that’s in your fridge)

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

One 5-pound watermelon – rind and seeds removed, flesh cut into 1 1/2 –inch chunks (8 cups)

12 radishes, very thinly sliced

8 scallions, thinly sliced

2 fresh hot red chiles, such as Holland or cayenne, thinly sliced crosswise

¾ cup lightly packed mint leaves, coarsely chopped

¾ cup lightly packed Thai basil leaves, torn

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, sambal oelek and ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Add the watermelon, radishes, scallions and red chiles and toss. Fold in the mint and basil, season with salt and pepper and serve right away.