Garlic scapes spur escape from typical pesto

The garden devoid of garlic for the first time in several years, I’m feeling pangs not for the cloves but for the scapes.

Anyone who’s grown garlic — we skipped it this year — knows it’s a long crop, one that starts in the fall and doesn’t come to fruition until early summer. Just before the plants are harvested for their bulbs, warmer weather spurs them to flower, and the stem that extends the blossom skyward is known as a scape. (See the photo below.)

Who cares, right? Many gardeners break off the scapes and discard them, believing that the plant conserves its energy for the bulbs if it isn’t allowed to flower. My mother-in-law, who spearheads our garden can’t understand why I’m compelled to eat the garlic scapes. Still, she gathers them for me and hands them over in curlicue bouquets.

They’re in a word delicious. Moist and juicy, garlic scapes lack the fibrous texture of scallion greens. But they can be thinly sliced like a scallion and scattered over any number of dishes or sautéed and combined with other vegetables and grains. A personal favorite treatment is in fried rice.

Pesto is one way for the uninitiated to become acquainted with garlic scapes. The formula is easy, basically replacing the garlic in a classic pesto with about double the weight of scapes, which have a much milder flavor. A vibrantly green, pungently fresh condiment is the result.

Here’s a recipe from the Chicago Tribune that spotlights scapes with a dry-braised breast of chicken. Without any oil and minimal seasonings, this technique steams the meat with a few aromatics in an otherwise dry pot. Improbably, the chicken retains its moisture, staunchly resisting overcooking. The simply savory result is a backdrop for the scapes’ intense flavor.

Look for garlic scapes over the next few weeks at farmers markets and specialty stores.

Tribune News Service photo

Escapist Chicken

2 teaspoons plus 6 tablespoons olive oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 3/4 pounds total)

Kosher salt, as needed

2 carrots, peeled, cut in large chunks

2 ribs celery, cut in large chunks

1 bay leaf

10 garlic scapes, tender green portion only, bulbs trimmed away (about 4 ounces total)

1 ounce (1 loosely packed cup) basil leaves

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 400 F. Rinse the chicken and pat dry.

Choose a large, heavy, oven-safe pot with a lid (cast-iron would do nicely) that can fit chicken in a single layer. Coat bottom of pan with 2 teaspoons of the oil. Rub a little oil on chicken breasts, sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon salt, and fit them into pot. Add the carrots, celery, bay leaf and 1 of the garlic scapes, cut in half. Cover pot, slide into oven and cook until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 F, for about 22 minutes.

Meanwhile, make scape pesto. Cut remaining scapes into 2-inch lengths. Pile 1 cup scapes and all remaining ingredients — the 6 tablespoons oil, the basil, zest, juice and Parmesan into food processor bowl. Sprinkle in 1/2 teaspoon salt. Swirl completely smooth, for 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl. Taste and add salt if needed. (Makes about 1 cup pesto.)

When chicken is done, remove it to a cutting board and slice thinly. Spread each of 4 plates with 2 to 3 tablespoons brilliant green pesto. Arrange chicken slices on top. Scrape remaining pesto into a bowl to serve alongside.

Makes 4 servings.

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Waning warmth warrants more cold-weather fare

A reprieve from summerlike temperatures in the forecast convinced me to plant my yard in tender annuals over the weekend.

Clouds and the possibility of rain showers similarly foreshadow a reprieve from warm-weather cooking. I always lament the high-summer hiatus from hearty soups and stews. With at least one more chance to stash away another quart of soup for emergency meals, I’m seriously considering this take on cream of potato that, given the absence of dairy, would freeze beautifully.

Chock-full of flavorful celery leaves, this also would be a fitting end for the celery in my garden that’s bound to bolt once warmer weather resumes. From the Washington Post, it came in a collection of recipes that also included the pesto featured with my latest column in A la Carte. Look for locally grown celery, with its bounty of leaves, at farmers markets.     

