Comfort. It means different things at different times, and we have been hyper focused on it during lockdown. From a food perspective, comfort in 2020-2022 has been homey, non elaborate, rich but not knock-out, little tricks you could text a friend about. I think that’s why TikTok recipes have done so well over the past couple of years.
Yeah it was a really great recipe actually, you should try it. You do this thing with the feta-
But the reasons for seeking out comfort keep becoming more elaborate and upsetting. And with the situation in Ukraine, I have found it heartening to see cooks like Diana Henry and Rachel Roddy using their platforms to share recipes for Ukrainian food, guided in the first instance by Olia Hercules (who is currently using her platform to share detail on conditions in Ukraine and raise money for defensive equipment).
I obviously think that sharing info on protest dates and times, donation needs etc is critical, but I think there is something very humanising for those a bit further away from the conflict to share a people’s food and say look how unique it is, how special, but also a bit like ours too – pancakes for a family’s weekend breakfast, just like yours.
Seeing the food someone eats simultaneously forces you to see people as human, but also reminds you that they are more than just a victim. They have foods they make on high days and holidays and in the summer and when it’s cold and when they have a head cold and when there is a picnic for a school sports day or when there is simply too much milk in the fridge. Trying or sharing a recipe reminds you to have empathy, sympathy, and think beyond the basics.
–you bake it, amongst some tomatoes & garlic & spices etc, till both the cheese and toms are really soft. And then you sort of smush it, and mix it into spaghetti. Hot bowls are key! Anyway, how are you?
The recipe I’m about to share is not a Ukrainian recipe, although I think the focus on mushrooms and cheese and heartiness feels in tune, the mix of influences coming through. But no, it is not Ukrainian. I made it for the first time last weekend, after reading about it in the Observer Food Monthly. It’s based on Alexa Weibel’s five-ingredient miso pasta, which was first shared in The New York Times. I’ve already made it twice this week, and both times it has been a hug in a bowl – the first time with a hangover, the second time with Covid. It tastes somewhere between a cacio e pepe and a really, really good Roman carbonara, but it is of course vegetarian.
I’ve made it slightly differently both times, changing the seaweed for roasted mushrooms and stirring in green veg both times. It has the genius-ness of a TikTok recipe. The author who shared it in OFM wrote:
‘”I think you’ll like this” said a message from a friend, “it’s like Nigella’s marmite spaghetti but even better.’…And it is as rich in savoury rewards as Nigella’s pasta or cacio e pepe but thanks to the triple hit of miso, parmesan and seaweed it delivers even more comforting umami. I’ve cooked it for people on rainy nights, bare cupboard nights and for unexpected celebrations. It has never failed.”
Both times I made it I’ve been left spooning the liquid out of the bottom of the bowl at the end as it is utterly addictive. It also is very quick and easy to make, not so much a recipe as an idea, and a suggestion on techniques, as all the best shareable recipes are. I can’t stop making it.
I know it may seem trivial to share a recipe in a moment of global crisis. But what is actually more important and constructive than the sentiment of sharing a slurpy bowlful of something really good with people? With finding something unique and great and nourishing and saying to others, “I really like this, it’s a bit different but I think you will like it too”?
So the recipe, such as it is, is as follows. I hope you make it, and that it brings you comfort. And that you pass on this recipe or another one you love just as much to someone else. If you can cook it for them too so much the better, the world needs more of that.
Cacio e Miso Spaghetti
Serves 2, double quantities for 4
200g spaghetti or other pasta
Large handful of shredded kale or cavolo nero if you have it
1 heaped tablespoon white miso paste
1.5 heaped tablespoons butter
50g freshly grated parmesan, plus more to serve (cheddar is fine either if you don’t have parm)
Topping of choice – roasted mushrooms, seaweed, grilled chicken…or even nothing if the cupboards are pretty bare. Don’t worry! This will still work!
Salt + pepper
Boil the spaghetti in a large pot of salted water. Halfway through add the kale if you’re using it. When the pasta is just about cooked, remove a cup of pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the spaghetti, then return to the pot along with the butter, grated parmesan, spoon of miso, black pepper and a good slosh of the reserved pasta water. Stir vigorously, continuing to cook over a low heat, till the cheese has emulsified with the pasta water into a creamy sauce – it will eventually, keep going! Add more reserved pasta water if needed, you want the consistency to be quite loose, slippery and sloshy!
Heat your bowls, then serve the pasta out with tongs, making sure to share out the lovely liquid over the top. Garnish with more grated parmesan, chilli flakes and any other additions you fancy. Enjoy!
–ANyway, was great to hear from you. I’ll have to make this for you now the next time you can come over 🙂