Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hot (Not)Peanut Pasta

Like Anna up north, we've been mighty cold and dreary here in Southcentral as well. After a whirlwind vacation outside which included a little cooking, and a lot of eating- an explanation-defying meal at Alinea may have been the highlight of my life- I was happy to tuck into my cabin with my sweetheart, listen to the rain, and make dinner.

I generally keep a well-stocked pantry, and have all the essentials for the Mediterranean-inspired meals that I cook almost every evening. Lately, I've been trying to expand my comfort zone a little and cook with more Asian flavors. This means keeping sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili pastes, coconut milk and oil, ginger and soy sauce on hand. It's a bit of an investment, but once I made it, cooking Asian-style dishes became more spontaneous, and that is generally how I like to cook. Anyway, that was a long way to say- hey! This french chef had all the ingredients on hand. 

All the essentials 

I started making the hot peanut sauce, and quickly realized that... I didn't have peanut butter. We alternate between peanut and other nutbutters in our house, and this month must have been an off month. No matter, though. I had a giant jar of almond butter from costco, and made the substitution, and corresponding title change.

One heck of a useful kitchen tool 

When making sauces that have raw garlic (guacamole comes to mind) I use my microplane to "mince" because I find the flavors blend a little better, and it takes the hard bite out of the taste of garlic. Since this sauce was only going to be heated at the last minute, I microplaned the garlic and the ginger.

The other woman in my relationship 

See this? This stuff on the spoon? If it weren't for laws against that sort of thing, I'm pretty sure my sweetheart would marry this chili paste. It's not Sriracha, it's another company that makes this "crushed chili garlic oil," and it is HOT HOT HOT. I decided to double the peanut sauce recipe so I'd have some leftover sauce to play with (this ended up being one of my better decisions of the week) but I didn't double the hot sauce. I knew that my sweetheart would probably dump another tablespoon into his pasta anyway. And then run away with the hot sauce and never come back. Ahem. 

 Blatant KitchenAid porn 
The ingredients went into mixer and were whipped up. I gave it a taste; the almond butter I'd used as the base had no added sugar, so the sauce tasted a little too much of soy. I added 4 tbs of sugar or so, and I think the sugar evened the flavors out nicely. It seemed to boost the heat as well. 

 Lovely veggies!

Making the sauce was the most time consuming part of the recipe. The second most time consuming was chopping the vegetables. Pretty soon, my garden will be ready and I won't have to go far for veggies. But, summer arrives a little later in Alaska, so I managed to find some lovely broccoli rabe, and a healthy looking eggplant from one of our local Asian markets. Once the chopping was done, cooking the veggies and noodles took about 4 minutes.  I stirred in the sauce, added coconut milk and finished the dish with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro and green onions. And gave it a little taste.

The sauce, dear reader. The sauce! Salty! Sweet! Spicy! Silky! Everything peanut (or almond) sauce should be and more. I've been trying to make peanut sauce forever and it never tasted right. I now realize that the key ingredient was the coconut milk. It gives the sauces the creaminess I've been looking for all these years. I want to bathe in this sauce. I want to marry this sauce. My sweetheart can have that tastebud-killing hussy sauce, because I have this smooth lady-killer.

Sloppy and gone 2 minutes later

Two bowls later, we decided we'd add some shrimp and chicken to the pasta when we eat it again for dinner tonight (there were plenty of leftovers). But really, that sauce could go on anything. I'm already looking forward to slathering it on some fresh copper river sockeye salmon as soon as we get some. That said, I'm not above eating it straight. Like frosting. Except better.

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