Tuesday, 19 April 2011 | 4 comments

Riding the rails (+ leek & green garlic soba bowl)

Ben and I just got back from a weeklong trip across the US. By train. Maybe this sort of thing isn’t for everyone, but for us, it was perfect. Time to decompress and see some corners of our own country’s landscape that we might never see otherwise.

We rolled over the Appalachians and through the Ohio River Valley to Chicago, where we had a brief layover. From there, we wove through the endless plains of the Midwest until it gave way to the Rockies and the Continental Divide. The scenery became positively Ansel Adams-esque.

Besides being immersed in Americana on all sides at all times, I finished reading this and Ben worked his way through this. We took photos and wrote postcards, and watched out the window as the weather moved from whiteout snow in the mountains to the lush, wet spring of the Pacific Northwest.

We read seed catalogues and tried to not get excited about next year’s gardens before this year’s are even fully planted. We ate dinner with a crazy bus driver-lady from Pennsylvania and played dominos with a circus performer/electrician from Cali. We drank a lot of wine.

Needless to say, I didn’t have much time in the kitchen (the only non-bright spot of the trip). Since The Yellow House is becoming something of a recipe site (of its own volition, I’m not really sure how it’s morphed into that when I had the best intentions to make it more of a “lifestyle” blog), I’m going to sign off with a quick something inspired by Carly’s farewell dinner last week.

We gathered friends out in the country for a dinner party. I picked up some late leeks that looked too pithy to be worthwhile, but I cobbled something together from a lot of similar recipes, braising a pork loin with the leeks in butter and white wine. Everything we had that night was good, but this leek braise (confit? sauce? I’m not sure) collapsed in on itself to a rich chartreuse color that stole the show.

I couldn’t get that leeks-butter-white wine combination out of my head after that night. With virtually no food in the house on my first day back from our train adventure, I grabbed more leeks on my way home from work today, hoping to find an everyday version of that dish.

The few items I had around (green garlic from the garden; soba noodles in the pantry; a withered lemon at the bottom of the crisper) turned into something greater than the sum of each of its parts. It was fast and impromptu and and perhaps a bit mismatched, but after a week seeing a thousand disjointed vignettes of a country like the USA, this kind of one-bowl-dinner seemed appropriate. Not belonging to one cuisine or tradition. A mash-up of backyard and imported. But somehow, it still works.

Leek & green garlic soba bowl

The wonderful Heidi often uses soba, but I always thought it was some weird, difficult-to-find California trend. I found soba noodles at a very normal grocery store with all the other pasta, and bought some just to taste it. Made with buckwheat, it’s more flavorful than other non-white pastas (like whole wheat pastas, which, unlike every other flavorful manifestation of whole wheat can somehow manage to taste like cardboard). It also holds up very well as leftovers and is good cold.
Green garlic is just young, uncured garlic. It’s a lot milder tasting than normal garlic, and you can use the whole plant. I’ve been seeing this a lot at markets lately.

You will need

    8 ounces soba noodles
    4 medium-sized leeks
    Several green garlic bulbs + shoots
    1 small green chile (optional)
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1/2 cup white wine
    2 teaspoons lemon zest


  1. Remove tough, green, upper parts of leeks and the roots, leaving only the white and light-green parts. Slice in half lengthwise, then chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Swirl the chopped leeks in cold water to remove any dirt or grit trapped between the layers. Drain, but no need to dry.

    Wash and remove the roots from the green garlic. Chop both bulb and green shoot finely. Reserve some of the green parts for garnish. Chop the green chile finely.

    Heat the butter in a thick-bottomed pan or skillet. Add the leeks and sauté on medium-high until wilted, about ten minutes. Add green garlic and chile and sauté a bit longer, about five minutes.

    Deglaze with the white wine, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and reduce to a simmer. Cook until leeks begin to fall apart and wine has reduced, salting to taste.

    Heat water in a pot to boiling. Add soba noodles and cook about 8 minutes, or until tender. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water, and plunge into cold water, then drain again.

    The leek sauce should be thick and textured but pourable. If it’s too thick, add a bit of the reserved pasta water until it’s the right consistency.

    Toss the soba noodles with the leek mixture. Top with lemon zest, reserved chopped green garlic, and a pinch of sea salt if desired.

Diet type: Vegetarian

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§ 4 responses to Riding the rails (+ leek & green garlic soba bowl)

  • Boo, all the pictures on this post seem to be broken. And they sound so intriguing!

    • Oh no! Off to investigate. Thanks for pointing this out, Laura.
      Fixed now! Related to the crazy outages at Amazon today. Thanks for your patience :) –S

  • Joyce Pierce

    I thought of taking the trai trip but was concerned about eating – especially being a vegetarian- and only likig healthy food.

    How did you do it?

    • Hi Joyce,
      We did the best we could, bringing along bread, cheese, wine, apples, frittata wedges, etc., but did have to eat train food. You can make some good choices, even though it’s certainly not the best food in the world. Worth it for the adventure, in my opinion, but not for everyone, for sure :) Cheers—S

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