Category: Noodles & Pasta

All manner of vermicelli, noodles and pasta

Luisa Weiss’s Pasta e Ceci with Rosemary and Chilli

One fine fall Friday six years ago (which by the way, was nothing like today. It’s raining. I love it!) I sat at my desk eating my peanut butter sandwich, my go-to this-is-what-I-pack-when-I’m-in-a-hurry lunch. It had been a rushed, busy day and I was going into a busy weekend with company coming and no time to have planned my dinner, so I thought I’d look up some recipes. I have no memory of what it was I googled that day but I do remember that in the middle of the search page was a link that led me to the first food blog I’d ever seen. And with just one click I tumbled down into a wonderful rabbit-hole, filled with the most wonderful stories, writing and recipes. I’ve been in free fall ever since.

That first food blog lead me to others. There were just so many incredible people about there, chronicling their kitchen stories along with their lunch, more than happy to tell you about the difference between chimmichurri and pesto. They spoke about home cooking or what they ate in restaurants. After that first mad connect-the-dots dash through the links on each page I identified a few well-written blogs with outstanding voices that captured my imagination. One of those was The Wednesday Chef by Luisa Weiss.

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Linguine with Mushrooms in a Lemon-Thyme sauce

When life tosses you lemons, what do you do? If you are anything like me, I guess you do your damnedest to lob them right back. The problem is, in this little game you have going on, life is almost always the stronger player, and it is harder to play that googly you just got tossed, especially if you weren’t expecting it. You blink and you miss, the bat kisses air, or worse, you hit the ball in a completely different direction, and not a good one. This is why you learn to make lemonade. (Not blinking would also be a good skill to learn, but “Constant vigilance!” à la Mad-eye Moody would be rather tiresome after a while.) Better to hold on to that lemon for a bit while you decide what to do with it. Lumbering about blindly never did anyone any good.

In case you are wondering, this is not how cricket is played. But we’re not talking about cricket so much as we are about lemons. In our house, we could go without milk and bread but there will always be lemons in the house…lemons and limes. My husband loves them more than he loves his guitar and his camera and that is saying something. Amey’s love of all thing sour is legendary. He adores lemons, loves limes, is enthralled by vinegars. His idea of ‘improving the flavour’ of any dish involves adding one of these ingredients. He is the only person I know whose fried rice is actually vinegar rice. If we had grown up in the United States, his favourite candy would have been Sour Patch kids, hands down, no contest.

College, while offering him several freedoms, also put in his sights, front and center, the tamarind and green mango vendor’s cart. This guy showed up with his cart, rain or shine, with kayris (green mangoes) just before summer and tamarind all year round.  While other kids were busy with restaurants, Amey snacked happily on morsels of green mango dressed in salt and chilli. The vendor knew him by name and had his order ready when he saw him coming. This guy was happily immersed in salt and sourness while the rest of the kids were flirting with alcohol.

Being married to someone who likes sour food and likes to cook comes with its challenges. He used it on everything with a heavy-handed abandon reminiscent of Paula Deen and butter. It took some time for me to convince him that not everyone thinks of lime juice as a staple. Granted his culinary quirk is way healthier than butter, but let me tell you, there is such a thing as too much acidity in your food. You will not know this until you have someone squeeze a whole lime into your plate of dal and rice…or make you a hot dog that could pass the litmus test. A chilli fiend and a lime fanatic…our early days in cooking bought some sore trials to its consumption for both of us. The years have taught us well, w-ell, maybe they have taught him better. I can still be heavy handed with the chilli. Amey, however, has honed his handling of the acid and citrus to a fine slant. Granted, he still puts too much vinegar on his rice. But now, it is his own plate of rice. He has learned that there is your own palette and that of others. More importantly, he has also found that he appreciates the subtlety of citrus as much as he enjoys the more in-your-face flavours.

