I am not always one for fusion dishes. Quite a few of them come across as less fusion and more like confusion, with muddled flavors and odd combinations of unrelated ingredients.
But, as I was planting my Thai basil this spring, right next to a planter full of Italian and Greek basil, I thought, “I wonder what it would taste like if I took the idea of pesto and made it Thai? I couldn’t imagine it would be bad, and besides, pesto is similar in some respects to Thai curry pastes (and it is very similar to green cilantro chutney in Indian cuisine, but that is beside the point), so there is enough similarity going on that I thought it must be doable.
So, I got to thinking of the ingredients that are in traditional Genovese pesto: basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.
And I thought, what are the cognates in Thai cuisine? Well, basil is simple–I’d just use Thai sweet basil instead of the Italian type. Garlic is garlic, all around the world, and it is always good. Instead of pine nuts, I could use peanuts. And I could replace olive oil, with fragrant cold pressed peanut oil. But what about the Parmesan cheese?
I was stuck there for a few minutes until I came at the problem from a different direction. Instead of worrying that there is no traditional cheese in Thailand, I thought about what function the Parmesan cheese serves in pesto. I pondered on the issue for a time and realized that while it adds some salt that isn’t the main function of the Parmesan. It isn’t in there to taste “cheesy” either–good pesto doesn’t ever have an overwhelming cheese flavor.
It is there to give the sauce that fifth taste–the jolt of umami–that savory “je-ne-sais-quoi” that you may not be able to identify in a dish, but if it is missing, you notice its lack.
Aha! I had it–what in Thai food is used to give the umami burst? Fish sauce is the most obvious answer, but I didn’t want to use it because I didn’t want to add more liquid to the sauce. Shrimp paste, which is used in many Thai curries is the obvious answer, and were I not possibly allergic to shrimp, that is what I would have used. (And that is what I suggest those who experiment with this recipe use, if they can get it and if they can eat shellfish with impunity, unlike myself. Lucky devils!)
What I ended up using was anchovy paste. Which, while it is an Italian ingredient, makes sense in a Thai context because fish sauce is made from anchovies. Voila!
My basic ingredients were set, but I decided to add some fresh Thai chilies, because I thought the sauce would taste better with them, and because I have been known to add chile flakes to my regular old Italian pesto. And, I decided to add a squeeze of lime juice at the end, after the noodles were tossed, to give a little sparkling finish to the flavors, as is done in many Thai recipes.
And, as I was grinding up the pesto itself in the food processor, I tasted it when it was about halfway there, and realized something about the physical properties of Thai basil vs. Italian basil. Firstly, the leaves are a bit drier in texture, so they don’t emulsify and puree quite so readily and secondly, they are a little bit stringier in texture as well.
I decided that the sauce would need something to help smooth it out and make it creamier. I could have added some water to the mix, in order to make up for the lack of water in the basil’s leaves, but I was afraid it would water down the flavor too much. Instead, I added about three good heaping tablespoons of nice, well-stirred coconut milk.
That was the ticket–when I finished pureeing the sauce and tasted it–it was perfect in texture, color and flavor. It was pesto, but it was Thai, and it was delicious.
Then, I had to figure out what I was going to stir my fragrant, verdant, silky-smooth sauce into.
I decided to make a dish of stir-fried rice rice noodles with thin slivers of chicken, julienne-cut carrots, diagonally sliced haricot vert, halved cherry tomatoes and julienned yellow bell pepper. The seasonings for this stir fry were simple: thinly sliced shallots, fish sauce, and a bit of sugar.
This set a fairly neutral stage for the Thai pesto which was tossed in along with a generous squeeze of lime juice after everything else was cooked and I had taken the wok off the heat. After that, I garnished each portion with a few lightly crushed bits of peanut and some shaggy, deep purple Thai basil flowers.
How did it turn out?
It was bright and sparkly–the lime juice finish really perks the dish up and makes it sing. The peanut oil, which really needs to be a good fragrant, barely refined cold-pressed oil like Loriva or Spectrum, gave the nutty base notes to the sauce, while the anise-like Thai sweet basil sang and danced out front, taking up all of the attention on the tongue until the garlic and chilies kicked in and made tingles shiver through the palate. The anchovy paste added that umami punch that you couldn’t quite put your finger on, but was there, and really tied the ensemble together.
Oh, wow. That is what everyone said as they took their first bites. Morganna’s first words after “Oh, wow,” were, “Mom, when you open your restaurant, I assume this is going on the menu?”
