Last week, Alex told me he thinks of Mark Bittman as the food world’s mad scientist, and as soon as he said it, I realized how much I loved the image: Bittman, genius of simple but delicious culinary combinations, mixing and shaking and furiously sautéeing, pausing to consider something deeply for just a moment, and then getting right back to topping pasta with a sauce made of nuts and pairing fresh summer tomatoes with, well, a hot pan.
Today’s recipe–which happens to be vegan and gluten-free because sometimes that’s just how I roll–comes from the pages of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, though it’s been subject to my own version of the mad kitchen scientist role, which I play pretty much daily in my little Prospect Heights kitchen.
Basically, in an epic riff on Bittman’s Pasta with Almond Butter on page 455, I turn a third of a cup of cashews into a creamy, ginger-spiked sauce for pasta. After tossing that with pad thai-sized rice noodles, I follow Mr. B’s approach to searing both tomatoes and scallions, only instead of serving the caramelized, soy sauce-seasoned veggies as a room-temperature salad as he does on page 60, I use them as a topping for my cashew noodles, transforming the mismatched elements into a noodle bowl of love, which is another way of saying that I practice alchemy, as I suppose any mad scientist should.
Do you own any of Mark Bittman’s books (maybe Food Matters?)? And do you find them as inspiring as I do?
Rice Noodle Bowls with Cashew Sauce and Seared Tomatoes
Serves 2, with leftovers
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
8 ounces rice noodles
Extra cashews, for garnish
For the nut sauce:
1/4 cup safflower or other neutral oil
1 heaping tablespoon fresh minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup cashews (I used raw, but you can use roasted for a slightly different effect)
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the tomato and scallion topping:
3 tablespoons neutral oil
1 bunch scallions in 2-inch lengths
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles. Add a hefty pinch of salt, then add the noodles. Cook for 2 minutes, until soft. (If your rice noodles come with wildly different directions, follow those.) Reserve 1 cup of noodle cooking water and drain the rest. Run a bit of cold water over the noodles to get rid of some of the starch, then set aside.
First, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and cashews and cool for 3-4 minutes, until both ginger and garlic are slightly golden (don’t let them harden though), and the cashews have begun to brown as well. Transfer to a mini food processor and let cool until you can easily handle.
When cool, add the salt and a pinch of cayenne, and pulse the nut mixture until it begins to turn into a paste. Add up to 4 tablespoons of pasta cooking water or oil, or a combination, until the consistency of the sauce is just thinner than peanut butter.
Wipe out the pan you cooked the cashews in. Place it over high heat and add in 1 tablespoon of oil. Let it get quite hot, then add the scallions. Cook, stirring only occasionally to let the scallions brown, for about 2 minutes. Scallions should be wilted and fragrant. Scoop onto a bowl.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and let the oil get quite hot again. Add as many tomato quarters as will fit in one not-too-squished layer (you may need to do this in two batches), and let them cook undisturbed, until softened and golden, about 2 minutes. Flip the tomatoes and cook them for another two minutes. Toward stehe end of cooking time, sprinkle them with the sugar. Transfer to the plate with the scallions and sprinkle the veggies with the soy sauce and sesame oil.
In a large bowl, toss the noodles with the cashew sauce, adding more of the reserved pasta water as needed to help the sauce coat the noodles. Taste for salt and sprinkle on some more if you’d like.
Scoop generous portions of the noodles into bowls. Top with a couple tomato squares, some scallions, and garnish with a few extra cashews. Serve warm or room temperature.