by Caroline

soba
Like any family, we fall in to dinner ruts, when I feel like our meals fall into two categories: something with rice or something with pasta. This is exacerbated by the fact that I’m feeding two fairly picky eaters, and of course we are also limiting ourselves by choosing not to eat meat or fish. So it was a little thrill the other day when my mom sent me a recipe that looked like something the boys would eat. It does fall into the “something over pasta” category, and in fact uses ingredients we eat all the time, but combined in a new way and that, sometimes, just makes all the difference.

Of course, I couldn’t help tinkering with the recipe; I roasted the squash (because of course I already had the oven on to bake dessert), and we kept the sauce on the side because only one kid likes sauce, we used black sesame seeds because that’s what we had on hand, and at a certain point, fairly early in the process, Tony took over because, as I’ve said before, I really don’t make dinner (but sometimes I do delegate). Happily, it was a hit with the whole family, so thank you, Mom, and thank you, Martha Rose Shulman, for a great new entree to add to our winter dinner rotation.

Stir-Fried Winter Squash and Tofu With Soba

6 ounces tofu (we used a pound), sliced about 1/2 inch thick
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 small butternut squash, diced (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon sherry
1/4 cup water
Soy sauce to taste
1/2 pound buckwheat noodles (soba)
1 tablespoon dark Chinese sesame oil

1. Wrap the tofu in clean kitchen towels or paper towels, and place under a cutting board for 10 minutes. Cut in 1-inch wide dominoes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok, and stir-fry the tofu until lightly colored, about three minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spatula, remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the onion to the pan, and stir-fry until it softens, about three minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the squash. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and sesame seeds, and stir-fry for one minute, until fragrant. Return the tofu to the pan, stir in the sherry and 1/4 cup water, cover and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer five minutes or until the squash is tender. Uncover and add soy sauce to taste. Keep warm while you cook the soba.

3. Bring 3 or 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the noodles gradually, so that the water remains at a boil, and stir once with a long-handled spoon so that they don’t stick together. Wait for the water to come back up to a rolling boil — it will bubble up so don’t fill the pot all the way — and add 1 cup of cold water. Allow the water to come back to a rolling boil, and add another cup of cold water. Allow the water to come to a boil one more time, and add a third cup of water. When the water comes to a boil again, the noodles should be cooked through. Drain and toss with the sesame oil.

4. Arrange the noodles on a platter, top with the tofu and vegetables, and serve.

Yield: Serves four.

Advance preparation: You can stir-fry the tofu and vegetables several hours ahead and reheat when you cook the noodles. This is one stir-fry that even tastes good reheated the next day.