There is a small jar in our pantry. Inside, much smaller than the small jar, is a dark envelope. The envelope holds a few shreds of something quite precious. It’s not the True Cross, it’s saffron. Saffron is expensive, and while we usually have it on hand (Gourmandistan must uphold its inventory, after all) we tend to think of it as something used only for special occasions. Deborah Madison’s Saffron Noodle Cake is making us reevaluate our stance on the special nature of saffron stigmata.
It started with a simple recipe for sautéed peppers, something Michelle has been making lately to take advantage of our lapsing farm share supplies. We’ve found the blend of onions, garlic and sweet and spicy peppers a great thing to have around as a condiment or quick omelet filling. (Steve has been working to better his omelet technique over the last week or so.)
When making another batch Michelle noticed the noodle cake recipe offered as a potential use, and decided it would make a nice home-cooked dinner along with some of Steve’s fresh-baked focaccia. (Steve has also been working on making a light, airy focaccia. Steve likes food projects.)
We didn’t use as much saffron as Madison called for (we only had about half of the requested pinch), but the sweet/earthy scent and flavor of the expensive spice still came forward through the nicely crusted egg, pasta and herb cake, even under a pile of sautéed peppers. Like religion, saffron seems to work best in small doses, and now we’re seeing it work well in even smaller amounts. (If only the Southern Baptists would take some notes.) The power of saffron compels us—we’ll be making this cake again soon, possibly with some homemade saffron pasta. Gloria in excelsis saffron!
SAFFRON NOODLE CAKE
(adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) (serves 2 or 3)1 TB olive oil 1 pinch saffron threads 4 oz. spaghetti Salt & pepper 1 large egg, beaten
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese 4-5 scallions, including some green, finely sliced 1/4 c. chopped parsley 1 TB butter and/or olive oil
Warm olive oil in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small skillet. Add saffron threads. Set aside.
Cook pasta in boiling salted water. When al dente, drain and rinse with cold water. Shake dry.
In a bowl, combine pasta with salt and pepper, egg, cheese, scallions and parsley. Mix well, using your hands.
Heat half of the butter and/or oil in a small 8″ skillet. Add pasta mixture and pat it down with a spatula. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until bottom is golden brown. Turn out onto a plate. Add remaining butter and/or oil to the skillet. Slide the cake back into the skillet, cooked side up. Cook until second side is golden brown. Turn out onto a clean plate and top with sautéed peppers.
(adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)4 large bell peppers (or, better yet, an equivalent amount of assorted multicolored peppers, both hot and sweet) 3 TB olive oil 1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced 3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 1 TB tomato paste diluted in 1/4 c. water Salt & pepper Splash of balsamic vinegar
Slice peppers into thin strips, discarding seeds and cores. Heat oil in a skillet. Add onion and sauté over fairly high heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add pepper slices, stirring frequently. After about 5 minutes, add garlic. Cook for about 5 more minutes, continuing to stir frequently. The peppers should be singed around the edges but not burned. Add tomato paste and water mixture and reduce heat. Cook for about 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Splash on some balsamic vinegar and raise heat to glaze.