Sometimes a chef shows me a technique that makes me totally rethink how I do things in my kitchen. Like making pasta, for example. Now maybe this has occurred to you--or you've seen it on Food Network or some other food blog--but the idea of toasting AP wheat flour to create a deep brown pasta with other-worldly flavors was, well, new to me. And I may not ever think about pasta in the same way again.
That's what chef Nick Brune of the Hillcrest restaurant Local Habit and owner of Eco Caterers did when I came in for a visit. Brune, who launched but no longer owns Local Habit, is still there to help shape its new "Cali-Creole" concept. This isn't a stretch for the chef, who was born in Louisiana. What is unusual, though, will be the additional Asian influences, drawn from Brune's recent travels and training in Southeast Asia.
And that's where this dish comes in. These dark roux noodles can be used any way you enjoy pasta. Heck, the deep, almost buttery flavors the toasting yields makes me want to just toss with olive oil and grated Romano and call it a day. But Brune swirls them into a Creole Noodle Soup that's reminiscent of a complex pho. Brune refers to the dish as "gumbo meets ramen."
The soup is astounding in its layered flavors, but what I was smitten most by were the noodles, so that's what will be the focus here.
Now don't be put off by the measurements. Weighing is far more accurate than measuring by volume, especially since this dough can be affected by relative humidity.
Dark Roux Noodles
from Nick Brune
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
300 grams toasted wheat
360 grams all-purpose flour
15 grams kosher salt
1/4 cup (or 62 grams) water (to start)
23 grams extra virgin olive oil
Semolina flour for dusting
Salt for boiling pasta
1. To toast the wheat, pre-heat oven (not convection or the flour will fly) to 375˚. Spread 300 grams of all-purpose flour on a baking sheet and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Rotate the sheet every 10 minutes or so to enable flour to brown evenly. Remove and let cool.
2. Sift together toasted and raw flours along with salt and add to the bowl of a stand mixer. Then add eggs, one at a time and mix.
3. Combine water with olive oil and add slowly, pausing to let the dough come together before adding more liquid. Mix until crumbly.
4. Turn out dough and work it in small amounts. Use your body to put weight into kneading the dough and knead for 2 minutes. Wrap in plastic and form into two balls and let rest for 5 minutes. Then flatten into discs. Let rest again for 5 minutes to absorb more liquid.
5. Roll out in small batches to rectangles 8 to 10 inches long. Trim the edges to make as uniform as possible, but leave a tab at the top to have something to hold onto when lifting the pasta. Sprinkle the dough lightly with semolina flour. Fold the dough up to the tab. Slice into pieces about the width of fettucine.
6. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add salt. Cook for two minutes and drain. Add to soup or toss with your favorite sauce.
So, what's in this crazy Creole Noodle Soup? Well, it starts with a broth made with pork bones and chicken backs, along with chard, onion, coriander, all-spice, a bay leaf, bonita flakes, and Bragg's Liquid Aminos. The broth cooks overnight and concentrates into a powerfully rich ambrosia. To this Brune adds a Creole-style pickled egg, braised pork, green onion, andouille sausage, micro greens, and pickled onions--and the noodles. It's become one of the restaurant's most popular dishes and for good reason. This funky soup is just bursting with competing and complementary flavors.
Local Habit is located at 3827 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest.