Everyone has their weak spot; that little, vulnerable spot, right under their ribs. For some it’s LOL kittens, for others, paper-thin Alexander Wang T-shirts. It doesn’t matter how many they see or own, they need more, more, more!
My weakness is carbs. I can be bribed into almost any activity with the promise of a nice toasted everything bagel con schmear at the end of the ordeal. Or better yet, a crusty baguette overflowing with sinfully expensive French cheese. No wait: risotto. Paella with smoky chorizo! Udon noodles with miso and scallions cut on the bias! You get the picture.
Over the weekend, I joined two of my oldest girlfriends from high school, Ashling and Dina, at the Cheesecake Factory in White Plains. Don’t be alarmed: our tongues were firmly lodged in our cheeks. We were quite aware of the sociological/political implications of our provocative demagoguery. We’re crazy like that — always have been. The notion of consuming 1,750 calories worth of wasabi-crusted tuna or 2,310 calories worth of beef ribs in a giant warehouse with piped-in American Idol-approved tunes, perky families of 10 and an atmosphere of jollity approaching levels that require medication might intimidate some, but for us, it’s just part of our lifestyle of rule and convention-flouting, man.
After surviving our appetizers and main courses without visibly busting a gut or artery, we moved onto dessert. Or rather, they did. I sampled their selections (a sundae and key-lime cheesecake, both delicious), but held onto the table’s bread basket, with an iron fist. That’s all I wanted: just two loaves of surprisingly tasty whole-wheat and plain French bread with a crock of softened, salty butter. Mmm.
I would have requested a second basket if I didn’t feel that I was already pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior by hoarding and hanging onto the basket throughout dinner, and yes, dessert — a tacky and shameful move even the most unschooled, young and clueless of our fellow diners would have sniffed at.
On Sunday, instead of waking up chastened after my embarrassing behavior, I just wished I’d had the cajones to ask for more. In celebration of my lack of control, I decided to prepare a meal for Stephen and me centered around noodles. As Jeffrey Steingarten recently pointed out in Vogue, noodles are quite possibly the perfect food. Not because they’re nutritionally complete, like the boringly and ubiquitously vaunted egg, but because they’re delicious. They come in a stunning variety of textures, hues, sizes, shapes and ingredients; they can be manipulated into forming the basis of almost any dish in any cuisine. Or they can be the star.
I rolled up my sleeves, made a big batch of homemade noodles and dressed them in simple Italian garb. I also whipped out a pack of soba noodles I had stashed in the pantry and made a fun, zesty soba noodle salad. Click below for recipes and more pictures.
Homemade Noodles, Two Italian Ways with ( with Almond-Tomato Pesto or Truffle Oil)
Makes 8 servings
Homemade Noodles Ingredients:
- 4 cups of AP flour, divided
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- NOTE: Special equipment needed: Pasta maker
- To make the pasta dough, mound about 3.5 cups of flour in the middle of a clean kitchen work space. Make sure you have plenty of room.
- Create a well in the middle of the mound, digging down to the bottom of the pile.
- Crack the eggs into bowls and add 1 TBSP olive oil. Carefully pour the eggs, one at a time, into the well, taking care to not let eggs wander out of the well and all over your counter, as I did. (If this happens, don’t panic. Proceed to the next step and just keep breathing).
- Lightly beat flour into the eggs, slowly incorporating more and more flour. Before you know it, this will be a somewhat cohesive mass that can be handled without the help of metal instruments. Knead the mass together, slowly incorporating the flour until you have a totally manageable piece of dough in your hands.
- Discard excess flour. Keep kneading for about 5 to 10 minutes, until dough is soft, malleable, totally elastic. Drizzle with oil if it is even slightly dry and knead in. Drizzle with any remaining oil, wrap in plastic paper and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
- Split the dough into thirds. Keep dough you’re not working with wrapped in plastic. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/4″ thick, narrow enough to fit through pasta machine.
- Roll pasta through pasta machine at widest setting, and decrease the settings until you are at the thinnest setting. Using a round cookie cutter or a small glass, stamp out pieces of pasta about 1 1/2″ wide. Put on parchment paper lined baking sheet and cover with a cloth while you roll out the rest of the dough. Keep the scraps on a separate baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Layer one piece of parchment on top of pasta as you go.
- Continue until finished and put two giant pots of heavily salted water onto boil. Make your sauce!
- When sauce is prepped, drop the nice, Corzetti-style cookie cutter noodles into one pot, and the scraps into another. Cook for about two minutes, drain (reserving 1/2 cup or so from Corzetti pasta) and serve with one of the sauces below, or anything at all, really. The simpler the better: this pasta shines by itself.
Makes 7 servings
- 16 oz. cherry tomatoes
- 1/3 cup toasted almonds
- 1 bunch basil, leaves only
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup red onion, roughly chopped
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1/2 TBSP sea salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 oz. Pecorino Romano, grated, plus extra for garnish.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Toast almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat, until golden and fragrant, about 7 minutes.