One of his early experimentations was a take on a lemon cream sauce. A dish he loves to eat when we are out is the Chicken Tequila Fettucine served at California Pizza Kitchen. That pasta dish made him happy enough to try a version with cream and citrus on his own. Born out of this was a lemon-cream sauce. With some serious, careful honing, something I rarely have patience with, he has perfected the sauce. It is creamy, unctuous, just tart enough to make the presence of the lemon felt strongly but not overwhelmingly. A gentle, soothing sauce with a burst of refreshing flavour to bring sunshine to the most gloomy day.

Broken Linguine with mushrooms in a lemon, cream and thyme sauce
Serves 3-4

Garlic – 6 cloves, chopped fine
Red Onion – 1/2, diced fine OR Shallot – 2, diced fine
Thyme – 1 tbsp of leaves
Lemon zest – 1 fruit
Lemon juice – 1/2 of one fruit
Dried porcini or wild mushrooms – 1/2 cup (chanterelles would be excellent here)
Cream – 1/2 cup
Sausage (optional) – 2, diced
Cayenne pepper – 1/2 tsp
Orange Flower Honey – 1/2 tsp (use regular honey if you don’t have this)
Linguine – 3/4 box
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for grating over

– Reconstitute the dry mushrooms in about a cup and half of boiled hot water. Set aside for about fifteen minutes until the mushrooms go soft and the water has become a rich, brown broth.
– Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Break the linguine into three pieces and throw into the pot. Boil pasta as per directions on box.
– Meanwhile, Heat the oil in a shallow pan on medium low. Add the garlic and fry until slightly brown.
– Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the thyme.
– Roughly chop the reconstituted mushrooms and add to the pan, along with the broth. Mix to incorporate, then bring to a boil.
– Add the lemon juice and zest and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper.
– Stir in the cream. Season with salt and pepper.
– Reduce heat and simmer the sauce for a bit and let reduce slightly. Add the honey and mix it in.
– Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the sauce and toss together to coat the strands of pasta.

Serve with a fresh grating of Parmesan over each dish, along with some fresh ground pepper.

Cook’s notes:-
This sauce originated in a pure lemon and cream version, which made for some sticky pasta incidents. We tried variations with half-and-half, wine and vegetable and chicken broths. There was no definite depth of dimension until we started to use the mushroom broth (which, by the way, is now a favourite ingredient in our cooking). Amey balanced the flavours with some orange blossom honey which he’s partial to. Its citrus notes worked wonderfully in this sauce, making it one of the most delicious pasta sauces I’ve eaten. He’s also tried variations with other herbs. While they all work with varying degrees of success, we both agree that thyme works best, gently infusing and disappearing into the sauce more completely than anything else. Also it is great as an additional garnish.

What else you put into the pasta is entirely up to you. Shreds of roast chicken would be great, as would bacon. Leave the meat out completely and you have a vegetarian version. Strips of sautéed peppers, steamed asparagus or artichoke hearts would be brilliant with this sauce. I love to put sun-dried bits of tomato on mine. This is the sauce I will ask for more often than others when Amey decides to make pasta. To him, it is also an appreciation of how he and his tastebuds have evolved.

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Molly Wizenburg’s Soba in a Nut-Chilli sauce

I was dismayed to find autumn creep up on me rather unexpectedly this year. I kept thinking it was a while, wrapped up as I was in the corn and berries and peas, a very cozy place to be. Yet before I knew it, the days began getting shorter and shadows longer. We are already in mid-September and the good strawberries are all gone. Everywhere I turn I see the pumpkins that are being shoved on to me by eager retailers. The more I want to tuck the advent of Halloween to the farthest corners of my mind, the more I see it everywhere. The slow creeping in of the Bay area Indian summer has only just begun. While I will enjoy the sunshine, I know I’ll hate the heat, thanks to the unwelcome consensus some older folk had of not adding air-conditioning to apartments in the Northwest. Bidding goodbye to favourite foods, incumbent sleepless nights in stifling heat, all these simultaneous realizations just brought me down. Marvin, he of the paranoid android fame, has nothing on me. Such depth of depression can only be fought by deep seas of comfort. The kind that only a generous helping of comforting carbs can provide. Enter the versatile noodle.