Photo by Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post

Potato and Celery Soup

2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons, extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 cup diced celery ribs, plus 2 cups loosely packed celery leaves ()

1 1/2 pounds yellow potatoes, such as Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed

Heat a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil and warm for a minute. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt; cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the garlic and diced celery; cook for 2 minutes, then add the potatoes, remaining teaspoon salt and the pepper, stirring to incorporate. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep potatoes from sticking to bottom of pot.

Add 4 cups water; once it comes almost to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or just until potatoes have begun to break down and thicken soup but are still holding their shape. Stir in the celery leaves; cook for 5 minutes, then turn off heat.

Cover and let soup rest for 5 minutes before serving; taste, and add pepper as needed.

Makes 4 servings (about 6 cups).

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Grain, lentil salad stands out at picnics, potlucks

Luxuriant leaves distinguishing the celery plants in my garden inspired this week’s food section column.

Any lush, leafy green can form the foundation for delicious pesto, augmented with a wide variety of nuts, acid and other additions. My column encouraged thinking outside the box and experimenting with globally inspired flavors. Celery leaf and pistachio pesto was the column’s featured recipe, one I borrowed from the Washington Post.

Post food writer Emily C. Horton advocated purchasing locally grown celery for its predictably pronounced flavor and many times more leaves than grocery-store counterparts. Find such celery at farmers markets, if you don’t grow your own.

If you can’t track down locally grown celery to dice for this salad, it’s still a worthwhile recipe for its uncommon ingredients and spicy-zesty dressing. Featuring emmer, a type of farro, and Puy lentils, which I love in salads, this is guaranteed to stand out at summer potlucks and picnics. It also would be a hearty traveler in warm weather and pair beautifully with the grilled lamb chops from this blog’s previous post.

Find emmer, an heirloom hulled-wheat grain, at natural and organic food stores or substitute wheat berries. The lentils can be omitted or swapped for cooked chickpeas or white beans.

Photo by Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post

Emmer, Lentil and Celery Salad With Lemon-Cumin Dressing

1 cup whole emmer (may substitute wheat berries)

3/4 cup dried green French du Puy lentils or brown Spanish Pardina lentils

2 cups diced celery ribs

1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced

1/4 cup finely diced onion

2/3 cup chopped parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted, then ground (see NOTES)

1 large garlic clove, peeled and pounded into a paste, or minced

1 to 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or Marash red-pepper flakes

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unhulled sesame seeds, toasted (see NOTES)

1 (4-ounce) block good-quality feta cheese (optional)

Place the emmer in a medium, heavy pot. Cover with water by 2 inches; bring to just below a boil over medium heat; partially cover and cook for 35 to 45 minutes, until emmer is just tender but still chewy. (Wheat berries might cook for 50 to 60 minutes before becoming tender.) Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain completely; once emmer is completely dry, transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, place the lentils in a medium, heavy pot. Cover with water by 2 inches; bring to just below a boil over medium heat, then partially cover and cook over medium heat, until lentils are barely tender, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and allow lentils to cool in their cooking liquid. Drain thoroughly, then transfer them to bowl with cooked emmer, along with the celery, poblano pepper, onion and parsley.

Combine the salt and lemon juice in a small bowl, stirring until salt has dissolved. Whisk in the oil until emulsified, then add the cumin, garlic and red-pepper flakes to form a dressing.

Pour over bowl of emmer mixture, tossing until well-coated. Add half of the toasted sesame seeds, then toss salad again. Garnish with remaining sesame seeds.

Divide among individual plates; crumble 1 ounce of feta cheese, if using, over each portion. Serve right away.

Makes 4 servings (about 6 cups).

NOTES: Toast the cumin seed in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely, then grind into a coarse powder in a dedicated spice grinder.

Toast the sesame seeds in small, dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, shaking pan as needed to avoid scorching, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely before using.

