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Friday, March 8, 2013

Asian Noodles Take a Trip to Italy

My wife is out town. I'm home alone and hungry. Since I work at the house, my routine is to write during the day and have dinner with my wife when she gets home from her office. Cooking our dinner gives shape to my day, since I plan the meal in the morning and do the prep when I'm taking breaks during the day.

Having dinner together is a fun part of the day. Over a meal with a salad, main course and a couple of side dishes, we have time to catch up.

Now I have to contemplate dinner for one and that's not as much fun.
Staring at the open refrigerator, considering what left-overs I could eat or what bits and pieces I could put together to make a meal (a farmers market Fuji apple with slices of comte cheese and bacon from breakfast), a different approach occurred to me.

Having grown up eating instant ramen, a cup of noodles is always the way to go when hunger strikes. But I'm a bit hesitant to go that route because of the high salt content and the predominance of chemical additives in the soup base. Happily, shopping at Asian markets, it's easy to see that ramen is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to easy-to-make noodles.
Even in mainstream supermarkets, if you look in the Asian foods section, you'll find packages of dried egg and rice noodles. Go to an Asian market and the selection will border on the comic with aisle after aisle of fresh and dried noodles. Costing two or three dollars, one package of Asian noodles will easily feed 4-6 people.
If you want, you can certainly prepare the noodles with Asian sauces and ingredients. Personally, I like to combine the noodles with braised meat or poultry and vegetables from our local farmers market. The result is a deliciously comforting Asian-Italian fusion.

I like the dish so much, when my wife comes home, I'll make a bowl for her.

Asian Noodles, Italian Style

Use raw meat and poultry or leftovers from another meal. For stock, home made is preferable to avoid the excessive amounts of sodium in canned versions. The dish can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the meat and poultry. Other vegetables can be added or substituted for the ones I used and, if you like heat, dust the braise with cayenne or a scattering of pepper flakes.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds uncooked deboned chicken, pork shoulder or top sirloin, washed, pat dried and thin sliced or use 1 1/2 pounds cooked chicken, pork or beef
1 medium yellow onion, washed, ends removed, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, root ends removed, finely chopped
6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed to remove dirt, thin sliced
2 carrots, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into rounds
2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, sliced into florets
4 cups kale leaves, washed, stems removed or spinach leaves, washed, roughly chopped
2 cups stock, chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian, preferably home made
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 1 pound of Asian noodles
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sweet butter (optional)

Directions

Heat a large pot with water. Bring to a boil. Unlike Italian pasta, Asian noodles do not require adding salt or oil to the water. Wait to add the noodles until the braise is finished because the drained noodles will congeal quickly.

In a large saucepan or chefs pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic and shiitake mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned.  If using uncooked chicken or meat, add now and cook until lightly browned.

Add the broccoli and kale and sauté until wilted. If using cooked chicken or meat, add along with the carrots and stock. Simmer 10 minutes until the carrots are tender.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt, pepper and (optional) the sweet butter. Reduce liquid to half by cooking another 5 minutes. Lower the flame.

Add the noodles to the boiling water and stir well using tongs or chop sticks to separate the noodles. Read directions for cooking time. Before draining, taste a noodle and confirm doneness. Drain.

Add the noodles to the braise and toss well to coat with the sauce.

Serve hot in bowls with chop sticks or on plates with forks and large spoons.

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