I am, and always will be, a sucker for noodles, from any and all cultures. Slurpilicious egg noodles, feathery angel hair or rice noodles, crackling vermicelli, rich ramen; they all weave a spell on me. One glimpse of a plate or bowl of their enriched goodness and I’m lost in their uniform strands. Noodles lured me into the world of Chinese cuisine and I’ve never turned back since. I moved on to happily discover that most cultures had their own brand of noodles. But be they made of flour and egg, or rice, or wheat, I unequivocally love them all. There is something soothing, calming even, about a mouthful of pasta sopped in sauce, or a satisfying ritual of slurping up a bowl of Chinese noodles or Italian spaghetti. As a child, I remember masala Maggi noodles being my answer every time mom said she wasn’t sure what to cook for dinner. I would inhale a packet as a post-school snack with equal unbridled joy. Some of my most favourite memories involve rainy days and Maggi noodles. These were days when you went to school in the pouring rain, doing your damnedest to avoid getting splashed by cars. You sat through lessons, flinching at the lightning and jumping at the inevitable crack of thunder that followed, all the while just wishing you’d never left home. (Some part of your brain also marvelled at the repeated proof that light travels faster than sound…yours didn’t? Well, just nerdy ol’ me then!) Then at four in the afternoon you trudged through the now-pool-like puddles back home, too tired to avoid getting splashed this time. But then you arrived home and were lucky to have your mum there, with dry towels and something hot to eat. But if you were luckier still, she was out running an errand. Because then you got to make your own snack.

If she was out, there was hot milk in warming mugs, a pot of water on the stove and a note saying you could make a snack for yourself, with heaping warnings to b-e-v-e-r-y-c-a-r-e-f-u-l with fire. You peeled out of wet clothes into something warm & dry, made sure the kid sister had done the same and was staying out of trouble, (a minor feat since she made up for my lack of trouble by being twice as troublesome; who says there isn’t balance in the world?) watching cartoons with her mug of Bournvita. Then, you headed to the kitchen. There, with mom not hovering over your shoulder, you could decide whether your noodles were going to have peas or tomatoes or carrots or soy, and there were no arguments over having them plain if you so wished. After (carefully) prepping the veggies, you (carefully! since you were very obedient and responsible) boiled the water, cracked the two-minute noodles and shook the tastemaker into the water, added the extras and waited the eight to ten minutes it took for all of it to actually come together. Then you carefully ladled the noodles into two plates, slathered your own with tomato-chilli sauce (because really what doesn’t taste better with it? It’s like bacon for vegetarians) and put some ketchup on your sister’s since she wasn’t addicted to chilli like weirdo you. You called her for her plate and then made your way to the other room where it was quiet, the only sound being the pitter-patter of the rain. You grabbed a favourite Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew and sat on the sofa, slurping down the barely steaming noodles, chasing around the peas with your fork absorbed in your book in this heaven of warmth and security. The rain cocooned everything and was, quite suddenly now, more friend than antagonist, at least until you had to go to school again the next day. Those days seem so far away now and though my repertoire of noodle preparation has certainly expanded, the feeling that eating it brings is almost still quite the same. The early love of ramen has also filled me with curiosity to try all kinds of noodles. To battle the fall blues, I decided to try to rekindle a good mood with soba.

