Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Soba, Meet Parmesan

DISH: Soba with Kale, Parmesan, and Walnut Sauce
TYPE: Craving For Fusion
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Soba, Nuts, Cheese

I’ve been thinking for a while about using soba noodles in an Italian-style dish. Though buckwheat isn’t hugely popular here, I do see it around: buckwheat pancakes and crepes on menus, buckwheat flour on grocery shelves, and kasha varnishkas, which I avoid at any buffet. But there was something about the nutty, grainy taste of soba that to me sounded like it would be perfectly complemented with Parmesan. However, I wasn’t about to grate cheese on my soy sauce, ginger, and sesame oil-flavored soba noodle salad.

I embarked on a course to make this dream meal happen approximately two months after I first thought of the combination. I don’t know what took me so long. But it took a lazy Sunday after a busy week filled with takeout, potlucks, and restaurant eating for me to start a pot of water boiling for soba and a frying pan warming to toast the walnuts, which I thought would accentuate the buckwheat taste and help to meld it with that of the cheese.

Soba noodles really do have a distinct flavor, one that perhaps gets muffled by my usual sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce, etc. And this kind of semi-Italian treatment brings that taste out. But don’t mistake this dish for anything traditional. Its meld of flavors and textures is probably somewhat different than most of the pasta dishes you cook from your pantry–at least, if you’re anything like me–which makes this wacky combo definitely worth a test run.
From my kitchen, practicing pasta fusion, to yours,


Soba Noodles with Kale and Walnut Sauce
Serves 2 or 1 with leftovers

I’ve become a huge fan of grapeseed oil recently–it’s far more neutral than canola or vegetable oil, and I find it imparts a glorious richness to dishes. But don’t worry if it’s not in your pantry. Just sub olive oil.

2 cups kale, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
5 ounces soba noodles
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 sage leaves
6 walnut halves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Bring both a large and a small pot of water to boil. Salt both, then add the kale to the small one. Cook for about 10 minutes, until it’s tender. Drain well and set aside. In the large pot, cook the soba according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Toss with 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil and set aside.

Over medium heat, warm the remaining tablespoon of the oil in a saucepan large enough to hold the soba. Add the walnuts and fry until they’re fragrant and golden. Scoop them onto a plate. When they’ve cooled off, chop them coarsely and add to the kale.

Turn the heat to low and add the garlic. Cook until just golden, then add a pinch of salt, the cayenne, and the kale/walnuts. Stir and cook until warm through, then add about 1/4 cup of the cooking water and the soba. Mix to distribute the kale, adding more cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Taste for salt, then add half of the Parmesan.

Serve immediately, topped with the remaining Parm and lots of fresh pepper.

  • Anonymous

    Can olive oil be substituted? What flavor does grapeseed have? btw I love all the ingredients in this dish-packed full of vitamins and flavor!

  • SeattleDee

    I love the soba/kale/walnut combo, but have to chuckle at the idea of grapeseed oil. Totally unrelated to cooking – grapeseed is used by commercial landscapers to discourage geese from messing about on lawns. Evidently geese find it bitterly distasteful – obviously NOT the case with humans and processed grapeseed oil.

    Now why did I feel the need to post that bit of trivia???? Anyway, I think I’ll try the recipe substituting olive oil.

  • ChefAimee

    I really like this unique combination and it seems you chose all the perfect flavors for the Italian concept of soba! Well done! :)

  • Large Pot

    I’ll post the same information to my blog, thanks for ideas and great article.

  • Molly

    I made this last night and it was so delicious.  I used way more walnuts than the recipe called for and was really pleased with the result.  The combination of flavors is outstanding. Can’t wait to go him and eat the leftovers.

  • Jess

    mildly off-topic, but have you ever had the soba salad from soba nippon in midtown?  it’s the most amazing buckwheat-related thing i have ever, ever had (and i’ve had a few).

  • Hillary

    sage and cayenne… interesting combo. love the kale soba idea, mmm.

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