“Yeah,” was the one-word reply.
Brittney’s exclamation said it all: “Amen.”
Thai Pesto Noodles
Ingredients For The Pesto:
2-3 cups fresh Thai sweet basil leaves, all stemmy bits removed
2-5 cloves garlic–this depends on how garlicky your garlic is, and how garlicky you want your pesto to be
1/3 cup toasted unsalted peanuts–use the best peanuts you can find for this.
1-3 fresh Thai bird chilies–depending on how spicy you want your sauce to be
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste or about 1/3 teaspoon Thai shrimp paste (if you are a vegetarian, use either red or white miso here instead)
1/3-1/2 cup really good cold pressed hardly refined, fragrant peanut oil–Loriva or Spectrum are my favored brands
2-3 good heaping tablespoons of thick coconut milk–i used Chaokoh brand here.
salt to taste
Method For Pesto:
Put the basil, garlic, peanuts, chilies and anchovy paste into the food processor and start grinding. While it is going, pour in the peanut oil. Stop grinding and scrape down workbowl. Add coconut milk, then finish processing the sauce into a thick, brilliant green paste. Do this -right before- you are going to cook the noodles–if you do it before you do all of your prep, the pesto will oxidize and turn from green to brown. As it is, the pesto turns quickly once you toss it with the rice noodles, but there is no sense in starting out with it already a dull greenish brown, is there?
Ingredients For The Noodles:
1 14 ounce package 1/4″ wide rice sticks or rice noodles
1 chicken breast, cut into 1″X!/4″X1/8″ strips
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon raw or palm sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
canola or peanut oil for stir frying (about 3 tablespoons should be sufficient)
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup julienne-cut carrots
1 cup topped and tailed then diagonally sliced haricot verts or very young stringless green beans
1/3 cup julienne-cut yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes (I used Sungold–yum!)
1/3-1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock or broth
juice of 1/2 lime or to taste
cilantro leaves, Thai basil flowers or leaves and lightly crushed unsalted peanuts for garnish
Soak the noodles in warm water until they are pliable and turn from translucent to opaque white. Drain well and allow to dry in the air slightly while you do the rest of your prep.
Toss the chicken with the fish sauce, sugar and cornstarch and set aside for at least twenty minutes.
When the noodles are drained and lightly dried, and the chicken is done marinating, the vegetables are cut and the peso is ground up, heat your wok over high heat until a thin ribbon of smoke rises from it. Add the peanut oil to the wok and allow it to heat briefly until it shimmers.
Add the shallots, and cook, stirring, until they take on a bit of golden brown color–about two to three minutes. Add the chicken and stir it into a single layer on the bottom fo the wok. Allow it to rest, undisturbed for about a minute or so to brown on the bottom, then start stirring.
Cook until most of the pink has turned to brown or white. Add the fish sauce and continue cooking, scraping any browned bits of marinade off the sides of the wok until most of the fish sauce has bubbled away.
Add the carrots and haricots verts and continue cooking until they brighten in color and are nearly properly crisp-tender. Add the pepper strips and cherry tomatoes, then the noodles, Cook, stirring, until the noodles soften slightly. Add the broth and continue cooking and stirring until the vegetables are done and the noodles are soft, yet still a bit chewy. Remove from heat and scrape the pesto into the wok and toss the noodles and pasta until they are thoroughly combined. Squeeze in the lime juice and toss to combine, then dish into warmed individual serving bowls.
Top each serving with the garnishes and serve immediately.
Every ingredient to this particular dish was local: the beans, the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, leeks, mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, sage and oh, yeah, the rabbit.
Oh, wait a minute: the white wine isn’t from Athens, but it is from Ohio, and the salt–well, it is from the ocean, which is not local to Ohio.
At least, not yet. Maybe after the polar ice caps melt. Then we Ohioans might have some ocean-front property, but I doubt it even then. Oceans have been thin on the ground here for a long while–at least since the Devonian Period, if I am remembering my geology correctly.
So, no local sea salt for little old me.
Back to the dish at hand.
It all starts with the making of rabbit stock.
Which is about the same as making chicken stock, really. You just need rabbit carcasses and bones and bits, some leeks, a carrot or two, a garlic clove, a couple of stalks of celery, a splash of white wine and some herbs. And some salt, and a few peppercorns. Oh, and a secret ingredient. (A dried shiitake mushroom–also known in Asian markets as Chinese black mushrooms. More on that later.)