I’d bought a packet of soba, wanting to try out a recipe I’d read on Orangette, the kind that you just know will be fabulous when you read about it. The fact that I’d never eaten soba didn’t faze me one bit. I’ve never met a noodle I didn’t like. Soba are Japanese style thin noodles served warm in broth or cold with some dipping sauce. They taste a bit nutty with a nice bite. I had also bought this jar of sunflower seed butter to try. This is much more fluid than peanut butter at room temperature so I thought of using it in this recipe since it seemed well on its way to make a good sauce already. It has a milder flavour in comparison to peanut butter which worked really well as a sauce base. The old habit of chucking vegetables at my noodles also kicks in automatically and before I knew it I had chopped some of what I had at home, the last of some asparagus, a celery stalk or two and some scallions. The heat of the chilli combined with the nutty sunflower butter provided the lifting of spirits that I was looking for. I now have a new recipe added to my list of comfort foods.

Soba in a Nut-Chilli sauce
Adapted from Orangette
Serves 2-3

Soba noodles – 1/2 to 3/4 pound
Sunflower seed butter – 1/2 cup
Lemon – 1, zest and juice
Indian Chilli Sauce – 2 tbsp (alternatively use Sriracha or Sambal Olek – 1 tbsp)
Mayonnaise – 3 tsp

Hoisin – 1/2 tsp (optional)
Soy sauce – 2 tsp
Garlic – 3 cloves, finely minced
Ginger – 1/2”, cut into fine matchsticks
Celery – 2 stalks, diced small
Asparagus – 3 stalks, chopped small
Scallions – 2-3, chopped small
Sesame seeds – 1-1/2 tsp
Dark Sesame oil – 1/2 to 1 tbsp
Salt, if needed
Coriander for garnish

– To a saucepan on medium heat, add the sesame oil. Toss in the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute or so.
– Add the scallions, asparagus & celery and saute (until the asparagus is cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes if the asparagus is small). Move the veggies off the heat.
– Toast the sesame seeds and place aside.
– In a large bowl, prepare the sauce by combining the sunflower seed butter, chilli sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, hoisin, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir to mix.
– Bring a large pot of water to boil. Then add the soba noodle bunches and turn the heat down to a simmer. Gently boil the noodles for about three minutes. Then drain the noodles in a colander and give them a quick wash under cold running water to remove excess starch off the strands, gently separating the strands.
– Place portions of  the noodles into the large bowl containing the sauce and gently toss to coat all the noodles with the sauce, adding more and incorporating until you have the right sauce-to-noodle proportions to your liking. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds.

Heap generous amounts into bowls and garnish with coriander (cilantro) to serve.

Cook’s notes:
The soba is delicious, a bit chewy than most noodles, similar (though bit more al dente) to whole wheat spaghetti. Giving it that quick gentle wash in cold water makes the noodles barely warm when you toss them in the sauce. The nuttiness of the sunflower seed butter gathers a little sweetness from the mayo and hoisin, tartness from the lemon juice and combines with the chilli sauce to form a luscious sweet-and-sour sauce with a passive heat that you just feel at the back of your throat. This is a truly customizable recipe so by all means, feel free to throw in your own substitutions. I think some sort of nut butter and the lemon juice is key here. The rest of the ingredients could change around in quantity and inclusion (even without the hoisin and mayo for example, this is a marvellous sauce.) Molly of Orangette worried about over dressing the noodles. Amey and I could have happily gobbled up more sauce, so I guess this point is entirely dependant on your own tastes. The crunch of sesame seed was too subtle a contrast in texture for me. The next time I intend to add crushed peanuts. Also, I’ll add some carrots, they will really go well with this sauce.

I love developing on my childhood taste of food, it changes but never quite entirely. The chilli in the sauce kept me from putting in tomato-chilli sauce this time, but only just. Reminiscing like this also sometimes makes me wish I’d had a more fun with the food making times, like setting my Mom’s kitchen calendar on fire. But then maybe she wouldn’t have let me into the kitchen after that! My reminisces also get me thinking about you, dear reader. What are some of your favourite childhood food memories?