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Grill lamb loin chops like mini porterhouse steaks

The Whole Dish podcast: Reverse-sear method ensures even medium-rare doneness

“It’s time to take another look at lamb.”

The headline posted a few days after Easter — an occasion when many newspaper readers may take note — came late to the sustainable and eat-local-food party. Make that about a decade late.

Anyone who’s followed this blog knows that lamb is mentioned on a fairly regular basis as one of my family’s go-to meats, obtained from local 4-H clubbers. Over the past decade, I’ve found myself evangelizing less frequently and instead cheerleading when people tell me they’ve recently come around to long-snubbed lamb.

Such was the case with friends who recently remarked that they just purchased their first whole lamb from a local source and they couldn’t believe how good it was. Indeed, now go out and spread the word!

That was the tone of a Washington Post story that ran in the April 24 edition of A la Carte (see the e-edition). Lamb is affordable for feeding a crowd, more forgiving than a turkey and globally embraced by just about every culinary tradition, save for the American mainstream.

Food writers across the country are echoing the same sentiments. The Detroit Free Press recently pointed out that lamb loin chops come in value packs at warehouse stores and are an entry point for the reverse-sear method that’s become a popular preparation for beef steaks. The 4-ounce loin chops are essentially a miniature version of the porterhouse steak and should be cooked accordingly (never beyond medium). Choosing thicker chops (about 2 inches) guards against overcooking.

Because lamb loin chops are small, they can be marinated in a narrow window prior to cooking, as little as an hour beforehand and up to overnight. Recipe testers for the Free Press cited about three hours as plenty of time.

Like this blog’s previous post featuring Argentinian-style beef kebabs, this straightforward but flavorful recipe is one to add to your grilling-season repertoire. Play up loin chops’ resemblance to the porterhouse by cutting the meat from the bone and serving it alongside, perhaps with a drizzle of balsamic reduction or the kebab recipe’s chimichurri.

Tribune News Service

Garlic, Rosemary and Thyme Marinated Lamb Chops

2 pounds lamb loin chops, about 10

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 heaping tablespoon fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Juice of one lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Rosemary sprigs, for garnish

Balsamic glaze, for garnish (optional)

Place the lamb in a dish. Set aside. In a glass measuring cup, combine the garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Whisk to combine.

Pour marinade over lamb chops. Turn chops over to cover them completely. Cover dish with plastic wrap, refrigerate and marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Remove and uncover lamb about 1 hour before you are ready to grill.

Preheat grill to low-medium heat — about 300 F. You are going to cook chops at low heat first, then sear them over high heat.

Place lamb chops on grill. Close lid and grill for about 10 minutes or until chops reach an internal temperature of about 110 F. Increase heat on another side of grill to high. Move lamb chops over to the hotter side of grill and sear on each side for about 2 minutes, just so you get a nice crust on them. For medium-rare, internal temperature will be about 130 F. Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Place lamb chops on a platter, garnish with the rosemary sprigs and serve with the optional balsamic glaze.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from www.delishdlites.com.

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Red chimichurri is an earthy counterpart to green

“Red or green?” The answer isn’t just a choice between New Mexico’s favorite chili sauces.

Chimichurri, the ubiquitous condiment of Argentina, also comes in two contrasting hues. Eminently herbaceous, green chimichurri brightens up all manner of grilled meats.

Earthy red chimichurri goes lighter on the herbal bouquet and broadens its appeal beyond meat to roasted vegetables, baked potatoes, omelets, cooked pasta, even for dunking grilled-cheese sandwiches, according to a recent story by Chicago Tribune writer JeanMarie Brownson.      

This week’s Mail Tribune food section (see the e-edition) features steaks with green chimichurri, making Brownson’s red counterpart a natural post to this blog. It’s also a technique to adopt in the run-up to grilling season, perhaps whetting the appetite with these broiled beef kebabs. I’d make them with chunks of locally raised lamb that my family purchases every spring. Either meat effortlessly translates from the broiler to charcoal or gas grill.