And lots of pure, cold water. Always start your stocks with cold water–it helps dissolve the gelatin in the bones which makes for a thicker, richer stock that when chilled, will turn into a gel. Melted, a gelled stock has a velvety feel on the tongue that is qualitatively different than the watery feel of canned broths. You just have to feel and taste it for yourself–it is hard to describe the difference.
How To Make Rabbit Stock:
On to rabbit stock–it is just as easy as making any other stock.
I used bones from two rabbits which had most of the meat cut from them to make rabbit stew meat, but one could use full carcasses for this just as easily. Or do like I do with chicken stock and use a whole carcass and then a bunch of bones. Just remember, the more bones you have, the richer your stock will be.
Basically, follow my instructions on how to make chicken stock for making rabbit stock, while noting the differences I mention here.
The biggest difference is that I put garlic in my rabbit stock, when I do not use it in my chicken stock. Why is that? Because I think that garlic really compliments the meat of domestic rabbit perfectly, and one little clove of garlic never ruined anything. Well, maybe it might have ruined a batch of beer or a bowl of cereal, but that is probably about it. I might not chuck that garlic clove into the pot if I was going to use the rabbit stock for some delicate soup or whatnot, but since this was going to be the base of a really hearty and garlicky stew, I didn’t see why I should leave out the garlic.
The second difference is that I leave out onions and just use leeks in my rabbit stock. Why is that? Well, I guess it is because I like the leek flavor better in the rabbit stock. You can use onion if you want–I won’t fuss at you about it.
The third difference is my secret ingredient–that single solitary dried shiitake mushroom.
Why is it there?
To add a layer of depth to the stock–an extra umami kick, if you will.
Besides, you will find that rabbit meat and mushrooms are a classic combination if you peruse European cookbooks for recipes involving leporids and fungi.
Those are the largest differences in the ingredients and making of rabbit stock. I also tend not to simmer the stock as long as I do chicken stock–the bones of domestic rabbits are smaller and more delicate than those of chickens and they seem to give up their goodness much more easily. I tend to simmer my rabbit stock for only about four to six hours as opposed to the marathon six to twelve hours for chicken stock.
Otherwise, the rules are all the same:
Rinse off your carcasses and bones, then put them in a pot with your herbs and vegetables.
Add cold water to cover the ingredients by at least three inches or so. Cold water. Starting with hot water will not speed the process up and you will end up with a cloudy stock that doesn’t have as much dissolved gelatin from the bones in it. So just put the cold water in the pot in the first place and take the time to let it come to a simmer naturally.
Put the pot on the heat and turn it up to high. Watch the pot and when it comes to a boil, immediately turn it down so that is simmers gently and steadily. Do not let it boil again. Ever. (In fact, when it comes to rabbit meat–don’t ever boil it–it toughens it up too much. Always cook rabbit with gentle heat, at a simmer if there is liquid involved.)
Skim the scum that comes to the top during the first part of the cooking. And instead of using a spoon like you see in the photos of the chicken stock post–the link is above so you cannot miss it–use one of these neato keen super fine meshed skimmer thingies you can find at most Asian grocery stores. Just slip that bad boy under the scum, lift and voila–the skank is gone! Rinse it under running water and go skank skimming again. It is so much easier than the spoon method and it is fun, too. And you end up with clearer stock when you are done!
Add about a cup of dry white wine. (I like Riesling with rabbit.)
And–when your stock is done, strain out all the solid bits. If you used a whole carcass, the meat has probably fallen off the bones, but if not, pull off what is left on the bones and set it aside. Discard the bones and the vegetables, but keep the meat.
Salt to taste.
If you are not going to use the stock immediately, cool it quickly and thoroughly and put it into containers in your fridge or your freezer depending on when you foresee using it. It can keep about a week in the fridge, for months in the freezer, just like chicken stock.
Now, if you are going to use the stock immediately to make the stew that this post is actually about, then leave it in the pot and go on with your recipe.
Now, while that stock is simmering, you can do all the stuff you need to do to get the rest of the ingredients ready. You can thaw out any of your boneless rabbit stew meat you might have to use in the stew, shell the beans and cut up the carrots, celery, leeks, onions, garlic, mushrooms and herbs.
