I have always said, “if I am going to cook one chicken, I might as well cook two.” It’s not really any more work. I have come to believe the same about pot roast, pork roast, and just about anything that is braised, smoked or roasted.
I melt for this pasta. I always have.
As a kid I grew up on heavy, roux laden Fettuccini Alfredo. It was the rigor of the day and it was served everywhere and with everything mixed into the noodles, from shrimp to broccoli. Unfortunately, and even though it was a childhood favorite, cream based pastas in the Midwest were bad, no, they were awful.
Fettucini Alfredo in the Midwest became a Parmesan cream with noodles. Sometimes more soup then pasta. The Italian heritage of the dish suddenly was nowhere to be found. Alfredo in Italy is simply a pasta of butter and Parmesan cheese much like carbonara but without using egg yolks as an emulsifier. When the noodles are hot out of the cooking water butter and parmesan are tossed with the pasta and melt into a beautiful, silky coat for each noodle. Fettuccini Alfredo in its Italian form has nothing to do with buckets of cream reduced or thickened with a flour and butter roux.
In the same breath, Carbonara had its day too but it also comes with its own set of problems. Eggs used to enrich the bacon lardon and Parmesan base often become gloppy and sometimes make the pasta more dry then wet while at other times, because to much egg is used, the dish ends up with the noodles stuck together in a pasta pancake better cut with a knife then twirled onto a fork. When made right carbonara can be sublime but when done wrong it can be one of the worst pastas in the world. Making carbonara involves proper technique and quality ingredients if the finished pasta is to be anywhere close to extraordinary.
This pasta is not a carbonara but neither is it an Alfredo. It is what I like to think of as a Midwestern hybrid. Something we do really well here in the middle states, for better or worse, we make dishes to our liking. For me, I like several things about this pasta. To begin, I like the use of ham instead of bacon. There is no rendering of any fat and yet the typical Midwestern farm ham, piquant with its rosy cure, matches perfectly with the peas, garlic, and pasta. While the recipe calls for cream it uses far less then one might imagine and the use of starch heavy pasta water to thicken the sauce is a perfect alternative to a classic roux or eggs. While they might look like an unnecessary garnish, the parsley and chives are important in flavoring the final dish and should be added in the last minutes of cooking.
Midwest Carbonara (Serves 4)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (55g)
1 tablespoon garlic
8 oz. ham, small dice (225g)
1/2 cup heavy cream (110g)
1/2 cup pasta water (110g)
3/4 cup frozen peas (170g)
1/2 cup sugar snap peas (110g)
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon chive, minced
fresh ground white pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (110g)
1 pound vermicelli pasta (450g)
- Place a 6 quart (5.51l) pot, filled with 4 quarts (4l) of water, onto the stove. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and bring the water to a boil.
- While you are waiting for the water to boil heat a 14” inch (35.5cm) over medium heat. Add unsalted butter and let it melt. Add ham, stir then add garlic.
- When the garlic becomes fragrant but not brown add cream. Bring the cream to a boil and turn off the heat.
- This is about timing. The vermicelli only takes minutes to cook but if you are using a different noodle that takes longer adjust you timing.
- Add the vermicelli to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions.
- Place the cream back onto the stove top and turn the heat to medium high. Bring the cream to a boil, add peas, season with white pepper.
- If the cream reduces to fast add pasta water by the 1/4 cup. Use pasta water because the starch will thicken the sauce.
- Drain the noodles when the finish cooking. Add noodles to sauté pan, carefully toss them with the cream. Add half the cheese and carefully toss the noodles with the cream. Taste, add salt if necessary, and a few grinds of fresh ground white pepper, half the chives and parsley. Carefully toss again taking note that it will be hard to get the peas and ham to mix into the pasta. This is okay.
- Pay attention in order to keep the pasta from scorching on the bottom of the pan.
- When everything is hot, use you tongs to place the pasta onto a large platter. Top the pasta with remaining peas and ham. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese, and top with remaining chives and parsley. Serve.
If your weekend was anything like mine then you are comfortable having put summer to bed, tucked-in snugly with the knowledge it will sleep tight until it awakens again next year. Windows will close, doors are shut, and the nuanced smells of long simmered foods become more prevalent.
I can’t imagine a life without seasons. Not because I like the hot and cold but because they are markers, clear delineations that it is time to get on with life, a deep breath of reflection before pushing on, no summit to conquer, no eye on a prize, just a moment to reflect on the journey.
I am back to doing what I love—cooking, my way. This time of year I always cook Asian cuisine. It is such a departure from what I have done all summer, cooked from the garden, be it mid-western or southern foods, or farm favorites. Now I go to the Asian grocery and buy up bok choi, pigs liver, shiso peppers, lemon grass, and Chinese celery. Foods that I have done without since last fall.
For a few months I will get my fill, until winter.
Asian Spaghetti (serves 4)
This is great for weeknights. The sauce like many gets better with age and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (you can even double the recipe and freeze half.) Then simply make your noodles, warm the sauce, and serve.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef
1 medium red onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)
3 celery stalks, trimmed, fine dice (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes with juice
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 Fresno red pepper, chopped
3 Shiso peppers, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro
rice noodles, cooked
- Set a 3 quart (3l) enameled cast iron pot, or any heavy bottomed pot onto the stove. Turn the heat to medium high. Add oil and let it become hot.
- Add the ground beef, break it into small pieces and let it brown. Add red onion, celery, ginger, and garlic. Stir, let the vegetables soften and become fragrant.
- Add Hoisin sauce, tomatoes, lime juice and soy. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and let the liquid reduce until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Place the hot noodles onto a platter, top with sauce, and sprinkle the peppers and cilantro over the top. Serve with a nice stir fried vegetable like bok choi in oyster sauce.