Chimichurri keeps for a week or more in the refrigerator. Poaching the garlic first takes some of the bite out of it.

Tribune News Service photo

Smoky Red Chimichurri Sauce

6 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 large shallots, peeled, very finely chopped and well-rinsed

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

1/4 cup finely chopped, fresh parsley or cilantro (or a combination)

1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika

1 teaspoon sweet ground red chili, such as New Mexico powder

Scant 3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch crushed red-pepper flakes

Put the garlic into a small microwave-safe dish. Cover with water. Microwave on high, for 1 1/2 minutes. Drain; cool.

Crush garlic in a press or chop finely. In a small bowl, mix garlic with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

Tribune News Service photo

Beef Kebabs With Peppers, Mushrooms and Red Chimichurri

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1/2 teaspoon each: cracked black pepper, ground cumin, salt

1/4 teaspoon ground red chili, such as New Mexico chili or cayenne if you like it hot

1 1/2 pounds boneless beef tenderloin or beef sirloin, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (24 pieces)

12 whole cremini mushrooms, wiped clean

2 red, orange or yellow bell peppers (or a combination), cored, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, for garnish

Smoky red chimichurri sauce, for serving, see above recipe

For marinade, combine in a small bowl the oil, vinegar, garlic, pepper, cumin, salt and red chili. Stir until salt is dissolved.

For each skewer, alternately thread 4 pieces of the beef, 2 of the mushrooms and 3 pieces of the bell pepper onto each skewer. Put prepared skewers onto a foil-lined baking sheet.

Spoon marinade over kebabs on all sides. Let kebabs stand at room temperature, for 30 minutes. Or refrigerate, covered, for up to several hours until ready to cook.

Position broiler rack 6 inches from heat source. Heat broiler to high. Broil kebabs, 6 inches from heat source, for 3 minutes. Gently flip kebabs; broil until beef is medium-rare, for about 3 minutes more.

Transfer skewers to a serving platter. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Serve hot with the red chimichurri sauce.

Makes 6 kebabs.

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Buoy bland fish with acidic peppers, tomatoes

Oven-roasting in the style of so-called “sheet-pan suppers” is a method suited to any number of vegetables.

Broccoli, snow peas, carrots and zucchini all were suggested as accompaniments to broiled salmon in this blog’s previous post. Flexibility based on the seasonality of vegetables is just one reason to simply roast them alongside meat or fish. Flexibility in repurposing leftovers is another.

When a peak-season piece of produce constitutes meal after meal, however, it’s nice to experiment with a variety of preparations. Asparagus I’ve roasted plenty, including last week with a halibut steak and fingerling potatoes. The following recipe is very similar in concept, including the zesty sauce that brings a welcome acidic element to the fish.

A simple mixture of canned, diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, apple-cider vinegar and chopped capers smothered my halibut. It wasn’t just to add flavor; it was a move to improve the fish’s overall flavor, masking any off taste from having been in the freezer in a vacuum bag that hadn’t sealed entirely.

The last-minute maneuver, when I realized that the fish wasn’t as pristine as I’d hoped, worked well and garnered some appreciative comments from my family. Tomatoes go surprisingly well with asparagus, as do bell peppers.

Although strictly speaking not in season, the quality of store-bought bell peppers is consistent year-round. But jarred roasted peppers could be substituted here, or canned tomatoes for that matter.        

Tribune News Service photo

Broiled Mahi-Mahi With Asparagus and Red Pepper Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large red bell pepper, cored and chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 shallot, peeled and sliced

4 sprigs thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar, plus more to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 mahi-mahi or red snapper fillets (about 5 to 6 ounces each)

2 bunches thin asparagus, trimmed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven broiler. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, garlic, shallot, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until bell pepper is tender, for 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of the pan; cook until mostly evaporated, for about 1 minute. Add the heavy cream and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, for about 2 minutes; discard thyme. Transfer mixture to a blender and puree; season with the salt and pepper and add up to 1 more teaspoon vinegar, if needed.