Shelling horticultural beans goes faster if you have help, but I find it quite relaxing even if I am by myself. Besides, what’s the hurry? You have to simmer the stock for at least four hours, so why rush on everything else? This is not a quick recipe–but that is okay. Sometimes some of us like slow food, food that takes a long, leisurely route from the kitchen to the table.
Once you have the preparations done–the stock made and any meat from the bones set aside, the beans shelled, the vegetables sliced and the boneless rabbit stew meat–it all comes together quickly enough, and then just goes on the back of the stove to simmer pretty well on its own. Just like stock–this stew doesn’t need your undivided attention–just make sure it is simmering and not boiling, and nothing is sticking to the bottom, and you are golden–no worries.
So yeah, this all-local recipe is slow-going–I did make it on a lazy Sunday after all, with lots of help from a nearly-three-year-old who had great fun assisting me–but it is all good. Not only is it easy to put together, it is fun, and the resulting flavor makes everything worthwhile.
It is by turns rich and complex in flavor, and yet simple and pure. I don’t know how else to describe it. Rabbit has such a clear, pure flavor, and the beans are earthy, and that darkness is accented by the deep flavor of the shiitake. But then the vegetables–the carrots, celery and caramelized onions–add delicious sweetness to the mixture while the sharp scents of the herbs float over everything.
It is really quite an amazing dish–very warming, very satisfying and surprisingly light for all that it is a stew. (I think it seems light because rabbit is nearly fat free.)
And, even if the recipe’s length makes it seem like it must be hard–it isn’t. It is just a good old European-style peasant food, as dreamed up in a kitchen full of the local Appalachian summer bounty. Think of it as Peasant-Hillbilly Fusion. (Might this be a new trend?)
Rabbit and Horticultural Bean Stew
3 tablespoons olive oil or bacon drippings
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced leeks–white and light green bits only
3 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 pound boneless rabbit meat
1 tablespoon each fresh minced rosemary leaves, fresh thyme leaves and minced fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2-2 quarts of rabbit stock (or chicken stock, if you must–or water, if you haven’t anything else)
1 1/2 pounds freshly shelled horticultural beans
the meat from the rabbit stock, if you have any
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs–I used rosemary, thyme, sage and flat-leaf parsley–for garnish
Heat the oil or drippings in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot on medium high heat.
Add the onions and sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring, until the onions turn golden. Add the leeks, garlic, celery, carrots and mushrooms, and cook, stirring until the onions are a deep golden brown and the other vegetables have been tinged with brown and everything is smelling wonderful.
Add the boneless rabbit meat, and cook, stirring, until it browns lightly.
Sprinkle in the first measures of fresh herbs and the Spanish paprika. Pour in the wine and deglaze the bottom of the pot, then allow the alcohol to simmer out of the wine.
Add the rabbit stock or whatever other liquid you are using, and stir in the beans. Add the meat from the rabbit stock, if you had any. Throw in the bay leaf.
Bring to a brisk simmer, then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the pot and cook until the beans and rabbit are both tender.
If the stew liquid isn’t thick enough to your taste, take out about a half cup of beans and mash them thoroughly. Stir them back into the stew and voila–instant thickener! No extra added fat or starch. Beans are like magic that way.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish with the fresh herbs just before serving.
As if to prove to my avid omnivorous readers that I am not going to start writing exclusively about vegetarianism and presenting only vegetarian recipes, here is a quick and delicious, if non-traditional Chinese stir-fry that makes a great summer dinner that keeps the house reasonably cool, and makes a nutritious meal that is full of color, flavor and contrasting texture.
Most traditional Chinese homestyle stir-fried dishes did not combine a meat with a whole passel of mixed vegetables–usually if meat and vegetables were combined in a single dish it was one meat and one vegetable, or meat with a pair of vegetables. The vegetable melange you see mixed with meat in modern Chinese stir-fries arose from Chinese American restaurants, where customers were not accustomed to the idea of ordering separate meat and vegetable dishes.
I had intended to make Chicken with Broccoli-a mainstay of the Chinese-American restaurant menu: a dish consisting of exactly what its name tells you, plus a more-or-less ubiquitous savory brown sauce. However, I ended up cooking for two more people than I expected, and I had no extra chicken or broccoli, so I dug through my crisper drawer, and pulled out tender local bok choy and sweetly crisp local carrots.
So, my Chicken with Broccoli was instantly transformed into Chicken with Mixed Vegetables.
