I have two kinds of cookbooks on my shelf: the ones I use (few), and the ones I don’t (many). Oh sure, I look at them all, admiring the pretty pictures, imagining fantasy dinner parties. But when I’m looking for real inspiration, I have a few standbys. The Joy of Cooking, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Paris Sweets and my signed copy of Simply Ming are my go-to favorites. Eclectic certainly, but this covers all the bases. Classic basics, healthy staples, quality desserts, and creative, unexpected flavors.
Flipping through Simply Ming a few weeks ago, looking for inspiration for the bok choy in my CSA share, I found Black Pepper Garlic Sauce. After a wonderful stir-fry, loosely based on Simply Ming’s Melted Black Pepper and Garlic Napa Cabbage, I still had a full cup of the sauce leftover. You see, this fantastically inventive cookbook is based around a series of condiments. Chef Ming Tsai creates lovely fusion dishes with these sauces and salsas and sambals. And best of all, in the margins, he offers even more simple suggestions. Of course, all of these condiment recipes make very big batches. The idea is that you can keep them in the fridge for a week or two, making the actual preparation of final dishes really quick and easy. Hence the extra cup of sauce.
I ruled out the Black Pepper Garlic Lobster from Ming Tsai’s restaurant Blue Ginger because of Jeff’s seafood allergy, but there in the margin was an intriguing suggestion: pasta. Simply toss the sauce with pasta. Now that’s my kind of weeknight meal – easy, fast, and flavorful.
With the herb plants on my windowsill exploding with fragrant leaves, I decided to doctor up my quick pasta dish. And the flavors of the purple basil and parsley were wonderfully fresh with the sweet garlic and tangy pepper. I’ve since reworked the sauce just a bit, making just enough for a pound of pasta, and changing up the proportions a little. The Asian fish sauce may sound a bit off-putting here, but trust me, it is the secret to making this sauce special – don’t skip it. It lends just a very faint flavor of the sea, a bit like linguine with clam sauce (but no clams). Actually, adding in a few steamed littleneck clams might not be a bad idea… that is, unless your husband is allergic to shellfish. And in case you find ourself with extra sauce, it makes a wonderful warm potato salad too.
Garlic Pepper Pasta with Fresh Herbs
Sauce adapted from Simply Ming by Ming Tsai and Arthur Boehm
1 pound linguine
3 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup chopped fresh purple basil (or regular basil)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Meanwhile, saute the garlic and scallion in oil over medium heat for two minutes. Add the pepper, wine, stock, lemon juice, and fish sauce. Simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Transfer the garlic mixture to a blender and whir until smooth. Add the butter and blend well to combine completely. Return the sauce to the pan over low heat. Add the drained pasta, spinach, basil and parsley and toss all to combine well and wilt the greens and herbs. Sprinkle with cheese and serve hot.