Last night was #testkitchen, the Tuesday night every two weeks when I get together with friends to develop new recipes. My husband, Jason, is always there, as is friend and photographer Matt Hocking. Marianne Tshihamba, amazing cook and food personality, has become a regular and one of my most valued collaborators in the kitchen, as have friends turned neighbors Peter and Andrew.
Last night we filled the house with friends, nine of us in total, and the fridge with farm-fresh ingredients and got cooking. The first ingredient up was farm-fresh asparagus harvested that morning by the folks at Walnut Hill Farm Produce in Colonial Beach, VA (thanks!). If you’ve never eaten fresh asparagus before go get some. Right now.
All vegetables have sugars, and once harvested those sugars begin to convert to starches. We know corn sugars are unstable and quickly convert to starch, which is why we buy and eat the freshest corn we can get, but asparagus is also unstable. After 3 hours at 80 degrees about 50% of the sugars in asparagus will convert to starch. This doesn’t bode well for that asparagus shipped from Mexico.
Back to #testkitchen: I was thinking Greek, which resulted in a lemony Hollandaise with dill and fried capers (more on that in another post) but photographer Matt asked about a tahini dressing. Intrigued I started with a method I had read just that morning (thanks for the post Daniel Birnbaum) for pulsing garlic with lemon and adding the liquid to tahini. We tasted the garlic afterwards and it truly does prevent the development of sharp flavors, leaving it mild and pungent. Marianne did an amazing job shaving asparagus with a vegetable peeler with absolutely no waste. We cooked it quickly with garlic in a bit of olive oil, tossed it with cooked soba noodles and finished it with the tahini sauce and some raisin-y Urfa pepper.
It was amazing. I want more. right. now. Here’s the recipe, and remember. This was all Matt’s idea.
Shaved Asparagus and Soba Noodles in Tahini Sauce
This recipe is all about the prep. Once your noodles are cooked, your asparagus shaved and your tahini sauce made you’ve got 5 minutes of work to go.
- 1/2 lb soba noodles or whole wheat spaghetti
- 1 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 1 lb asparagus, stalks about as thick as your pinky finger rather than pencil thin are better for this
- 1/2 half head of garlic, cloves peeled plus 2 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 tbs Urfa or Guajillo pepper*
*What’s Urfa pepper (or Guajillo for that matter)? Here’s a great article from Food and Wine with the full deets but it’s a sun-dried Turkish pepper with sweet raisiny taste and just a little heat. You can find these unusual ingredients online. I’m a big fan of North Market Spices and Bazaar Spices.
- Place soba noodles in a large soup pot and cover with lots of water. Place over high heat, partially covered, and bring to a boil. When pasta is tender, reserve 1 cup cooking liquid, drain pasta, and rinse with cold water. (I know this is a cardinal sin with Italian pasta, but it’s what you do with most Asian pastas.)
- Place sesame seeds in a 10″ skillet over medium heat. Cook until toasted to a light brown, about 5-6 minutes. Watch them very carefully and toss or stir often. They burn easily. As soon as they are toasted remove them immediately from the pan and let them cool.
- Combine lemon juice and all but the 2 minced cloves of garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 8-10 times. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much juice as possible.
- Rinse and dry the bowl of your food processor. Add the toasted sesame seeds and turn on letting them process until they become a paste, like smooth peanut butter. Add the lemon juice mixture and process again. Add the pasta cooking water, 1 tbs at a time, until the sauce drizzles thickly from a spoon.
- Shave the asparagus lengthwise using a vegetable peeler. Marianne did this amazing thing with draping the asparagus down from her hand over her wrist and was able to slice it all thinly. It takes practice. Don’t worry if you have a little waste. Save it for a pot of asparagus soup.
- Warm the olive oil in the pasta cooking pot over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the asparagus and cook, tossing frequently, until just tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add the pasta and toss to warm through. Dress with the tahini sauce adding additional pasta cooking liquid if it thickens up.
- Serve pasta sprinkled with ground Urfa pepper.