As for the black bean–while I like Chicken and Broccoli, that brown sauce, savory as it might be is a little flat to my taste, even when it is a particularly flavorful version of it. Made primarily of chicken broth or stock, soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil, with a dash of rice wine, it is a good sauce. (When made well. When made badly it is a sickly-sweet brown gloppy mess.) But I like my Chinese sauces to have a little more bang for the buck–I like little explosions of flavor on my tongue.
And for that, I turn to Chinese fermented, salted black beans. Black soybeans that have been salted and fermented, these little fellows pack a serious umami punch and they make everything taste just so much better. Paired with plenty of fresh garlic, they create a cloud of deliciousness that surrounds and pillows the main ingredients in your stir-fry, bathing them in savory goodness. If you add a teaspoon of chili garlic paste and a couple of teaspoons of ground bean sauce as I did, the usual restaurant brown sauce is kicked up so many notches it just flies into orbit and takes your taste buds with it.
You could substitute pressed spiced tofu for the chicken, or you could use pork instead. You could also substitute any number of vegetables for the combination that I put together out of my fridge–you could use gai lan instead of broccoli, and choy sum instead of bok choy with sweet red peppers instead of carrots. Or, how about mushrooms, water chestnuts and sweet red peppers? Or green beans, carrots, and sweet red peppers?
Really, any combination of vegetables would be tasty in this dish, I think, so long as they are vegetables that are suitable for a stir-fry.
At any rate–here we are–a meat dish, but one that uses a plethora of summer vegetables. Something to please everyone.
Black Bean Chicken with Mixed Vegetables
1 chicken breast, boned, skinned and cut into 1″X1/2″X1/4″ strips
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 1/2 tablespoons fermented black beans
1/2-1 teaspoon chili garlic paste
1″ chunk fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup Shao Hsing wine
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/2 cup peeled and thinly sliced on the bias carrots
2 cups broccoli florets–cut into bite sized pieces
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 cup bok choy cut into 1″ chunks
2 teaspoons ground bean sauce
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Toss chicken pieces with the first measure of light soy sauce, Shao Hsing wine and cornstarch and allow to sit for at least fifteen minutes, but no longer than a half hour or so.
Heat wok over high heat until a thin ribbon of smoke coils upward from the surface. Add canola or peanut oil and heat until the oil shimmers–about thirty to forty-five seconds.
Add onions and black beans, chili garlic paste, and cook, stirring constantly until the onions turn translucent and golden. Add ginger and cook for another thirty seconds, stirring.
Add chicken to wok, and spread into a single layer of the bottom of the wok. Sprinkle with the garlic slices, and allow chicken to cook, undisturbed, for about a minute or a minute and a half–until the chicken browns on the bottom. Then, stir and cook, stirring constantly until about 1/2 of the chicken is white or brown and the rest is still pin. Sprinkle with the second measure of wine and stir, scraping the browned bits of marinade off the wok, deglazing with the wine. Add the soy sauce and carrots and cook, stirring until the chicken shows very little pink.
Add the broccoli and cook, stirring, until it deepens in color and the chicken shows no pink. Add the chicken broth, and the bok choy and cook, stirring and scraping any browned bits off the side of the wok into the sauce. Spoon in the ground bean sauce and stir to combine.
Remove from heat and drizzle with toasted sesame oil and stir well to combine. Scrape into a warmed serving platter and serve immediately with steamed rice.
I love me my ramps and green garlic.
All year long, I anticipate with gustatory delight the spring season which not only brings morels, asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries, but also pungent-sweet, spicy-hot ramps and green garlic. I use them in cooking just as I would scallions and garlic, but in even more copious amounts than usual for my aromatics. I love the overpowering aroma of these young, fresh vegetables, and when they are paired with cheese and tomatoes, as I did last year in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Spaghetti, they are especially delectable.
This year, because for some reason I cannot fathom, I have been craving meats and cheese like a madwoman, even as I lose weight, I decided to make Kiss Kiss Bang Bang again, but this time, to add meatballs. I used parmesan cheese instead of goat feta, because I had that and not the other, and I used a teaspoon of bacon drippings instead of the butter to enrich the sauce. For the meatballs, I used the extremely lean, tender and beefy flavored locally produced ground bison from Dixon’s Elk Run Buffalo Farm. These were seasoned with plenty of minced ramps and green garlic, cumin, Aleppo pepper flakes and smoked Spanish paprika, and fried in olive oil, then simmered in red wine until they were nearly done, then they were added to the sauce, while the wine reduced to 1/3 of its original volume. The wine reduction was then added to the sauce, and the whole lot simmered for about fifteen minutes, until the sauce thickened and the meatballs were done perfectly.