Place the fish on a sided baking sheet. Rub fish fillets with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over the asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Broil fish at least 6 inches from heat source, for about 5 minutes. Add asparagus to same baking sheet opposite fish; broil for 5 minutes. Remove from broiler.

Spoon pepper sauce onto plates. Top with fish and asparagus; sprinkle with the parsley.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from the Food Network Magazine, September 2018 issue.

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Simple roasted fish makes for flexible leftovers

Forming bits of leftover roast halibut and potatoes into croquettes, I was reminded of why I love sheet-pan suppers.

Call them croquettes, fish cakes or patties, these were the obvious way to recast leftovers from a halibut steak I had roasted several nights ago with fingerling potatoes, a few small Brussels sprouts and asparagus spears. I combined the flaked fish and small-diced potatoes with leftover gremolata, bound with a beaten egg, then coated the patties in panko for a flavor and texture that rivaled crab cakes. 

Heralding dinner prepared on a single sheet pan admittedly smacks of touting slow cooker and multi-cooker meals as something magical. But I do appreciate the minimal cleanup from dinner and the way that ingredients can mingle a bit but still retain their individuality. That way I can devise a completely new meal from what we don’t eat the first time around, instead of dishing up servings of the same casserole more than once in the same week.

In that vein, recipe testers for the Detroit Free Press advocated putting this leftover roast salmon onto a green salad. The roasted vegetables could be tossed into pasta or couscous. The recipe is a great starting point for delving into so-called sheet-pan suppers and almost foolproof, so long as the salmon isn’t overcooked. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the fillet should register 130 F as the ideal doneness.        

Tribune News Service photo

Soy-Glazed Salmon With Veggies and Citrus

3 tablespoons light-brown sugar

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for drizzling on vegetables

1 pound center-cut salmon fillet, cut into 3 to 4 pieces (have your fishmonger do this for you) with skin

1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into quarters

2 to 4 cups vegetables of choice in pieces (broccoli, snow peas, carrots, zucchini)

Salt and pepper (optional)

1 mandarin orange, peeled, segmented and diced

1 scallion, trimmed and sliced (optional)

Preheat the broiler to low. Line a sided baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Use paper towel to pat salmon steaks dry; place to one side of the baking sheet.

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, tamari and oil. Drizzle about half of soy mixture over the salmon fillets. Place the onion and other vegetables on baking sheet opposite salmon, drizzle with some oil and, if you like, season with salt and pepper.

Broil for about 10 minutes or until salmon is cooked through. Remove from oven and drizzle some remaining soy mixture and let rest for about 2 minutes before transferring to plates.

To serve, slide a spatula between skin and salmon and transfer to a plate. Arrange vegetables on plate and top salmon with diced mandarin. Garnish with scallion slices. Once plated, spoon any additional pan juices over salmon and vegetables if desired.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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Deviled ham can entertain numerous variations

The Whole Dish podcast: Try these tips for perfecting your favorite sandwich

Taking my family’s Easter meal into the great outdoors let me off the hook for roasting a huge ham or laying a hearty brunch spread.

Nevertheless, our picnic had to be a little fancy and still stick with us for a day of egg hunting, followed by boating and fishing. To the de rigueur deviled eggs, I added cold, cooked chicken on the bone, my family’s favorite “savory puffs,” whole strawberries, ripe pineapple and ham sandwiches.

But these weren’t just any ham sandwiches. I love making deviled ham with the leftover Easter roast, and because leftovers of that variety weren’t in store this year, I purchased an all-natural Applegate brand ham steak, which was quickly dispatched into bits in my food processor.

There’s no big trick to deviled ham, of course. It can basically be mixed up with the same seasonings and condiments as deviled eggs before spreading onto bread. The simple format encourages variation, in fact, according to cooks’ tastes.

