“Asian Greens & The Blues”
20 ~ 30 minutes start to plate ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥
20 ~ 30 minutes start to plate
¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥
2 healthy adults
2 healthy adults
Cooking may not have been a necessary part of your life up to this point. Maybe you’ve just moved out of your parents’ basement, or perhaps you have lived on takeout up till now. Possibly you were even raised by wolves. On the other side of the coin, you may be a closet Ferran Adrià whom travels the world with a vacuum sealer because you can’t go a week with out a sneaky sous-vide for one. Whichever is true for you, or where you sit on the spectrum between, it is useful to have some easy, go-to dishes that you can whip up with a minimum of time and effort. Furthermore, whoever you are, we all need the sensory relief that only comfort food can bring, from time to time to keep the blues at bay.
If you were not born and raised in Japan, I guarantee that living here will force changes in your diet and culinary palate. I want to state quite clearly that I don’t mean this in a bad way overall. It can be frustrating that many foreign food items are heavily taxed to keep their prices in line with their domestic counterparts. The upside in that is that Japan has good produce. You may just have to do without a few things and learn to replace others. This learning process has a lot of good flow-on effects. My goal for this column is to highlight that great dishes can be easily augmented with Japanese ingredients with great results and minimal effort.
As a working hypothesis, I think it is pretty safe to say that if you think you can learn something from the cuisine of a country, then you stand to learn even more from the constituent raw ingredients. I am not going to delve pseudo-anthropology, as that discussion gets long and involved and, to my mind, simpler paradigms exist. Take the ubiquitous sushi and how it relates to geography. You get the idea that Japan is at once a country small enough that everyone has access to fish that is fresh enough to eat raw, that harvests spicy mountain roots and cultivates rice on the fertile land between. Coastlines, rice farms, mountains: That sounds like Japan to me.
Being so close to close to the Asian continent, Japan experiences huge swings in temperature and weather between the four distinct seasons. This has a flow-on effect to the crops that abound at different times of year and by extension their availability. Of course with a global economy and international transport, things that were never meant to be eaten out of season now are, but at what cost? That is a debate for another time. It is currently spring and there are a plethora of a green things shooting up from the ground and I don’t know about you but that makes me want to cook.
You’re here in Japan, or you will be, or you were, or whatever. The interest in what is special about this country already exists within you, or chances are you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Wherever you are food is one of the best ways to make friends and impress people. What more heartwarming beginning can you think of than “Here is something I love from my culture. I have mixed a little of your culture in there, too. What do you think?”
Blue Cheese Fettuccine With Garlic Chives and Asparagus
So I have taken a classic dish. Pared it back to its essential parts, added some season seasonal fare and then replaced two of the key ingredients with an Asian synonym. If I am totally honest, I would also say that this dish was shaped by leftovers from two salads I had made on preceding evenings. If I had bought all the ingredients on the same day, it possibly wouldn’t feel as cheap as it did to me on the day, because besides the greens it was made from things already in my refrigerator. If you too have stinky cheese that needs using and you’ve ever longed to learn to repurpose some of the multitude of greenery on offer here, this recipe is dedicated to you.
- 200 grams of good quality dried fettuccine (more if you’re hungry and of course fresh if you have it and in which case adjust pasta cooking time).
- 1 bunch of baby asparagus washed and cut lengthwise (as pictured) and with the bottom woody centimetre or so removed. A similar amount to the pasta, but no need whatsoever to be exact.
- 1 bunch of nira にら/韮 /Asian garlic-chives, rinsed and with just the very bottom few millimetres trimmed as they are sometimes slightly discoloured. In this recipe it has taken the place of both shallots and garlic.
- 75 grams of Gorgonzola or the best blue cheese you can get your hands on. Stilton of Roquefort would of course be great, but even a light Danish blue will suffice.
- 40 grams of sour cream (the Japanese variety tends to be incredibly thick and not very sour. This is what I used) or 40mls of heavy cream.
- 200 mls white wine. I believe in the adage that you shouldn’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink, but then I am happy to drink cheap white wine, so I am not sure exactly what I am advising.
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper to season.
- Optional crispy bacon, cooked in the oven on oven paper till it is as dark and crispy as you can bear to make it, with the idea that it will be crumbled on top.
You will need a large pot, a saucepan, a rubber scraper, a large sieve, tongs and a large kitchen spoon.
For the sauce:
- In a small heavy-based saucepan, reduce wine by half and remove from the heat. The heavy base should keep the sauce warm enough till needed.
- Cut two small slices of blue cheese for use as garnish later, then cube up the rest.
- With a rubber scraper stir sour cream and cubed cheese into the wine until a nearly smooth sauce, cover and leave somewhere warm.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the pasta
- Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add your pasta.
- Three minutes before the pasta should be ready add your asparagus to the same pot (of course you could have it cooked ahead of time, but that adds a step to the recipe and you’d need to think about how to keep it warm).
- Two minutes later add your garlic chives to the pot too and stir. Cook for one minute and carefully drain in a sieve over the sink.
- Return pasta, chives and asparagus to the still warm large pot, taking some time to disperse chives that may have clumped together.
- With the rubber scraper, add the sauce to the large pot and carefully mix the sauce through the pasta and greens.
- Plate by twisting the pasta with the tongs over a large kitchen spoon (or with a large carving fork if you have one, like an oversized version of how you may or may not eat spaghetti).
- Place the reserved cheese garnish on top and, if you like, crumble bacon on top.
Serve with more cracked pepper and a glass of white wine. The sauce should balance the creaminess of the dairy and tart of the wine. It may appear overly simple at first glance, however without the need to soften aromatics, there is no need to sauté anything whatsoever. It is always nice when you can remove steps. The final step is, if possible, to share the meal with good company, the choice of which is all yours.
Simon is a New Zealander who kept the good times going after finishing his five years as a JET in the far northeast of Hokkaido. As a culinary school graduate and chef, he has worked in the UK and NZ, though he rediscovered his passion for food in Japan's intimate eateries.