One thing about bison meat–because it is so low in fat, you need to be careful how you cook it, in order to keep it from drying out. I use lower heat, and after the outside of the meat has browned, I use moist heat–this time in the form of wine–to keep it tender and succulent. You can also add a little bit of fat to it–in the form of olive oil, a tiny amount of bacon drippings or butter, or a little bit of egg yolk or mayonnaise–when you blend the seasoning ingredients into the ground meat. You don’t need much–just a small amount–and your meatballs will be juicy and flavorful, instead of dry and flubbery. About a teaspoon per pound will do. The added benefit of the fat is that it will help your very lean ground bison hold together when you cook it–it will lower the amount of binder you need to use to get the meat to cling to itself.
For binder, I used matzo meal, because that is what I had around and I like the texture it imparts to meatball mixtures. It makes them less dense than fresh breadcrumbs and it imparts no flavor of its own to the bison.
As for seasoning, I like the way cumin makes beef and bison taste–beefier. It synergizes with the meat and makes it taste even richer and more–meaty. I guess it probably boosts the umami flavor inherent in the bison. The smoked paprika adds a nice earthy touch and the ramps and green garlic–well, they speak for themselves. A little bit of salt is all the rest that you need.
And yes, you can tell by reading these last two posts that I ave been eating wheat, until and unless I am told otherwise. We will see what we will see when the tests come back. Until that time, I am going to enjoy food as much as I can, and that includes my beloved spaghetti and Chinese noodles, sauced in as many different ways as I can conceive.
Ramped Up Spaghetti and Meatballs
1 recipe of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang–leave out the goat feta (or use it in place of the Parmesan, and if you want, replace the butter with a teaspoon of bacon drippings)
1 pound ground bison or beef (If you use the beef, do not use the added fat, which is next on the ingredient list)
1 teaspoon bacon drippings, mayonnaise, egg yolk (I use 1/2 a large egg yolk, or you can use 1/2 an egg instead), olive oil or butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 cup minced ramps and green garlic tops combined–or one or the other, if you prefer
1/4 cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup soft red wine
1/4 cup shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese
1 pound spaghetti cooked al dente and drained well.
extra Parmesan for garnish.
Follow the instructions to make Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. While the sauce simmers on low heat, make the meatballs.
Mix together the bison, added fat of your choice, spices, ramps and/or green garlic, and the matzo meal. Mix together with your hands until it is completely blended. Roll into walnut-sized balls.
Heat olive oil in a frying pan until it is nice and hot. Add meatballs, and cook, shaking now and again until they are completely brown on the outside. Add the wine and cover, and allow to simmer and steam for about five to eight minutes. Uncover and transfer the meatballs to the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang sauce and allow the wine to reduce to 1/3 cup. Pour the combined wine and meat juices into the sauce with the meatballs, and stir to combine. Allow the sauce to thicken until it coats the back of a spoon, then toss with the spaghetti and the cheese. Garnish with extra cheese flakes or shreds, and serve in warmed bowls.
This will serve four adults and one toddler.
Allright, before I tell you about these noodles I need to explain about Pucca.
Pucca is a South Korean cartoon featuring the unbearably cute main character, Pucca, (pictured over there–see her?) who is the daughter of the chef of a noodle restaurant in tiny Sooga Village. The animation is somewhat South Parkesque, with the kind of chase sequences that Chuck Jones made famous in his Roadrunner/Coyote cartoons. The humor is bizarre, physical and sometimes very potty–with lots and lots of pop culture references from Bruce Lee to Iron Chef to Sergio Leone.
The main thrust of the series is that Pucca is in love with Garu, who is a young ninja, and she is constantly chasing him around trying to steal kisses. That is about it–everything else flows from that premise.
It is a great deal of fun, and you can watch various episodes on You Tube–just look up Pucca and you will be in business.
Zak discovered Pucca somewhere on the Internet and then found and picked up a bunch of DVD’s of the television series, which is amazingly popular not only in Korea, but all over Asia and Europe. It is also very well loved in our house, especially with Kat and Zak. She has taken to playing at being either Pucca or Garu, wanting to chase or be chased depending on which role she will play. It is very cute–she runs around the house, saying, “Me Garu, me Garu!” which is the signal for one of us to say, “Pucca loves Garu,” and to chase her. The chase ends with kisses, giggles and tickles, and then starts again, and we do this over and over, through the dining room, down the hall, into the kitchen and back again.