To my mixture, I added some prepared horseradish and fresh, snipped chives. I omitted the red onion and hot sauce listed in the recipe below to accommodate my kids’ tastes. I’m of the ilk who prefers a nicely homogenous, soft sandwich filling devoid of ingredients that make for a distracting crunch, which I’ll take on the side. In this case, however, a few radish microgreens added a spicy note, and I could assemble my kids’ sandwiches without them  

And although I love mayonnaise, I erred on the side of making the mixture drier so it wouldn’t ooze out during transport. To shore up the integrity of the white sandwich bread (crusts cut off), I spread one side with butter.

Try these variations with your leftover Easter ham, keeping them interesting all week, perhaps, with a different combination each day.

Tribune News Service photo

Deviled Ham

1 pound cooked ham, cut into bite-size pieces and minced in a food processor

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 small onion, peeled and cut into small dice

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 to 2 teaspoons paprika

1/2 cup mayonnaise, or to taste

Hot sauce, as needed

Salt, as needed

Black pepper, as needed

Combine the first five ingredients.

Add the mayonnaise a little at a time until you achieve desired consistency.

Add the hot sauce to desired strength.

Season and chill for one hour before serving.

Makes about 4 sandwiches.

VARIATIONS:

1. Swap part of the mayo for sour cream, creme fraiche or cream cheese.

2. Use a different mustard, like spicy Creole mustard.

3. Use green or red onions instead of white.

4. Add a tablespoon or two of pickle relish.

5. A clove or two of minced garlic never hurt anyone.

6. Try a squeeze of lemon juice or a spill of vinegar of your choice.

7. Add another veg, like a small dice of celery or carrot.

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Gluten-free noodles essential in this Korean dish

The Whole Dish podcast: Classic Korean noodles can be adapted to any taste

Carbs, carbs … I confessed to my almost constant craving for them in this blog’s previous post. And I’m not talking about just any carbs. Noodles, specifically, never wear out their welcome.

While plain, old wheat constitutes my go-to noodle, rice, soba, mung bean and other gluten-free alternatives are better than going without noodles. Recently, I came across a noodle that’s no mere gluten-free substitute but rather the essential ingredient in a beloved Korean dish.

Sweet-potato starch is the chief ingredient in “dangmyeon,” a brownish, translucent noodle that I selected on the Asian foods aisle of Fred Meyer when I couldn’t find soba. Although both are brown, the similarity stops there. Chewy, nutty Japanese soba is made primarily of buckwheat flour. Sweet-potato noodles, on the other hand, are slippery and slightly gelatinous, a textural delight in many Asian countries and a treat on my palate.

Preparing dangmyeon with my favorite scallion sauce, some sautéed oyster mushrooms and ribbons of egg crepe, I was so impressed that I decided to keep them in my regular noodle rotation. But they were nowhere to be found at my usual store, Food 4 Less in Medford.

I have to imagine that the growing demand for all things gluten-free would recommend sweet-potato starch to many customers, so I mentioned dangmyeon to one of the store’s managers. It’s not such a stretch, given that Food 4 Less already carries the Korean fermented pepper paste gochujang. 

I still haven’t seen dangmyeon in stock, but I know where to find them should I grow weary of waiting. When I get my hands on them again, I’ll make a point to prepare japchae, among Korea’s most iconic dishes. I recall it from a my childhood frequenting a popular Asian restaurant in Coos Bay, where noodle lover that I am, I was deterred by so many onions and bell peppers on the plate.    

This version from the Chicago Tribune also calls for onions and bell peppers but easily could be adapted to personal preference, even made vegetarian with tofu. The strips of omelet really make the dish. If, like me, you prefer lots of noodles, double the amount called for here.

