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Szechuan Noodles

January 6, 2011

In my mind, Ina Garten can do no wrong. The Barefoot Contessa’s recipes are just too good. I would make (and eat) them all the time. But the majority of Ina’s recipes are loaded with cheese. And cream. And butter. In other words, not recipes that I should be making (and eating) everyday. Especially so soon after New Year’s resolutions and holiday over-indulgence.

This recipe for “Szechuan Noodles” is adapted from Ina Garten. But the good news is that it doesn’t have any cheese, cream, or (regular) butter. Sure, it’s got peanut butter, tahini, and sesame oil (not heath foods, for sure). But it’s also full of veggies and, if you go easy on the sauce (more on this below), it’s not at all bad for you. Plus ,the noodles make this dish hearty enough to satisfy a hungry, post-gym tummy—it is the time of year for resolutions, after all, as evidenced by the hoards of never-before-seen people that have appeared at the gym this week. I guess we’re all trying to work off the ungodly amounts of pie and cookies consumed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

But the best thing about these noodles is the sheer amount of sauce that the recipe makes. Seriously. Lots and lots of sauce. I’m not totally sure what Ina was thinking here regarding proportions. But these noodles literally use only a fraction of sauce that the recipe makes. Why is this a good think, you ask?

First, you’ll have enough extra sauce to make this meal twice over, and the sauce freezes quite well. Just put it in a sealed container, place in the freezer, and—since the dish is incredibly quick and easy to throw together once the sauce is made—you’ll have a yummy weeknight meal on hand that you can throw together (literally) in a manner of minutes. Brilliant.

Second, this sauce is just plain delicious, and works very well in other dishes. I’ve got a very tasty lunch recipe featuring this sauce that I’ll post later this week. In other words, Szechuan Noodles tonight = a yummy lunch later in the week that you can easily pack and bring to work. Once again, brilliant. Thanks for the inspiration, Ina.

SZECHUAN NOODLES

I used dried udon noodles here. But you could really substitute just about any kind of long, thin noodle—soba noodles, Chinese egg noodles, or even spaghetti. My only recommendation here is that you use dried (not fresh noodles) as they hold up better to the sauce; fresh noodles will get a little too mushy in the sauce. Also worth noting: this dish is easily adaptable—swap in different veggies or add in some pan-fried tofu. Both would be tasty.

Adapted from Ina Garten

Serves 3-4 as a main

Total time: 30 minutes

3-4 garlic cloves
2-3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1/4 cup light tasting olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup low sodium tamari (or regular soy sauce)
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 oz. dried Asian-style noodles (udon, soba, or egg)
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
1 bunch broccoli rabe (or regular broccoli)
Cilantro (for garnish—chives or scallions would also work well here)

Make the sauce.* Toss the garlic and ginger in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and process until chopped (see photo). Add the tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, sherry, sherry vinegar, honey, chili oil, sesame oil, cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes. Puree the sauce until combined. Finally, slowly drizzle the olive or vegetable oil in until the sauce is smooth.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the noodles according to the package instructions.  2-3 minutes before the noodles are done cooking, add the broccoli rabe to the pot along with the noodles (this will cook them just to the point where they are crisp-tender). Drain the noodles and broccoli rabe in a colander, place in a large bowl, and along with the bell peppers, toss with 1/2 cup of the sauce. At this point, try the noodles, and see if you want to add any more sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature. Reserve the remaining sauce for another use.

* Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients for this sauce—it actually comes together very quickly, and you probably have most of the ingredients on hand in your pantry (if not, don’t worry—once you’ve got them, you’ll find lots of uses for things like tahini, sherry, or sherry vinegar, so they’re good to have on-hand).

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