Faster Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

My tummy is full of yummy, and my lips are tingling, and I am officially happy.

I’ve been fighting an irritating cold for the last day or so, and all day at work, I was thinking longingly about pho. Pho is one of the most ubiquitous Vietnamese dishes; in its classic form, it’s a wonderfully scented beef broth, with noodles and tender cooked beef and various vegetables swimming in it. When I have a cold, I pump up the spiciness as much as I can bear, and the steaming-hot soup combined with the kick of the chili pepper clears my sinuses until I feel sane again.

I’d never made pho before, and I knew that without planning ahead I couldn’t make the beef stock from scratch. However, the heart of this dish is the richly flavored stock, so I only took a partial shortcut. Pho is, as I said, made from beef stock, but I had some savory, deep brown turkey stock sitting in the freezer; that, plus chicken fat to sauté with, plus a couple of beef bouillon cubes gave a hearty, meaty flavor that wasn’t quite beef but was damn tasty. Here’s the recipe. Sorry for the lack of photos; I was too sick and hungry before the meal to bother. . .

Shortcut Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
(serves 3-6)

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I’ve been behind in my posting.

And I’m sorry. Everything’s fine, but . . . I suppose I haven’t taken the time to write the sorts of things that I’ve posted here, and it’s a shame.

The new school year starts in a week, which should be fun. I’m gritting my teeth and telling myself that I can get an H in Greek if I try hard enough. Really. And one of my favorite undergrad professors convinced me that having better Greek would convince potential PhD programs that I’m Serious About This, and at any rate, I would like to know Greek. I’m just terrible at learning languages.

Human languages, anyway. I taught myself PHP a couple of weeks ago; on my vague to-do list is a web database of all my recipes (both the ones here and the ones I have written down elsewhere), so they’re easy to search. It’ll be good for me as much as for anyone else.

After a week of visiting home and going to every obscenely fattening restaurant I’d missed so deeply, I was in the mood for something light today. The little grocer on the corner has had $1/lb local summer tomatoes for the last month, so I cooked some cheese tortellini and tossed them with diced ripe tomatoes, crushed garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Bruschetta pasta, or something like it. Trés yummy.

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

Cooking is wonderful. You create a magic combination of texture and flavor and sight and smell. But sometimes, the best thing you can do is step back and let the ingredients’ magic sing all by itself.

Tonight I cooked Trader Joe’s organic pasta, using my good heavy dutch oven; I really think that the heat retention helps the texture of the pasta, by making sure the temperature doesn’t dip too much. A generous amount of salt in the water, of course. I managed to catch it at the moment of pure al dente perfection, firm to the tooth without being chewy or hard.

I’d prepared a quick sauce for it — Trader Joe’s vodka sauce, simmered with large TVP chunks to add meaty-tasting vegetarian protein — and it was a tasty enough weeknight accompaniment. But when I tasted that pasta, I couldn’t bear to drown it out. So I spooned the pasta into a bowl, drizzled on my Terra Medi extra-virgin olive oil, tossed it with a spoon, and ate it, just like that. The olive oil coated the pasta in a fragrant, buttery lushness, adding depth and body to the gentle wheat core. Modest in its simplicity, the dish sang.

Yesterday, I was treated to the best sushi in town. It was delicious, each piece a delight to the palate and imagination. But for sheer perfected pleasure, I think that I’d have to side with tonight’s simple olive oil on pasta.