The idea for this dish came to Aussie-born and now Brooklyn-based cook and writer Hetty McKinnon while travelling. “I was in Japan, where hybrid cooking is executed with unparalleled air and precision,” she writes in her handsome new book To Asia, With Love.
“At Shin Udon, a sliver of a restaurant in Tokyo’s Shibuya, they serve not only the best udon dish I’ve ever eaten … but they also offer a carbonara-inspired noodle dish that comes topped with butter, pepper, parmesan and bacon tempura.”
McKinnon made her name in Sydney running community kitchen and delivery service Arthur Street Kitchen before moving her salad-making business to the US in 2014. She is editor and publisher of food journal Peddler, hosts podcast The House Specials, and contributes to the Guardian, the ABC and others. She has a number of books, and this, her latest, is the most personal yet. Alongside recipes (including her take on that amazing udon dish) are stories of her upbringing.
Her parents moved from China to make a life in Australia, and McKinnon talks about growing up feeling neither Australian nor Chinese. It wasn’t until after having her third child that she really felt a connection to her mum’s cultural heritage.
“Cooking alongside my mother allowed me to understand the confluence of culture, how we can be a mixture of a lot of things and still exist in harmony,” she says. “Although I love to explore the foods I grew up eating, there is a rebellious side of me that often feels a strong pull to dismantle these traditions and create new ones.”
This hybrid dish – enhanced by a hint of miso, which adds an extra layer of flavour – encapsulates that ethos perfectly.
Hetty McKinnon’s cacio e pepe udon noodles
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
800g udon noodles
80g butter, cubed
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper, plus extra to serve
2 tbsp white (shiro) miso
60g pecorino, finely grated
For udon: rice noodles or ramen noodles
For pecorino: parmesan
For vegans: use vegan butter and nutritional yeast instead of pecorino.
Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the noodles and blanch them for about 30 seconds, stirring with chopsticks to separate the strands. Drain immediately, reserving about 250ml (1 cup) of the cooking water.
Melt 60g of the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the black pepper and stir for 20–30 seconds, until fragrant and toasted. Pour in about half the reserved cooking water, then add the noodles, miso and remaining butter.
Turn off the heat, then add half the pecorino and season with a little sea salt. Toss the noodles until the cheese melts and the noodles are well coated (if they seem dry, add some more of the reserved cooking water).
Transfer to serving plates and top with the remaining pecorino and, if you like, more pepper.
To Asia, With Love by Hetty McKinnon is published by Plum and retails for $39.99. Photography by Hetty McKinnon.
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