As for the noodles–well, the restaurant where Pucca has grown up is famous for za jiang noodles–a traditional Chinese dish that is exceedingly popular in South Korea, so much so that the Korean variants are probably as well known as the original now. It consists of wheat noodles served with a meaty sauce of minced pork and fermented bean paste, garnished with blanched vegetables and herbs.
This version I am presenting here has mostly local ingredients–ramps gathered from the woods here in Athens county, bok choi by Green Edge Gardens, the last of the winter’s store of local carrots, honey from Athens, chicken broth from local chickens, garlic from last fall, local small farm pork, scallions and cilantro from down the road, and Rossi Pasta noodles from Marietta, Ohio. Only the Asian condiments are from elsewhere–fermented black beans, bean sauce, and Shao Hsing wine from China, and fermented bean paste from Korea. The ginger was from California, and the sesame oil is also Chinese. Oh, and I forgot, I garnished it with my very own chili garlic paste, that I made from my own Thai chilies.
A vegetarian version of this noodle dish using minced up mushrooms and tofu can be found here for those who prefer vegetables with their noodles, or those who do not have local, small farm pork available and who do not want to support CAFOs where pigs are kept in horrible conditions, conditions which may have contributed to the recent Swine flu epidemic in Mexico and the rest of the world. (You knew I had to mention that, didn’t you?)
Anyway, this is a delicious, quick supper that can be as spicy as you like, as diners can add more chili garlic sauce at the end to each individual noodle bowl in order to customize the flavor to their own palate. You can add more vegetables if you like–blanched bean sprouts would rule, as would shredded snow peas or napa cabbage. If you can eat shellfish, you could add minced dried shrimp or some fresh shrimp, cut in half longitudinally, and they would be delicious. In the summer, you could add halved fresh grape tomatoes, and I bet they would taste outstanding, as well as put some of Pucca’s signature color–red–into the dish.
So, I bet you are wondering how well did Kat and Zak like Pucca Noodles?
They loved them, which was not surprising to me. They both ate big bowls of them, and then Kat came and started begging for tidbits out of my bowl. The fermented bean pastes add a deep, umami flavor, redolent of the earth, while the fresh ramps, scallions and cilantro add notes of green garlicky, oniony goodness. These Chinese/Korean/Appalachian noodles are truly satisfying and soul-stirring for even the hardest of hearts and pickiest of appetites.
They liked them so much that even though we had them for dinner night before last, they asked for them for dinner again tonight!
Oh, and one more thing–you can serve this sauce with cooked and drained rice noodles if you like. I bet it would be good tossed with bean thread noodles, too.
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 teaspoon bacon drippings (optional)
2 bunches scallions, white part only, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons fermented black soybeans
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons ground black bean sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Korean fermented bean paste
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water or the broth
1 1/2 cups julienned carrots, blanched and cooled
2 cups bok choy cut into thin shreds
2 cups ramps, cut into thin shreds
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 pound flat Chinese wheat noodles, cooked al dente and drained, rinsed in cold water, then drained again
2 bunches scallions, green tops only, cut very thinly on the bias
1/2 cup thinly shredded ramp leaves
chili garlic sauce for garnish
Heat wok or heavy-bottomed skillet until smoking. Add oil and optional bacon drippings. (You can leave them out if you want, but if you have them, they add a deep smoky richness to the sauce.) Allow drippings to melt and oil to heat for a minute, then pour in the scallions, garlic, ginger and black beans, and cook, stirring, until everything is a nice golden color and is quite fragrant. Add the pork and using a chopping motion with your wok shovel or spatula, break up the meat while it browns. When it is browned, add the sherry, the bean sauce and paste, the chili garlic sauce and honey, and half of the chicken broth.
Cook for a minute, then add the cornstarch mixture and the rest of the broth and stir well to combine. The sauce should thicken almost immediately. At that point, add in the carrots, bok choy, ramps and roughly chopped cilantro leaves and stir until the bok choy wilts. Stir in sesame oil.
Divide noodles into four big bowls, top with the sauce then sprinkle with the scallion tops and the 1/2 cup of shredded ramp leaves. Add chili garlic sauce to the top as garnish or pass it around so everyone can help themselves and add as much as they would like.