NYT Cooking project: Five-Ingredient Creamy Miso Pasta (no recipe)

My idea for this new project was simple: the night before I went grocery shopping, I’d open the NYT Cooking app, note the “recipe of the day” with delighted anticipation, write down the necessary ingredients on my list, and make that. Easy peasy. Done.

Until the day I actually did look, only to find a gorgeous recipe for salmon with Thai flavors over coconut rice. While he can stomach it in a spicy curry where the flavor is all but undetectable, N’s tolerance for coconut pretty much ends there. It can be buried deep, deep in the ingredient list and he can still detect it. Coconut-scented sunscreens make his nose wrinkle with objection. Even items cooked in or with coconut oil can be suspect. A coconut rice simply wouldn’t fit the bill.

As you might guess, this led to a much-longer-than-anticipated perusal of the site and substantial additions to my virtual “recipe box” (which I suppose is good in the long run for keeping this little project on schedule). And then, somehow, I ended up with the simplest of all recipes, which was a near-perfect fit for the gloomy, soaking wet weekend we just experienced.

This “Five-Ingredient Creamy Miso Pasta” boasts its minimal ingredient list right in its title, and although I’m usually on board for a multi-step procedure with fair complexity (and lots of photo opportunities), the lure of simple pasta tossed with butter, miso, starchy pasta water, and a lot of parmesan cheese was strong. The fact that between fridge and pantry I already had all of those ingredients sealed the deal.

Procedure-wise, this could (almost) not be easier: boil pasta, whisk together sauce, incorporate pasta and cheese, serve. I did wonder at the instruction to toss pasta and cheese together into the miso-butter-water combination: if the concern is ensuring an emulsified sauce and avoiding clumpy cheese bits, why incorporate the cheese with the pasta, instead of melting it gently into the sauce beforehand? I followed my own instinct there, whisking the parmesan into the sauce as I would for a mornay, and I noticed no clumping of any kind until I was putting away the cooling leftovers later that evening.

The resulting dish is reminiscent in its own way of cacio e pepe, carbonara, and even alfredo: it’s a bit saucier than I typically make my cacio e pepe, and of course it lacks the pepper, but the hefty dose of sharp Italian cheese and the need to toss it energetically to prevent clumping feels familiar. The miso and butter melted together in pasta water makes said sauce feel creamy like a carbonara or an alfredo despite the lack of yolks or cream. The miso even carries subtle resonances of the bacon or pancetta in carbonara. I will say we expected a bit more umami oomph from the miso – it was there, but it was much more background than anticipated. I assume this is because I was using a white miso, which is the mildest option. I’d recommend a stronger red miso instead, to ensure that flavor punch. The furikake or nori bits are listed as optional in the recipe; I disagree. They are essential, as they both reinforce the whisper of miso and they add some textual and visual interest to the dish.

Will this go on a (semi-)weekly rotation? Maybe… though I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve tried it with a stronger miso paste option, and maybe a final sprinkle of wafer-thin green onion slices along with the furikake, to see what that brings to the party!

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