- Roast 12 ounces of the cherry tomatoes until bursting, swollen and skin is coming off, but they aren’t charred.
- Process all ingredients, minus the oil and cheese, in a food processor or blender. If using a blender, it may take a few minutes before anything happens. Be patient.
- When blended and uniform, add the oil, just a drizzle at first until the mix emulsifies, then great glugs until all is incorporated. Add cheese and blend.
- NOTE: This can be done up to two days ahead of time.
- When pasta is cooking, warm pesto in saucepan over low-medium heat.
- Toss with Corzetti-style pasta, the reserved pasta water if sauce needs thinning, cheese and serve.
Makes 1 generous serving, 2 sides
- 1 1/2 TBSP white truffle oil
- 1 oz. Pecorino Romano, grated
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
- Drizzle oil over scraps from leftover homemade pasta.
- Garnish with cheese, sea salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Nutritional breakdown for Homemade Noodles, Two Italian Ways: About 425 calories and 12 grams of fat per serving, each. They both have more protein than store-bought noodles, plus iron. The pesto is full of antioxidants and Vitamins E, C, K, B6.
Cost breakdown for Homemade Noodles, Two Italian Ways: About $10, or $1.25 per serving for the pesto (I had the cheese, spices and oil at home) and about $1 or $0.50 per serving for the truffle pasta, since I ad truffle oil and cheese at home already.
Verdict for Homemade Noodles, Two Italian Ways: Making homemade pasta takes a bit of time, skill and patience, but it’s totally manageable, even for kitchen neophytes. And the proof is in the pudding: no matter how many times I eat fresh pasta, I’m always amazed at the sheer luxury of the experience. How can something so simple, with just a few ingredients, taste so heart-meltingly soft, lush and rich? Cheap, thrilling, virtuous. The pesto sauce is complex and smoky, and it coats the noodles in a protein-packed layer of flavor without masking them. The truffle oil and cheese is great too — it’s tastes as simultaneously simple, transcendent and layered as the noodles.
Spicy Chinese Soba Noodle Salad with Pickled Jalapenos
Makes 5 generous servings
Ingredients for the Salad:
- 9 ounces soda noodles, cooked following directions on package, rinsed and completely drained
- 2 medium-sized carrots, cut into match sticks, or about 10 baby carrots, cut into match sticks
- 1 cup cooked edamame
- 1 large red pepper, julienned
- 1 TBSP vegetable oil
- 7 ounces extra firm tofu, drained and cut into 1″ squares (to properly drain tofu, wrap in paper towels, put between two plates, put can or other weight on top plate and allow all water to drain out, about 20-60 minutes)
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 3 TBSP pickled jalapeno, minced
- Put noodles and vegetables in large bowl.
- Heat oil in saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add tofu and fry until golden, about 5 minutes. Fry on all sides. Add to noodles. Toss with dressing (recipe below) and garnish with cilantro and pickled jalapenos (recipe below).
Ingredients for dressing:
- 1 TBSP tahini (or peanut butter)
- 2 TBSP soy sauce
- 1 TBSP mirin (or honey)
- 1 TBSP toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp fresh ginger (powder is okay)
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp Korean chili paste (or sriracha)
- Juice of 2 lemons (limes would be good too)
- Whisk together all ingredients, adjust seasonings to taste.
Ingredients for Pickled Jalapeno:
- 5 large jalapenos
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1/2 TBSP coriander, whole
- 1/2 TBSP fennel seed
- 1 TBSP sugar
- 1 TBSP kosher salt
- Put jalapenos in pickling jar
- Bring all other ingredients to boil in small saucepan, reduce to simmer. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Pour over jalapenos and store in fridge.
- NOTE: These taste best after at least a day of brinin’. They’re also great tossed in pretty much anything involving beans/rice/cheese. Fabulouso on sandwiches as well. Some truly sick people even eat them straight from the jar; these people are dangerous, and should be avoided.
Nutritional breakdown of Spicy Chinese Soba Noodle Salad with Pickled Jalapeno: About 400 calories and 13 grams of fat. Low in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in protein, fiber. High in salt.
Cost breakdown of Spicy Chinese Soba Noodle Salad with Pickled Jalapeno: About $11, or $2.20 a serving. I had the noodles, spices, edamame and all of the ingredients for the dressing — but as you can see from my notes, it’s flexible, so feel free to sub out items you don’t have.
Verdict for Spicy Chinese Soba Noodle Salad with Pickled Jalapeno: Soba noodles can be bland — but with assertive ingredients they’re fabulous. They also refuse to wilt. This salad will keep for a week and is wonderfully transportable as lunch on the go. I wasn’t sure if Stephen would like this one, but we were both pleasantly surprised that he loved it. The pickled jalapenos make the dish — and the cider vinegar mellows them out, so don’t be afraid to try them!