Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup (and the butternut squash recipe)

I read an article on NPR about this small province in China that has food that hasn't really made it to American restaurants. One simple recipe looked so comforting, I had to try it for Sunday dinner. I wasn't disappointed, it was yummy and comforting and awesome. It doesn't have chicken, but it is definitely the Chinese version of chicken noodle soup.

Xi Shi Tofu Soup

Xi Shi is one of the four beauties of ancient China who lived near Hangzhou in Zhuji. Legend has it that Hangzhou's spectacular West Lake is the incarnation of this belle. Like many seemingly "vegetarian" dishes in China, this soup is flavored with a bit of meat — shrimp and pork — used as a condiment. To make Chinese stock, boil chicken with ginger, green onion, white pepper and even country ham, for extra flavor. Feel free to improvise with the vegetables, but don't substitute firm for velvety soft tofu. This recipe is adapted from Hangzhou TV chef Chen Leilei.

Makes 4 servings

6 ounces boneless country-style pork rib (or piece of pork shoulder)
1/3 pound peeled, deveined raw shrimp
4 tablespoons Shaoxing* (Chinese rice wine), divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste at end
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon cornstarch, diluted with two teaspoons water, separated
1/2 cup chopped green beans or peas
1 cup fresh corn kernels (sliced off the cob)
1 cup slivered shitake mushrooms
1 cup diced carrots
One 14-ounce package soft tofu, drained and cubed
4 scallions chopped, white ends and green stalks separated
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 teaspoons minced ginger, divided
4 cups chicken stock (or up to 6 cups if you want a more brothy soup)
4 ounces bamboo shoots, drained (half a can)
Sesame oil
White pepper
*Available at Asian markets. Buy the cheap kind for cooking. Substitute dry sherry if it's not available.

Chop the pork and shrimp into half-inch pieces and put in separate bowls. Add 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger and half the cornstarch solution to each bowl and stir to combine. Let marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Dice all of the vegetables and tofu into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside.
Fire up a wok over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil, and when glistening, add a teaspoon of minced ginger and the chopped white ends of the scallions (about 1 tablespoon) and stir-fry until fragrant, about a minute. Add chopped pork and saute until mostly cooked, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and saute until just pink, about 1 minute. Remove meat mixture from wok and set aside.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of canola oil in the wok. Add the second teaspoon of minced ginger. Add the beans and carrots and saute 1 minute, then add the corn, shitake mushrooms and 1 tablespoon of chopped green onion, stir-frying 2 to 3 minutes, until coated with oil and starting to get tender. Splash on remaining 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine to deglaze the pan.

Add chicken stock and bamboo shoots; cover and bring soup to a boil. Boil about a minute and then turn heat down, simmering a few minutes until the vegetables are done. Return cooked pork and shrimp to the pan. Add the cubed soft tofu and the remaining chopped green parts of the scallions (measuring about 1/3 cup), gently stirring once or twice to combine. Taste broth and add salt, if necessary.

Ladle into bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil, a pinch of white pepper and more chopped scallions, if desired.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary, and Garlic Lasagne

yield: Makes 6 main-course or 12 side-dish servings

• 3 pounds butternut squash, quartered, seeded, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 9 1/2 cups)
• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 4 cups milk
• 2 tablespoons dried rosemary, crumbled
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
• 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• nine 7- by 3 1/2-inch sheets dry no-boil lasagne pasta
• 1 1/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan (about 5 ounces)
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• Garnish: fresh rosemary sprigs

Preheat oven to 450°F. and oil 2 large shallow baking pans.

In a large bowl toss squash with oil until coated well and spread in one layer in pans. Roast squash in oven 10 minutes and season with salt. Stir squash and roast 10 to 15 minutes more, or until tender and beginning to turn golden.

While squash is roasting, in a saucepan bring milk to a simmer with rosemary. Heat milk mixture over low heat 10 minutes and pour through a sieve into a large pitcher or measuring cup.

In a large heavy saucepan cook garlic in butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Stir in flour and cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk mixture in a stream until smooth. Return pan to heat and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in squash and salt and pepper to taste. Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, its surface covered with plastic wrap.

Reduce temperature to 375°F. and butter a baking dish, 13 by 9 by 2 inches.
Pour 1 cup sauce into baking dish (sauce will not cover bottom completely) and cover with 3 lasagne sheets, making sure they do not touch each other. Spread half of remaining sauce over pasta and sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan. Make 1 more layer in same manner, beginning and ending with pasta.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat cream with salt until it holds soft peaks and spread evenly over top pasta layer, making sure pasta is completely covered. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan over cream. Cover dish tightly with foil, tenting slightly to prevent foil from touching top layer, and bake in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake lasagne 10 minutes more, or until top is bubbling and golden. Let lasagne stand 5 minutes.

Garnish each serving with rosemary.