I’ve made variations on a traditional basil pesto before, but this one is a game changer. It makes a vibrant statement in appearance, flavor, and texture. It doesn’t feel like a minor adaptation, it’s a whole other animal while still playing the same role. The pesto manages to be both light enough for summer and rich enough for winter, with deep flavor and bright overtones. I can’t get over how paradoxical this dish is, so I hope you’ll excuse my superfluity. The luscious texture and umami anchor are strikingly indulgent while the luminous appearance and light vegetal flavor are staunchly refreshing.
One of my goals for the pesto was to maintain the dynamic green color of the spinach and cilantro, even when stored in the fridge or freezer for a while. If I added the greens to the blender first, they would be more vulnerable to browning when their leaves are torn and exposed to oxygen in the air. I borrowed Dave Arnold’s blender muddling cocktail technique from his invaluable Liquid Intelligence, subbing oil for the alcohol. The rationale is that by adding the oil first and blending the greens into it, they will have less exposure to ambient oxygen since they are more quickly incorporated into the oil.
As an added security measure, I also dissolved a pinch of ascorbic acid into the oil before adding the greens. Ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C, not to be confused with citric acid) is an antioxidant and helps prevent or delay enzymatic browning. I use it a lot in my purées and other food prep — try mixing some with water and spritzing on a cut avocado to keep it looking pristine. (According to Rabbi Eidlitz, and I believe the Stark-K as well, it is kosher without supervision, though the CRC says it needs a hechsher. I get mine here ) For a thorough treatment on browning and how to prevent it, check out the chapter “The Green and the Brown” in Harold McGee’s excellent The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore.
I think it worked. This was one of the most beautiful things I’d seen in a while. And it looked like this out of the freezer a couple months later, too.
I don’t know of any kosher fresh ramen, so you can substitute fresh udon or soba noodles or dried ramen, and to be honest, it would still be delicious on regular pasta. Instead, I chose to ramenize regular ol’ spaghetti by alkalizing it (i.e., making it more basic, the opposite of acidic). It’s the addition of alkaline salts to the dough in the form of kansui (or baking soda or baked baking soda) that gives ramen its yellow hue, distinctive eggy flavor, and a wonderful springy, texture that gives the perfect chew and stands up to a hot broth. See references at the end of this post for more reading on the subject.
If I’m not going to make noodles from scratch and add an alkaline element when making the dough, I can add least add it to dried noodles another way. I’ll never claim that ramenized pasta is as good as real ramen, but it’s a great trick to keep up your sleeve for when you’re out of instant ramen.
The first time I ramenized spaghetti, I boiled it in water with added baking soda following Daniel Gritzer’s approach. It worked, but the water foams up and out of the pot like crazy without careful attention so I looked for a more irie technique. For the second attempt, I followed Ideas in Food’s technique to alkalize the pasta in a preliminary hydration step. When we boil pasta, we’re actually accomplishing two things: hydrating and cooking. Alex and Aki at Ideas in Food realized that you can separate those steps by first soaking pasta in cold water to hydrate, and then boiling to cook (which actually takes less time when the pasta is pre-hydrated). That process is featured in their eponymous book which simply blows my mind with its creativity. To ramenize spaghetti, alkaline baking soda is added to the initial soaking water along with salt for flavor.
RAMENIZED SPAGHETTI WITH MISO SPINACH PESTO
RAMENIZED SPAGHETTI, from Ideas in Food
Note: You’ll need a scale to measure the ingredients by weight, and a wide container to soak the spaghetti without having to break them. Once hydrated, the noodles can be portioned and frozen after rinsing. When ready to use, drop frozen into boiling water and add a minute or two to the cook time.
- baking soda
- dry spaghetti
- Pour enough water to cover spaghetti into a wide container. Add 1.0% baking soda (10g per liter or kilogram of water) and 0.5% salt (5g per liter or kilogram of water). Dissolve with an immersion blender.
- Soak spaghetti in alkaline solution for 3 hours.
- Rinse off, boil for 1-2 minutes, and strain.
MISO SPINACH PESTO, adapted from Andy Baraghani in Bon Appetit.
Serves 2-4, feel free to double amounts for a crowd (or putting extra away in the freezer)
- ½ cup neutral flavored oil like canola, grapeseed, or sunflower
- 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- Pinch ascorbic acid/vitamin C (optional; do not confuse with citric acid)
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 2 cups cilantro leaves with tender stems
- 1 Tbsp. white miso
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- Kosher salt
- Add canola and sesame oils to blender and blend in a pinch of ascorbic acid, if using, to dissolve.
- Add spinach, cilantro, miso, garlic, and lemon juice and purée until mixture is smooth and very green.
- Season with salt, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter [or non-dairy substitute like Earth Balance], cut into small pieces
- Toasted sesame seeds, furikake, and/or sliced scallions (for serving)
- Warm pesto and pour into a bowl.
- Cook noodles. Drain and add to bowl with pesto.
- Add butter and toss until is melted and noodles are coated in sauce.
- Divide noodles between bowls and top with sesame seeds.