Spring noodlin'

Spring noodlin'
Ari LeVaux - 04/21/2022

Some of my favorite recipes come from vegetable growers. Farm cooks know how to feed a bunch of people efficiently, with simple recipes made from basic ingredients that quickly produce mountains of delicious nourishment to energize the farm hands without weighing them down.

I am friends with some farmers who can really cook and are generous with their recipes. Luci Brieger, of Lifeline Farms in Victor, Mont., has this carrot pasta dish that she’s perfected over many years. It’s sweet, earthy and comforting, and makes you ravenous. Josh Slotnick, of Clark Fork Organics in Missoula, meanwhile, recently came up with a noodle recipe, based loosely on Pad Thai, as a way of burning through mountains of excess parsley. He makes a tangy chimichurri – a steak sauce from Argentina – and tosses it into fried noodles.

It’s nice to have brilliant friends whose shoulders you can stand on while you steal their recipes and mix them together like a kid at a self-serve soda fountain. If only it were that simple. Truth is, combining these recipes entails some tough choices. Which type of noodle, for example, should we use? If we go with a semolina-based pasta, a la carrot pasta, then we’ll add grated hard cheese and perhaps anchovy for extra umami. If we use rice noodles, a la chimichurri Pad Thai, we’ll get our umami from fish sauce and soy sauce.

After some very enjoyable head-to-head taste tests, rice noodles were clearly the best choice for this carrot and parsley sauce. They have a pleasing elasticity, can be pan-fried crispy and hold the sauce admirably. I prefer the extra-wide rice noodles, which have a supple quality that makes chewing extra-fun.

Rice noodles are also less finicky than pasta and easier to prepare perfectly. You don’t even have to boil them. Simply dunk dried noodles in a pot of room temperature water, and turn you attention to other matters. By the time you are ready to fry, your perfect noodles will be waiting.

Chimichurri and Carrot Fried Noodles

With vivid colors and vibrant earthy flavors, these noodles will ring in spring, blow everyone’s mind and won’t even make too much of a mess. It may be Asian-style, but this luxurious dish is rich enough to handle a glass of Italian red.

1 14-oz package of rice noodles, preferably the wide kind

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into coins about ¼ inch thick

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium-sized onion, chopped

½ cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Zest and juice of a lemon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup water

1 bunch parsley, including stems, chopped

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Optional: red pepper flakes as a garnish

Fill a large pot or bowl with about a gallon of water. Add the noodles and let them soak for about 45 minutes, until they are limp but not completely done, with a bit of stiffness still. Drain the noodles and set aside until it’s time to fry them.

Add the butter and two tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pan, with the heat between low and medium. Add the carrot coins, spreading them out so that they are all touching the pan, with no double-decker carrots. Let them simmer for 15 minutes, lightly softening.

Stir the carrots and spread them again. Add the onions atop the carrots, but don’t stir them in right away. Let it continue cooking quietly on the low side with the lid on. The onions will add moisture and steam the carrots. After 10 minutes, stir again. Keep cooking on low.

Meanwhile, make the chimichurri. Add ½ cup olive oil to a blender, along with the garlic, rice vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Blend.

Stop the blender. Add the minced parsley. Blend again until it has become the savory green puree known as chimichurri.

Remove the carrots and onions from the pan. Add the noodles and spread them out so as many are not touching as possible. Turn the heat up to medium, and add the carrots back on top of the noodles.

After about five minutes, the noodles on the bottom will start to develop a browned crisp. Add ? of the chimichurri on top of the carrots, but don’t mix it in. Yet.

After another five minutes or so, add the soy sauce and fish sauce and stir everything together. If the noodles are too stiff, add ¼ cup of water, put the lid on, turn off the heat and wait 10 minutes. After it cools a little bit, stir in the rest of the chimichurri and serve, garnished with pepper flakes.

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