In our household, when I’m feeling lazy, or the refrigerator is running low on fresh ingredients, we invariably turn to pasta to ease our minds and fill our bellies. There’s nothing fancy about pasta, but it provides a blank canvas onto which you can unleash your creativity and pantry staples. As a matter of fact, one of the first things I learned to make without a recipe was pasta.
These slinky strands of carbs need little to dress them up beyond a generous dose of oil, some aromatics and a source of umami. My oil of choice is usually olive oil, but this could be anything from butter to duck fat. On the aromatic front, you have your choice of hundreds of vegetables and spices such as garlic, shallots, lemon zest or thyme. Basically, if it smells good, there’s a good chance it will taste good in your pasta.
Lastly there’s that ellusive fifth basic taste known as “umami”. This is the taste that adds that lipsmacking goodness to savoury foods and it’s the taste that allows us to differentiate unsalted chicken broth from water when we have cold. In this pasta, the umami comes from the kimchi, but other more common pastas use meat, tomatoes, anchovies, or cheese, and there are literally thousands of foods that contain umami compounds in varying degrees.
I came up this pasta one evening when all I had in the fridge was the dregs at the bottom of a bottle of kimchi, a few scraps of pork belly, and some wilting scallions. I say “dregs” only because I want you to picture how old it was, but this is when kimchi is at it’s most flavourful. Time, and a lacto-fermentation process turns ordinary vegetables into something quite extraordinary, with a lemony zing that makes this pasta sing.
While kimchi pasta is neither Korean nor Italian, I think it captures the spirit of both cuisines. Like many great pastas, it relies on only a few ingredients to imbue this humble carb with a deceptive amount of flavour. It’s also spicy, vibrant and garlicky, giving it a distinctly Korean flair. Tonight I served this with a steak, so I opted to go meatless in the pasta, but the addition of pork belly adds another dimension, bringing a creamy body and earthy presence that’s as satisfying as it is sinful.
2 Tbs olive oil
3 oz thinly sliced pork belly (optional)
1/2 C chopped kimchi
1 clove garlic minced
1 Tbs gochujang
4 oz dry pasta (linguine or spaghetti work well)
1 scallion sliced thinly
Boil the pasta according to the package directions.
If you are making this with pork belly, you can skip the olive oil and just cook the pork belly in a pan over medium high heat until some fat renders out. If you’re going meatless add the olive oil to a pan over medium high heat. Add the garlic and kimchi and sauté until fragent.
Add the gochujang and stir until combined. Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat with the oil and spicy sauce. Add the scallions and serve immediately.