Tribune News Service photo

Japchae

Marinade:

5 ounces tender beef (rib-eye, flank, or tenderloin), cut into 2-inch strips

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) ground black pepper, plus more as needed

Noodles:

5 ounces dangmyeon (Korean sweet potato starch noodles)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds (toasted)

1/2 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

4 ounces spinach

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided, plus more if needed

2 eggs, beaten

1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced (julienne)

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into thin strips (julienne)

1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced into thin strips (julienne)

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

5 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps cut into 1/4-inch strips, stems discarded

2 scallions, trimmed and cut on a bias

Combine the beef with the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate, refrigerated, for 15 minutes. Remove beef, reserving marinade and holding in separate containers.

Add the noodles to a large bowl of warm water and allow to soften, for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain noodles, rinse with cold water and drain well. Toss noodles with the sesame seeds, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil; set aside.

In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch the spinach until wilted, for about 45 seconds; remove and shock in an ice bath. When cool, squeeze water from spinach and set aside.

Place a large, nonstick pan over high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Add the beaten eggs; swirl to cover bottom of pan. Cook until underside is set, for about 1 minute. Flip over; cook until set through, for about 1 minute. Remove from pan; when cool, cut into julienne strips and set aside.

In a large saute pan or wok, add remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Stir-fry the onions, carrots and bell pepper until tender-crisp, for about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; remove and set aside.

Add marinated beef and the shiitake mushrooms to pan; stir-fry until cooked through, for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and reserve.

Add additional oil if needed, then add seasoned noodles. If more moisture is desired, add reserved beef marinade. Stir-fry until hot, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add all reserved ingredients; stir-fry until hot throughout, for 1 to 2 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed. Garnish with the scallions; serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.                  

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Meager ingredients can make for a magical meal

Almost apologetically, I listed dry pasta — of any and all types — among pantry essentials in my most recent column and podcast.

It’s that persistent persecution, that dogmatic demonization, of carbohydrates that gives me reason to second-guess my recommendation. And then I always come around to the inevitable: Why?

Sure, pasta isn’t as wholesome as eating a whole grain. But it fills my stomach much more quickly when I haven’t planned ahead. Heck, sometimes I purposely skip a more nutritious meal made for my kids to wait until they’re in bed when I can kick back with a big plate of pasta and glass of red wine.

Carbonara, richly flavored with pork fat and egg, is a go-to. In the summer, it’s spaghetti, linguine or angel hair tossed with sun-warmed tomatoes and barely sautéed garlic, maybe a few shreds of basil. Nothing complicated for my palate’s purest of pleasures.

Even in the leanest of times, I can at least count on a rind of Parmesan in the fridge, maybe pecorino or asiago, too. And when I can only muster the barest effort to put pasta on a plate, there’s cacio e pepe, Rome’s signature spin on spaghetti.

Make no mistake: This is not cooked noodles topped with oil and grated cheese. This is an alchemical emulsion of oil and starch suspending the toasted pepper fragments. The technique conjures a sauce from the cheese, rather than leaving it stubbornly clinging to the pasta and sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl.

This is how meager ingredients become a magical meal. Particularly with a glass of red wine.  

Tribune News Service photo

Cacio e Pepe

6 ounces dry spaghetti

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons freshly, coarsely ground black pepper

3/4 cup freshly, finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/3 cup freshly, finely grated pecorino

Heat a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Stir in the spaghetti, lower heat a bit and cook until almost tender-but-firm (say, 1 minute less than the package suggests). While pasta is cooking, set a large serving bowl over pot to warm for a minute or two. Scoop out 1 cup cooking water. Drain pasta.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Scatter in the pepper and toast, swirling pan, until fragrant, for about 30 seconds. Careful of spatter, pour in 1/2 cup cooking water, boil for 1 minute. Slide in cooked spaghetti and toss with tongs to coat each strand.

Heap pasta into warmed bowl. Sprinkle on half the cheese; toss. Sprinkle on remaining cheese and toss until pasta is coated in creamy sauce, drizzling in a little more cooking water, if needed. Cover and let rest for 1 minute. Toss. Taste for salt (it won’t need much). Twirl a nest of pasta onto each of 2 plates. Enjoy.

Makes 2 servings.

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