So, it’s April. April is a bittersweet time, a ying yang month if there ever was one. Today’s cloudy and 46 degrees, tomorrow’s sunny and 65. The backdrop of it all is naked trees and tender buds, tough bulbs and nodding flowers.
To comfort myself on a cool day, I make a spring navarin. Unlike traditional French navarins, this one isn’t a stew. The secret here is actually the opposite, cooking the vegetables just past raw, but not quite tender.
Timing is everything here, so don’t make this when you’re in a rush. It’s perfect for a lazy Saturday or Sunday. I should also say it’s really important to get fresh vegetables here. It’s probably too early for any of this stuff at the farmer’s market, except maybe the escarole, so the higher end veggies in the supermarket will have to do.
Bring to medium-low heat a heavy bottomed 2 quart pot and add oil. Add 1 head of flattened garlic. Cut the mushrooms into strips and add them and their stems when the garlic starts to sizzle. Add the black pepper and soy sauce and a little water if the pot is dry—mushrooms tend to soak up oil. Place the top on the pot. When the mushrooms have released some of their liquid, add the parsnip and ginger and cover again. For the next 7 minutes or so, allow the vegetables and mushrooms to sweat, tossing occasionally to keep them from sticking. When they begin to stick, add the mirin and take the top off the pot. When the wine is reduced and the vegetable start to look sticky, add about 1.5 quarts of water. Add the dark miso, and the half-head of garlic, cover and raise heat to medium high. Watch the pot carefully—you want to treat this like a tea—you don’t want it to boil, but to nearly boil. When the miso has melted into the water, start tasting. The longer you leave it on, the more intense it will get—until it starts getting weak. Your goal is to pull it off the heat at the moment when it tastes perfect to you.
Strain the broth. Because I really like mushrooms, I went into the strainer and fished out a lot of the mushroom strips and put them back into the strained broth—shitakes can stand up to this kind of treatment. Don’t use the stems though---they are usually very tough.
Put the strained broth back into the pot and bring to a near boil again. Add sea salt to your taste, and a few drops of the chili sesame oil. Add the tofu and let that steep for about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, onion, and noodles and take off the heat. Cover for about 1 minute, then add the escarole. Cover for one more minute. Serve hot from the pot and eat it immediately. Noodles should be al-dente. If they are too hard for you, don’t worry, they’ll soften up!
Hint: You can make the broth ahead, warm to near boil and add vegetables. This makes an easy dinner during the week.
Note from Alecia: This is a guest blog from the amazing Danielle Cordaro, the recipe and photo both belong to her. We haven't had a guest blog since before Becky became a regular poster, if you enjoyed this recipe, please let me know and maybe we can have some other great guest blogs in the future.