Christopher Kimball, 71, has tested countless recipes since founding the cooking and multimedia company Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street. But he still found surprises while developing his latest cookbook, Milk Street Noodles: Secrets to the World’s Best Noodles, from Fettuccine Alfredo to Pad Thai to Miso Ramen (April 2023). “I think it’s the unexpected that you fall in love with,” he told AARP during a recent interview.
The American editor, publisher and chef is best known for founding America’s Test Kitchen in 2001 and the platform’s popular cooking show, Cook’s Country. In 2015, he left America’s Test Kitchen due to a contract dispute and launched Milk Street, a Boston-based company that offers virtual and in-person cooking classes, a TV show, Milk Street magazine, a podcast and a vast library of free recipes. Additionally, Milk Street has published numerous cookbooks, most recently Milk Street Noodles, which seeks to encourage home chefs to look beyond the jar of tomato sauce when whipping up a pasta dish. The book celebrates noodles in all forms and features how they’re used around the globe.
In 2021, Kimball traveled to Los Angeles and learned how to make udon noodles from Sonoko Sakai, a Japanese cooking instructor. “You make the dough and you wrap it in plastic, and you jump up and down and you stomp your feet on it,” he says. “You knead it for 10 minutes.” Then the noodles are cut, cooked and tossed in a sauce. Kimball includes detailed instructions for how to make these noodles in his Udon Noodles with Spicy Meat and Mushroom Sauce recipe.
One way to make lasagna surprised Kimball. “My background — and most people’s backgrounds — is probably you boil some noodles and you put a sauce on it,” he says. “Or you make a casserole, like lasagna.” But at Osteria Broccaindosso in Bologna, Italy, Kimball encountered a lasagna that lacks tomato sauce and mozzarella but instead has besciamella (the Italian version of béchamel, a creamy white sauce of butter, flour and cream) and Parmesan.
“It was many layers, but they’re very thin layers, and it was very soft and very delicate, and it wasn’t this big, heavy, crusty mozzarella dish,” Kimball says. “So I think the surprise for me is that the dishes tend to be lighter.” In the cookbook, Kimball drew inspiration from that recipe for his iteration of Lasagna Bolognese. Barilla oven-ready noodles (the testers preferred these noodles over fresh sheet pasta, Kimball writes) form the base of the lasagna with alternating layers of a hearty meat sauce and besciamella.
Cook With Christopher
Kimball shared three recipes from Milk Street Noodles for AARP members to try:
Our take on the Italian classic was inspired by a version we tasted at Osteria Broccaindosso in Bologna, Italy.
Nutty, wholesome Japanese buckwheat noodles and bok choy are sauced with a puree of toasted walnuts and miso that delivers a double hit of umami.
This recipe blends pistachios and ricotta cheese, along with fresh basil and chives, to create a simple pesto to toss with al dente pasta.
Familiar Italian noodles, including rigatoni and fettuccine, get some attention, but other recipes transport readers far beyond Italy. A spicy Korean-style noodle and seafood soup relies on gochujang (red chili paste) and Japanese dashi, a stock made with seaweed, to cook littleneck clams. It’s “fiery,” writes Kimball, and a dusky red hue.
Kimball’s Peruvian Stir-Fried Chicken and Noodles dish brings together Chinese and Peruvian flavors. Spaghetti is combined with chicken, peppers and onions in a tangy mix of oyster sauce, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and lime juice. Fresno chili adds some punchy spice. “Though traditionally made with wine vinegar, we loved the fruity yet mellow acidity added by the balsamic,” the recipe reads. A take on a traditional dish from Azerbaijan (on the border of Eastern Europe and Asia) appears as Pasta with Spiced Beef, Caramelized Onions and Herbed Yogurt. In an effort to simplify dishes for home chefs, Kimball swaps traditional diamond-cut homemade noodles for broken dried pappardelle, and he uses beef instead of lamb.
Kimball hopes to push home chefs out of their comfort zones with recipes for making their own fresh noodles (though dried pastas have a place in his pantry too). Making pasta from scratch is much more time consuming than dumping it out of a box, but the payoff is worth it. “Making the udon was really easy. It wasn’t hard. And that udon, it has that sort of springy chewiness to it, which I love,” says Kimball. In the cookbook, fresh herbs like dill and parsley add a bright boost to pasta dough. Or incorporate saffron strands, which give the pasta a “floral aroma” and “earthy flavor,” Kimball writes, not to mention a striking golden shade that it complements cream sauces and poached scallops, he adds.
Although boxed pasta is more convenient, fresh pasta is a treat. There are multiple ways to make your own pasta. A simple crank machine, which typically costs around $35, makes the pasta sheet thinner and cuts the noodles for you. If you have a stand mixer, many offer pasta attachments. If you’re looking for an all-in-one machine, there are high-end pasta makers that weigh the flour, mix the dough and extrude the pasta.
Certain staple ingredients are worth having on hand to make the most of your pasta meals. Kimball’s favorite is miso, either purchased in the store or homemade. “It’s a way of getting a lot of depth of flavor into a dish without doing much work,” he says. In addition to spices, Kimball also suggests having pomegranate molasses, harissa and gochujang in the pantry. “Obviously, having tin fish like anchovies is great. That’s perfect for pasta,” he says. Pasta lends itself well to pantry meals, with items like canned artichoke hearts and beans that can be tossed together.
Some of the recipes in Noodles are complex and require ample time, but plenty are weeknight-friendly. “If it were me, I would take six or eight dishes out of this book and just get to know them by heart,” says Kimball. Then you can tweak the recipes and riff as you like. For example, you can make a pesto with any herb hiding in the refrigerator crisper. “That’s when it gets really fun,” he says.
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