Whenever a simple, delicious dish — like this spicy chickpea curry — is placed next to me at the table, it doesn’t just make me happy; I become protective of it in a selfish, rabid dog sort of way.
This recipe is based on Indian khatte channe, which is grounded on good Indian home cooking — but to be fair, it could also have easily been born out of a 1970’s hippie cafe in which cheap eats and a flair for the exotic were popular. In fact, Moosewood Restaurant and its cookbooks always come to mind when I cook this stew. But no matter where it came from or how it found its way to my table, I can tell you that there is a lot to like about this pasta, from the first forkful of twisted noodles loaded with tangy sauce to the last spoonfuls of creamy chickpeas.
I could start with the fact it is vegan, but that will scare some of you off, just as if I said it was gluten-free. In this case it is both, but the good news is that after you try this dish, it won’t really matter.
What does matter is how easily it comes together and the fact it can easily come from your pantry. When I make this, I head to the pantry with a tray in hand and begin by collecting all my ingredients and equipment.
What stands out during the pantry search-and-seizure is tamarind concentrate. It is a bit of an oddball ingredient, but one I always have on hand. Unlike tamarind paste, which requires soaking and straining, this concentrate dissolves easily in water. It has the consistency of molasses, and it gives this stew its characteristic tang. A popular substitute for tamarind is equal parts lime juice and brown sugar, but this only works when a small amount of tamarind is called for in a recipe, so it probably wouldn’t work here. If you like Pad Thai and ever wanted to cook it at home, tamarind really is an essential ingredient to have on hand.
When it comes to curry powder, I prefer Madras — I like the fragrance of kari leaves — but feel free to use your favorite. For more heat, you can add more cayenne; just be sure you know how hot your curry powder is before you get too crazy.
As always, when it comes to caramelizing onions, I don’t know how long it will take for them to become a deep, dark brown. It could be 15 minutes or 45, and maybe more depending on your pan, the heat, and the sugar content of your onions. I do know, however, that you shouldn’t cheat yourself; color them deeply, as they are essenial to this dish.
Assuming you have done your prep, once the onions are caramelized, this becomes a dump-and-pour procedure followed by a short simmering period just for good measure.
Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta
Two 14.5-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained
1 to 2 tablespoon tamarind concentrate mixed with 1/2 cup of water (more tamarind will make the dish more sour)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups yellow onion, julienned
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
2 cups tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder, or your favorite kind
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Cilantro, green onion, or both
1 pound thin long noodles: wheat or rice or gluten free, use whatever floats you boat
1. Place a 3 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pot and then the onions. Season the onions with salt. Cook the onions, patiently, until they begin to brown and become deeply colored. Stir them often enough that the onions on top brown at the same pace as those on bottom. Don’t do this too fast; you want melted, gooey onions, not seared onions. Take your time; it takes a while.
2. Once the onions are browned to your liking, add the garlic. Once you smell the garlic, add the turmeric, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Give it a stir then add the tamarind, tomatoes, chickpeas and ginger. Reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer. Taste the sauce for salt and adjust as necessary.
3. Cook the noodles.
4. Once the noodles are done, drain them, and put them on a platter. Top the noodles with the chickpea stew and top with green onions or cilantro or both. Serve.
There are two things I get hung up on when it comes to making Asian food at home — woks and procuring hard-to-find ingredients.
But I look at it this way: I make Italian pasta at home, so I know I can make any noodle at home.
There are a few technical issues that are really the key to stir-fry success. I need to get my pan hot enough, generally impossible to do with a wok because of the BTUs of American stoves and the thinness of the wok metal, but a non-stick skillet will do what I need it to do perfectly.
The other misstep is when I try to cram too many ingredients into the wrong-sized pan — this is my most common stir-fry failure because I get anxious or cocky. Easily solvable, with a little thing called patience.
How to Make Any Stir-Fried Noodles
Ratio: 1.5 parts protein, 1 part vegetable, 1 part noodle. For my 12 inch non-stick skillet this means 12 ounces of protein, 8 ounces of vegetables, 8 ounces cooked noodles.
1. Stir-fries cook quickly so act like a scout and be prepared. Cut all vegetables small enough that they’ll cook fast and line up all ingredients next to the stove in the order they’ll go into the pan. (Always dilute soy sauce in ratio of 1 part soy to 1 part water — when it hits the hot pan it will reduce, gaining back its strength.)
2. Choose your noodle. I find all noodles are good noodles as long as they are long. Cook them to al dente and cool them — I like to steep rice noodles instead of boiling them, which only takes about 10 minutes.
3. Cook the protein first, adding half the diluted soy after the protein has caramelized. Remove the protein to a plate, wipe out the pan and reheat it.
4. Sear the vegetables till tender. Be sure to add the vegetables that take the longest to cook to the pan first. Carrots first, ginger and garlic last.
5. Combine everything in the pan and toss just till it’s warmed through, adding the remaining diluted soy sauce last.
6. Add the garnish — here, chives and scallions — which in Asian food isn’t optional. It is an actual ingredient that needs to be added for flavor.
- Spaghetti noodles $1.05 for 16 oz.s-$o.53
- 12 ounces ground meat-$3.50
- oil- $0.25
Total approx. cost for this recipe.$8.03
Ingredients ( Serves 4 when served with sides or 2 if you serve it only)
12 ounces ground beef, chicken or turkey ( I used turkey because I had it on hand)
8 ounces of veggies, I used 1 cup snow peas, small dice, 1 cup carrots, grated, 1 leek, about a cup julienned, 1 tablespoon each garlic and ginger, 1/4 cup green onions and 1 tablespoon of chives.
8 ounces of cooked and cooled noodles
1/4 cup of soy sauce diluted with a 1/4 cup of water