Japan Eats

Recipe: Nanohana and bacon pasta

A bittersweet spring dish.

Nanohana (or rape-blossom in English) is representative of spring. Like wild vegetables such as fuki (butterbur), taranome (the buds of Japanese angelica) and udo, nanohana is a seasonal vegetable with a slight bitterness. For this reason, nanohana goes well with two of the dish’s other ingredients: butter and bacon. These add a sweetness that offsets the initial bitterness of the vegetable.

I recommend adding a little butter to the olive oil (or vegetable oil) to sauté the nanohana.

Nanohana and bacon pasta

Nanohana and bacon pasta

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 80 g of bacon (thinly sliced)
  • 140 – 150 g of rape blossom (canola)
  • 150 – 160 g spaghettini
  • 2 tablespoons of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 dried whole chilli pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 10 g of butter
  • 4 tablespoons of spaghettini‘s broth
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce

Method

Place a large saucepan with 2 liters of cold water on a high heat and bring it to the boil. Add 20 g of salt, then cook the spaghettini.

As soon as you start to cook the spaghettini, you should also start preparing the sauce. Cut the bacon into slices 3 – 4 cm wide. Remove 1 – 2 cm from the bottom of the nanohana‘s stem, and cut into pieces 3 – 4 cm wide. You don’t need to remove the bottom of the stems if they are fresh and still soft.

Break the dried chilli pepper into 2 – 3 pieces and remove the seeds. Place a frying pan with olive oil, butter, finely chopped garlic and dried whole chilli pepper on a low heat and sauté the mixture until it produces an aroma.

Next add the bacon and sauté for another 1 – 2 minutes on the same low – medium heat.

Add the nanohana (stems first, then the leaves) mixing and softening them quickly.

Turn the heat down to low, and add 4 tablespoons of the spagettini‘s broth, mixing well. Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, mix again and turn off the heat.

Add the spaghettini, coating the pasta with sauce. Serve.

Recipe: Tarako butter spaghetti

A quick and easy pasta dish

Tarako (salted pollack roe) is often used as an ingredient in onigiri (Japanese rice balls). If you visit a Japanese supermarket, you’ll find a similar product called mentaiko. It’s also salted pollack roe, but is seasoned with tougarashi – red chili powder.

Tarako spaghetti is a dish that’s easy to make and is particularly popular with children. The saltiness of the tarako is a good match for the sweetness of the butter, together producing a wonderful flavor. I recommend a garnish such as shiso or radish sprouts to add a sharpness to the dish.

Tarako butter spaghetti

Tarako butter spaghetti

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 160 – 180 g of spaghettini (1.7  mm)
  • 160 – 180 g of tarako
  • 60 g of butter
  • 1 sheet of nori ( 20 cm x 20 cm dried sea weed)
  • 10 sheets of shiso (green perilla)

Method

Place a large pot with 2 liters of cold water on a high heat. Once it comes to boil, add 10 g of salt and cook the spaghettini based on the introductions on the package.

While you’re cooking the spaghettini, prepare the sauce and the garnish. Cut the butter into 1 cm square cubes and put these in a large bowl.

Next, place the tarako on the cutting board and cut the skin. Use the back of the knife to scrape the eggs into the bowl.

Cut the nori into pieces 3 – 5 cm wide, then place these in a stack and cut into 1 – 2 mm strips with scissors.

Slice the shiso leaves 1 mm thin.

Once the spaghettini is cooked, drain and quickly add them to the bowl, mixing well so that the butter melts with the heat of the spaghettini. Make sure that you keep a little hot water when you drain the noodles – it can be used to adjust the sauce. If you think it needs to be more smooth or still has lumps of butter, add 1 – 2 tablespoons of hot water to the bowl.

Plate the pasta, garnish and serve.

Recipe: Wafu pasta with yuzukosho sauce

A delicious meat-free pasta 

This dish is easy to prepare and is vegetarian-friendly.

The key to success is making sure that the eggplant is washed in salt water prior to cooking, so as to prevent it from absorbing all of the oil. Be sure to squeeze the salt water out, though.

As yuzukosho has a strong flavor, start by adding only a teaspoon – you can always add more later.

For more about yuzukosho, listen to Episode 8 of the Japan Eats Podcast, where the Japanese condiment is discussed in detail.

Wafu pasta with yuzukosho sauce

Wafu pasta with yuzukosho sauce

Ingredients (serves 2 people)

  • 160 g of bavette (or spaghetti)
  • 200 g of eggplant
  • 100 g of shimeji mushrooms
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of sake
  • 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of yuzukosho
  • 10 g butter
  • 5 – 6 sheets of shiso to garnish

Method

Pour 200 ml of cold water into a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of salt. Remove the top of the eggplant and then cut it in half lengthwise. Cut each half into six more pieces. Put the slices into a bowl of saltwater for 5 minutes to remove any bitterness.

Pour two liters of cold water into a large saucepan and place it on the gas table. Once it has come to the boil, add 20 g of salt and the pasta.

Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the frying pan and add finely chopped garlic. Place the pan on a low heat and sauté slowly until they’re lightly browned.

Remove the salt water from the eggplant by squeezing each slice softly. Add to the pan and sauté until they too become brown. Again, use a low heat.

Once the eggplant is ready, add the shimeji mushrooms. Cook for another minute.

Pour 4 tablespoons of sake into the pan, then cook on a low heat to burn off the alcohol.

