The Wonder of Miso Brown Butter and Crispy Sage Pasta

A simple pasta with a big, bold taste. And it's vegetarian.

A simple pasta with a big, bold taste. And it’s vegetarian.

 

When I was a tot, as both my parents went off to work, my older brother would walk me a couple blocks away to the babysitter’s every weekday morning before he trotted off to school.

I didn’t always go gladly.

But what soothed me every time was lunch.

It was the same thing every single day, by my own choice — a bowl of Chinese wheat noodles, boiled until toothsome, then dumped into a bowl before being stirred up with a couple glugs of oyster sauce right out of the bottle.

Even then, a mountain of umami-packed noodles had the power to make everything seem right in the world.

One forkful of “Miso Brown Butter and Crispy Sage Pasta” was all it took to send me back to those childhood days.

Family Cookbook

It’s from the new cookbook “Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day” (Prestel), of which I received a review copy. Written by food writer and cook Hetty McKinnon, it’s filled with vibrant vegetarian fare that I found a lot more imaginative than many books in this genre.

Whether you’re an avowed vegetarian or a devout carnivore, these are recipes that will tempt and satisfy. Enjoy everything from “Sweet-And-Sour Cauliflower With Ramen Noodles” and “Sweet Corn Egg Drop Soup” to “Tomato Cobbler with Buttermilk Parmesan Biscuits” and “Chocolate and Cherry Semifreddo.”

Imagine a meaty tasting pasta — that has no meat in it. Or a tangle of noodles that you’d swear has a ton of mushrooms in it — but without any at all. That is exactly what this pasta dish is. It’s confounding. It’s comforting. It’s bold tasting. And it’s just plain superlative.

It’s only slightly more involved to make than my oyster sauce-noodles of yesteryear, too.

It gets its “meaty” and “mushroomy” flavor from miso. The recipe doesn’t specify which type of miso to use. Probably any will work, with white miso lending a more mild, slightly sweeter taste, yellow miso upping the intensity a bit, and red miso offering saltier, more pungent meatier and earthier characteristics.

I happened to use hatcho miso, a quite dark reddish-brown type. Unlike other misos that are fermented with soybeans, salt and a grain like barley or rice, hatcho miso is just soybeans and salt. It’s also aged for up to three years. The result is a very rich, deeply flavored miso. If you want this pasta to taste like an umami bomb, use hatcho miso.

My flowering sage that even this black-thumb gardener has managed to grow.

My flowering sage that even this black-thumb gardener has managed to grow.

I used curly gemelli pasta, figuring the sauce would get into every ridge, which it did wonderfully. While the pasta cooks, you melt a generous amount of butter in a pan to crisp the sage leaves, which came from my own backyard, I’m proud to say. Once you remove the sage leaves, you whisk in the miso. That’s all there is to your sauce.

Mix the cooked pasta into it with Parmesan, shallots and parsley. Garnish with the crispy sage leaves that add texture and a hint of eucalyptus. Then, drizzle on a little extra virgin olive oil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice before diving in.

You will be amazed at the depth of flavor that results from just these few ingredients.

My husband, aka Meat Boy, furrowed his brow when I first told him I was making vegetarian miso pasta for dinner. Then, he took a bite, and his world was rocked.

For me, it proved a jolt, too — of a taste of nostalgia that I didn’t even know I missed.

It tastes like there's a ton of mushrooms in it, but there aren't any.

It tastes like there’s a ton of mushrooms in it, but there aren’t any.

Miso Brown Butter and Crispy Sage Pasta

(Serves 4)

1 pound pasta, such as strozzapreti, farfalle, linguine or spaghetti

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

20 large sage leaves

2 tablespoons miso paste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra to serve

3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Sea salt and black pepper

 

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the pasta, stirring. Cook according to the package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta.

In a large frying pan over a medium heat, add the olive oil and shallot. Cook for about 7 to 8 minutes, until softened and starting to turn golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once the butter starts to foam, add the sage leaves, reduce the heat slightly, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the butter is browned and the sage is crispy. Remove from the heat, then take the crispy sage out of the brown butter and set it aside.

Immediately whisk the miso paste into the browned butter, until the mixture is well combined. Add the pasta to the miso brown butter, along with a splash of the pasta cooking water, the shallot, Parmesan, and parsley. Squeeze over the lemon juice, season with sea salt and black pepper, and toss well. To serve, add a final drizzle of olive oil and scatter over the crispy sage and extra grated Parmesan.

From “Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day” by Hetty McKinnon

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