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Pasta with Broccoli in an Orange-Cream Sauce

Between work and exams and one of my favourite pop stars dying (RIP MJ), I’ve been reading Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia (which by the way is a pretty wicked read!). Readers of her long-completed cooking project and blog must be familiar with her engaging style, which is very much what drew me to the book. Though I discovered the blog after the project was completed, I still haven’t managed to make my way through all of the postings and it’s really hard to wrap my head around her successful endeavour, which certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. I know being a ‘sometimes meatatarian’ there is no way on earth I could have pulled that off. Plus being the aforementioned type of meat eater, just having read the passage about the bone marrow extraction made me want to sear the images my brain supplied permanently out of it. And there is no way in hell that I am plastering eggs all over my kitchen in order to learn to toss an omlette. Just the idea of an egg-plastered kitchen had me breaking out in hives.


While Ms. Powell and I certainly don’t see things the same way (I fervently hope the level of wastage she describes is artistic license and far from the truth, my mom would have various choice things to tell her about starving children) several passages of the book had me chortling in empathy. And what I am loving most about the book so far is how much a part of everything her husband is, actively or passively. That resonates so much with me because Amey is practically always part of my maddening (for him) ideas of the time, sometimes willingly, sometimes kicking and screaming. But he is always supportive of them, half-baked schemes though they may be. Like the time that I thought I could live through a no-sodium, no fat, no flavour (kill me now!) diet, telling him confidently that I could do it. In my zeal for the thing, I chose to ignore the fact that the diet included fish, something that I could never eat and no salt, something I can’t live without. After three days of scrabbling around, steaming, baking and boiling several veggies, meats and halibut (god, what was I thinking??), I enthusiastically started the diet on the fourth day. One bite of the prescribed morning breakfast of steamed, unsalted, peppered fish had me throwing up in the sink and simultaneously howling and babbling incoherently on the bathroom floor about all the fish in the fridge I was delusional enough to think I could eat. While Amey handed me a glass of orange juice to stop the gagging until I calmed down, he packed his lunch, two cautious little boiled halibut sandwiches with salt on the side. And that was his meal for two days until he gamely worked his way through the fish. I’ll bet he gagged through it, that stuff was vile! Amey isn’t even much of a fish eater. Truth be told, he must have eaten five fish dishes in his entire life. But that’s what he does when my plans get out of hand. *Sniffle* gotta love him! Julie Powell would understand exactly what I mean.


Life throws the guy many such curve balls since he has me for his wife. So he was understandably quite nervous when I eyed our gigantor pile of oranges and pronounced I was making pasta. I had wanted to bake a cake for a friend which required a couple of oranges but since a packet of six was on sale I’d happily bought the entire thing thinking I’d juice the rest or something. Well, in middle of a mercurial last two weeks, the cake didn’t get baked and there were oranges all over our tiny counter. Something had to be done and for no reason in particular I decided that I had to make a sauce out of the oranges. Not an orange sauce. But a sauce, a savoury sauce, using oranges. I’m sure it’s been done, there’s nothing new under the sun. But I’ve never done it before. All I had for instruction was something I’d read in one of the Jamie Oliver tomes about “Orange being best friends with (a couple of things).” Amey guardedly offered the wisdom that maybe this was not the best idea. Couldn’t I try a tested orange sauce recipe first? But the oranges were staring forlornly at me and had to be given a fitting send-off. They couldn’t all be juiced. So two of them met their timely end in this unctuous sauce.

Pasta and Broccoli with an Orange Cream Sauce

For the sauce:-
Red onion – 1/2 or Shallots -2, diced fine
Juice of two navel oranges
Zest of one orange
Cream or Half-and-half-
1 cup
Ancho Chilli Powder – 1.5 teaspoons
Cumin Powder – 1/2 tsp
Gruyere cheese –
1/2 cup grated
Vegetable stock – 1 cup
Ginger – 1 tsp, grated or minced
Corn Starch –
1/2 tsp
Habanero Chilli sauce – to taste (optional)
Salt & Pepper
to taste
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp

Pasta – we used 1 pack of rotini
Broccoli- one crown sliced into thin florets
Garlic – 3 cloves, sliced thin
Chilli flakes – 2 tsp
Olive Oil- 2 tsp

– Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water and drain when cooked al dente.
– While the pasta is boiling, in a skillet, heat the oil and add the garlic. When the garlic is gently browned, add the broccoli florets and saute for a minute or two, then add chilli flakes. Saute until the broccoli is cooked through.
– In a saucepan, heat the sauce portion of olive oil and add the shallots. Cook until translucent.
– Then add the ginger and stir for a minute. Add the orange juice. Turn up the heat to boil.
– Turn the heat down a bit to simmer. After a few minutes, add the orange zest and cream and turn the heat back to medium.
– Add the veggie stock and Ancho Chilli and cumin powders. Stir to incorporate. Add the cheese and stir until it melts into the liquid.
– Add the cornstarch and stir to incorporate completely. Let the sauce simmer for a while until it thickens slightly. Add the habanero chilli sauce at this point if using.
– Add salt and pepper to taste. The gruyere is already salty so you may want to taste it just a bit before you add salt.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss along with the sauteed broccoli. Serve hot with grated or shaved parmesan.

Cook’s notes:-
Sweet oranges do make a pretty decent savoury sauce. I admit I was a little worried when I saw swirls of orange once all the liquids had been mixed. I thought I might end up with orange juice floating on a stock and cream mixture. But once the cornstarch and cheese were added, everything came together pretty well. The sauce turned into a lovely kumquaty-yellow-orange. The pasta itself smelled citrusy yet earthy at the same time and the first bite broke into spiced orange flavours in the mouth. The sauce is light and just coats the pasta with none overflowing in the pot or plate. It worked well with this shape of pasta, though I’m pretty sure it would work with penne too.

What surprised us is was how well the garlic-sauteed broccoli worked with the background hints of orange and chilli. The ancho chilli powder isn’t very spicy, just adding a gentle heat to the proceedings. That’s why the habanero is optional; to be used if the chilli flavour is to be kicked up several notches. Use paprika if you don’t have ancho chilli powder. Fortunately, this mad scheme could be categorised under fairly successful. At least it’s not messy flaked fish for Amey to have to finish off. Maybe I should have had some anchovy paste on hand, that would have been nostalgic! Come to think of it, it probably would have worked real well in the sauce.

Farfalle with a Garlic-Porcini sauce

“Today I had yet another run-in with that girl. You know that girl. Everyone knows that girl. She’s the one you’d love to hate. And it would be easy to, what with her gorgeous good looks, engaging smile and perfect hair, she’s asking for it. But what makes it hard is that she’s also witty, intelligent and caring to boot, a perfect angel. She has to be the most annoying person ever! And it is hard to avoid her, she’s so easy to run into. All you can do really is smile back. And you probably should anyway…..you’ll walk past that mirror in a couple of seconds, and she’ll be gone as quickly as she arrived, not forever, just for a while.”

I don’t know what to do with these few lines above that I wrote, nor do I know where they came from. Here I was sitting down to talk about a delicious pasta dish, and this is what popped into my head. Maybe someday that girl will get out of my head and on to paper, along with the rest of her tale. Maybe it will be ‘that guy’ or ‘that kid’ instead of ‘that girl’, I don’t know. But I swear that the amount of random topics that pop into my head and clamour for elaboration are getting to be a veritable pain in the posterior. I mean really, I had thought starting to write about food would focus all my creative energy in one direction. But talking about food hasn’t brought the serene peace of mental vacuum that I hoped it would. As truly as nature abhors that phenomenon, food ideas are multiplying and bringing their non-related friends to the raucous party. And so I digress like, but much worse than my college history professor, who was supposed to teach us about history of architecture, but mostly taught the history of himself. If you are what you eat, than I’ve got to start giving random drug tests to my spices. Have they been secretly doped? Or maybe there was something in those chips I ate earlier. I always knew the processed food would get me.

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