clinging to summer

Can you believe it’s almost October? I could’ve sworn it was still summer, but it’s already that time of the year for longer skirts and hot tea in the mornings. And I’ve been living in Kyoto for almost two months now, just pottering around the kitchen and occasionally nursing a twinge in my knees (courtesy of some intense hiking in Hokkaido). Before you know it I’ll be thirty and wondering where my life disappeared to, let alone this summer of 2015.

But onwards to what I really want to tell you about: avocado spaghetti with lemon zest, capers, basil and parsley.

I don’t read Design Sponge all that often, but the recipe for said spaghetti caught my eye and wormed its way into my head. You may have noticed that I tend to gravitate towards sloppy, meat-heavy brown food – stews, curries, heavily-sauced rice bowls and pastas feature heavily in my knee-jerk repertoire of kitchen standbys. All things that are decidedly homely and un-summery, but this week, I felt like holding on to the sunshine – if not the heat – just a little longer.

As it turns out, the recipe in its original proportions was way too lightweight for me. No offence, darling, but one garlic clove is not enough for anything. There’s no kind way of putting it. And I don’t know how big AJ’s avocados are, but the tiny ones here in Japan are just not going to stretch across that amount of noodles.

The second time I made it, I ramped up the flavours – more garlic, capers and herbs per head, with extra avocado folded in to make a creamy sauce which clings to the noodles. I loved it so much that when Kent dropped by last night, we wound up cycling out to Life supermarket for herbs, more spaghetti and a few pork chops for good measure. (Aside: Life is a great name for a supermarket. “I’m just popping out to Life, brb”)

I’ve mentioned Kent before a few times on this blog. As of now, I can count the number of Kyoto friends on my hands, and he’s one of them. He offered me the floor of his room when I reached out on Couchsurfing way back in 2012, and after bonding over several days of geeking out over food – he was moonlighting as a chef while at university – we’ve remained friends since. Everyone around me loves eating, but there are surprisingly few friends who are willing to really geek out about the finer points of ingredients and cooking with me. Where to buy shottsuru (Japanese fish sauce) or really excellent miso in Kyoto, for instance, or why you make incisions in the fat cap of the pork chops. Also, few people besides my mum will argue with me in the supermarket over cooking dinner…

F: Two packs of basil… and… ah, parsley.
K: One pack of basil.
F: No way. We definitely need at least two.
K: Two!! One is enough!
F: We’re cooking for three! Trust me, you need at least two.
K: But. Won’t it be too strong…?
F: No. Seriously, you need this much.
K: But. It’ll flavour the oil when we sauté it. You won’t need this much.
F: No, we stir it in after taking the pan off the heat. We’re using loads of pasta!
K: But. Won’t it taste too strong.
F: No.
K: But the smell…
F: You. Are. So. Japanese.
K: Lol it’s been a while since someone’s said that to me…
F: Tell you what, I’ll add more herbs to my plate instead.
K: It’s fine. I trust you!

For the record, he finally concurred that it could have used more basil and parsley than we used for this amount of pasta. Way more. (Supermarkets here sell you piddly little packs for too much money, and two packs is not a lot.) In fact, I would go so far as to say that the pasta should be generously, luxuriously herbaceous. But really, adjust the proportions to your liking. I prefer to let the avocado and herbs shine through, with the capers carrying the salty-savoury undertones. The lemon juice at the end is key to brightening the whole dish – don’t stint.

Also, salt your pasta water. Salt it real good! This is absolutely fundamental to boiling pasta – otherwise your spaghetti will taste bland and your final dish unb   alanced, no matter how delicious your sauce. (Kent: 10g of salt to 1 litre of water is about right.) Whole-wheat really does make the whole dish more substantial, and the added garlic gives it more punch with the parsley and basil. Unless you have a visiting chef who plates it all fancy-like, it’s a homely looking dish, but totally delicious. I also love that it’s Accidentally Vegan – meat-free, but you don’t miss it at all.

P.S. I would go with a poached egg of some kind on top next time for a substantial Accidentally Vegetarian Dinner.

Avocado spaghetti (serves 2)

  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 200g whole-wheat spaghetti
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves of garlic, finely sliced (or fewer, depending on your capacity for garlic)
  • 2-3 tablespoons capers in brine, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • zest from two unwaxed lemons, plus juice from half a lemon
  • a bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked
  • a bunch of parsley (Italian or otherwise)
  • 2 ripe avocados (if they’re small, feel free to add another half)
  1. Fill a large pot with water, and salt it. Bring the water to the boil.
  2. Meanwhile, some mise en place: chop your capers, slice the garlic and zest your lemons.
  3. When the water comes to the boil, toss the spaghetti in, and cook according to package directions.
  4. Sauté the garlic and capers in a generous dribble of olive oil. Give it an occasional stir while you get on with the other ingredients – turn off the heat when you see the edges of the garlic browning ever so slightly.
  5. Zest your lemons if you haven’t yet, and chop the basil and parsley finely.
  6. Add the zest and herbs to the pan, and toss.
  7. Halve and pit your avocados. Make criss-cross cuts in the flesh with a knife, then scrape it out with a spoon and into the pan. Or – if you’ve accidentally frozen your avocados (oops), just mash the flesh into the pan. No great loss here!
    ** If you want to be fancy, like Kent: reserve some of the basil leaves and tear them by hand, and save some of the cubed avocado for garnishing.
  8. The spaghetti should be about done by now. Add a half-ladleful of pasta water to the pan along with another dribble of olive oil, then the drained spaghetti. Toss to combine. You may find that the avocado doesn’t remain in dainty cubes, and that’s fine.
  9. Season with lemon juice (all of it, or more if you like), sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Plate and eat.
This entry was published on September 27, 2015 at 4:44 am. It’s filed under Day to Day, Food, Japan, Kyoto and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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