Add 2 tablespoons of boiling water from the pot in which you’re cooking the pasta. In addition, add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce to the inner surface of the pan, and add 1 teaspoon of yuzukosho and turn off the heat. Mix thoroughly.

Drain the pasta and then add to the pan. Combine with the sauce.

Add 10 g of butter, and again mix well.

Finally, wash the shiso and remove the water with a paper towel. Roll the leaves together and slice thinly. Serve with the shiso as garnish.

Review: Bar Vita, Fukuoka

Our man in Fukuoka, Kupa Hokianga, visits Bar Vita in Nakasu.

In Nakasu, just ten minutes’ walk toward the canal from the Tenjin Business Center, is the chic Italian restaurant Bar Vita, presented by ORTO cafe. My good friend Mat suggested we have lunch there, as Bar Vita is one of only a few non-smoking restaurants in Tenjin.

We arrived just after 12 p.m., greeted by the clatter of plates and the hum of conversation from a relaxed lunchtime crowd. You could tell most were regulars and the staff gestured to the free seating with one hand while holding a stack of white plates and utensils in the other.

An exposed ceiling and dark wood veneer tables dominate the decor. Even on a overcast winter’s day, loads of natural light comes in through the floor to ceiling windows at the front entrance and along one side. A generously proportioned bar with seating runs the length of the exterior window with more tables located in the center floor space. The design really appealed to me and, in fact, Bar Vita would not be out of place on Sydney’s Circular Quay waterfront.

The blackboard lunch menu changes regularly. On the day of our visit we could choose from a choice of spaghetti, pasta, curry, or spaghetti bolognese  for 900 yen. Included in that price was an unlimited selection of fresh breads, salad, soup, and beverages at the service bar in the center of the floor.

I ordered the spaghetti and we found a seat at the bar looking out onto the street. Reading from some printed information, it explained that the bread and sauces are prepared daily at their off site kitchen and bakery in Kego – using only premium ingredients – and delivered to the restaurant each morning. The pasta, along with any additional requests, is cooked to order in the restaurant kitchen. I counted ten different breads available at the salad bar, warmed and replenished by an attentive staff. There were at least six dressings and vinaigrettes to go with the two garden salads. There were several other foods to choose from, including a consomme soup with croutons. This was certainly a step above your average salad bar.

The spaghetti order arrived. My main criticism being that, with the attention to detail everywhere else, I would have liked to have seen a greater attempt to serve the spaghetti al dente and a little hotter. It was not a taste stand-out. My personal preference is for a rustic earthiness in Italian food, but for a city clientele at lunch, loads of garlic at this time of the day may not be wise.

Mat and I spent two hours catching up on gossip with regular trips back to the salad bar for fresh bread, mini pizza slices, and freshly brewed Illy coffee.

I will certainly be going back to Bar Vita and can recommend it to anyone visiting Fukuoka. Overall a 7.5/10: service was wonderful, food presentation faultless, I could taste the freshness of the ingredients, and it was, at 900 yen, fantastic value. The selection of breads and the coffee were my highlights. If they just got a bit more adventurous with the sauce it would have sealed the deal for me.

The serving counter has baskets containing loaves of fresh bread for purchase.

Bar Vita is located on 1F 5.6.25 Hakata-ku, Nakasu. Its open for lunch and dinner, and is non-smoking at lunch time only. Bar Vita is licensed. www.bar-vita.com

Restaurant Review: Il Cantuccio (Shimo-Kitazawa)

In the interests of being up front with you, dear readers, I stumbled across Il Cantuccio looking for a quick bite before going to a play and had no intention of reviewing it. However, that quick bite turned into such a great experience that I quickly realized I should write it up. Here goes.

In a neighborhood packed to the gills with little, interesting eateries, the Italian restaurant Il Cantuccio took my surprise for a few reasons. First, once you get inside, it’s surprisingly big. Not chain family restaurant big, but at somewhere are fifty, it seats more people than most of the local restaurants in Shimo-Kitazawa. Read more

Japanese style spaghetti with spinach and mushrooms

This simple dish makes an excellent appetiser but it can just as well be served as a main course.

Naturally, other types of pasta can be used instead of spaghetti, however those cooking the dish in Japan will find it difficult to get their hands on much else (despite an awareness of Italian cuisine, the average Japanese supermarket still only stocks thin spaghetti and macaroni).

Spaghetti with mushrooms and spinach

Spaghetti with spinach and mushrooms

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 160g spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 100 – 150g spinach
  • 100-150g mushrooms (use shiitake mushrooms, shimeji mushrooms or eringi mushrooms – 2 kinds would be best)
  • 20g butter
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Boil 1.5l water. Once it’s bubbling add a pinch of salt and then cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the package. Pour the 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan and add the minced garlic. Cook it on a low heat.

Wash the spinach and then drain away any excess water. Cut away the roots then slice the remaining leaves into large pieces. Now cut away the stems of the shiitake and cut the remaining mushrooms into slices around 2 to 3 mm thick.

Put the them into the frying pan and sauté them for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spinach and mix this together with the mushrooms. Next, season the sauce with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Drain the spaghetti, saving 2 to 3 tablespoons of the water. Pour this liquid into the frying pan and mix with the other ingredients.

Now pour the spaghetti into the frying pan and fold the sauce into the pasta. Pour 2 tablespoons of soy sauce into the inner surface of the frying pan and mix into the spaghetti.

Finally, turn off the heat and add the 20g of butter. Allow the butter to melt using the remaining heat and mix the dish together quickly. Test the sauce, and if necessary add a touch more salt. The dish is now ready to serve.