Saffron Pumpkin Noodles

A favorite way with country-style homemade noodles, devised centuries ago in the Steldene saffron-crocus regions

There are areas in the Four Realms’ food culture that map unusually closely onto our own—at least in terms of species present both on that alternate Earth and ours, and of the ways people use them. One of these is the popularity of pumpkin as a food ingredient (though it’s also enjoyed in some regions as an ornamental), and the kinds that are widely available and therefore appear widely in regional cooking.

All five of the major species of the Cucurbitaceae family are domesticated in the Middle Kingdoms: Cucurbita maxima (the great much-varied "winter squash" species, which includes many varieties referred to as pumpkins, along with the buttercup squashes), C. moschata (butternut squash, crookneck pumpkin, various others), C. ficifolia (black-seed squash or Malabar squash), C. argyrosperma (silverseed gourd/cushaw squash), and many subspecies of C. pepo (Jack-o-lantern pumpkins, acorn squash, pattypan squash, numerous bitter but beautiful ornamentals, and even courgettes/zucchini). There is also a commonly grown species not present on our Earth which we may as well refer to as C. peponóidis medioregnis—a large and striking yellow-and-green striped variety with similarly-variegated pulp, and a much more pronounced “pumpkin-y” flavor than we would find usual.*

In the Middle Kingdoms, the default color for the most commonly raised and eaten “true” pumpkin, a member of Cucurbita maxima, is blue or green. (Their pulp is still orange or golden, though.) Orange pumpkins do appear, but these are very regional, mostly grown in the far south of Arlen, Darthen and Steldin. They don’t appear at all in North Arlen or in the regions adjacent to the northern Darthene seacoasts. Some have suggested that this could mean the pumpkin was originally an introduction from the little-known lands beyond the Southpeak/Highpeak ranges. In the period covered by the main sequence of Middle Kingdoms novels, there was no real way to confirm this. But as more Ladha people relocate “over the Wall” by invitation of Arlen’s new king, they may be able to shed more light on this issue.

Cooks in the Kingdoms readily use whatever varieties of the Cucurbita species are available to them in a number of ways. Leaving aside the various methods by which they're cooked fresh during their fruiting season—baking, stewing, and so forth—pumpkins and squashes are also routinely sliced and dried (and occasionally dried by cool smoking) for winter preservation. Oil is expressed from the pumpkin seeds and used for cooking. And pumpkin flour is a common winter staple in the mountain-neighboring southern regions from Steldin to Arlen—used either on its own, or mixed with wheat flours for bread- and pastry-baking. The whole family of pumpkins and squashes has a Realms-wide reputation for being reliable belly-fillers, valued for their ability to “stretch” less available foods to feed more hungry mouths.

One difference between some major Earth-based food cultures and those of the Middle Kingdoms, as regards pumpkins, is worth noting. Though people in the Four Realms are surprisingly easygoing about mixing sweet and savory elements in a dish, there's an equally surprising and widespread tendency to consider the pumpkin as belonging exclusively in savory dishes. If you told a Kingdoms cook about pumpkin pie as a dessert, their first impulse might be to wonder whether you'd gotten the idea from some fancy trendsetting eating-house up in Darthis or Prydon that was trying to establish a reputation for modern, edgy food.

This recipe, though, showcases a much more ordinary use of pumpkin. The pumpkin noodle (Dar. onotikhé, Arl. ounotheig, Stel. aonotghei, and the relatively recently-added Ladh. uinuteik) is popular in the many areas in the Kingdoms where millers grind flour meant for producing superior forms of what many of us would call “pasta". The spicing of these noodles naturally varies widely across regions and according to the preference of the cook. But the approach described here was long ago brought to the midlands and north country from the eastern Southpeak foothills, where the founders of Steldin first began to cultivate saffron more than a millennium ago, and also had pumpkins on hand.

In this version, pumpkin is cooked, sieved, and (if necessary) drained. Saffron threads are meanwhile soaked in a small amount of boiling water to extract their color and flavor. These are then removed from the water and finely chopped before being added to the wheat flour and pumpkin along with the water in which they were steeped, whole eggs, and egg yolks. All are then kneaded together to make the noodle dough, which (after a brief rest) is rolled out, cut into strips of varying thicknesses, and quickly cooked. When ready, these noodles are served as a side dish, or on their own with various sauces and/or spices.

See the tabs for the details on making these noodles either in a food processor or by hand.

*Without going down the slightly loopy rabbit-hole that is pumpkin genetics, it should be added that almost all these species—with the exception of C. argyrosperma, which has unique chemical peculiarities—will very readily hybridize with one another to create varietals that look, act and taste nothing like their "parents." This is probably the source of the jocular and slightly ribald generic term for pumpkins and gourds, t’Aerriehhaut, the Maiden’s Mistake (i.e., in carelessly creating a life-form that was going to require yet another visitation-of-blessing from Her every time it engendered a new version of itself).

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cooked pumpkin (drained if possible)
  • 1 whole egg (medium)
  • 2 egg yolks (medium)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5-10 threads of saffron (more or less, according to your preference)
  • About 2 fluid ounces / 60ml of boiling water (for the noodle dough)
  • At least 2 liters of noodle-boiling water, and a tablespoon or so of salt for it

Method:

First of all: put the saffron threads into a very small heatproof bowl (or a teacup if you prefer). Add the boiling water to them and set them aside for at least 15-20 minutes. At the end of this time, fish out the saffron threads, chop them very fine, and return them to the water.

When this has been done: add flour and salt to a food processor equipped with the dough blade (if you've got one: otherwise use the steel blade), and pulse until combined.

Add the cooked and sieved pumpkin to the flour mixture and pulse it until this mixture is well combined and looks a bit grainy. Then beat together the whole egg and egg yolks and add them to what's in the processor: pulse once more. Finally, process while drizzling in the saffron water until a dough forms and gathers as you process. If the dough's turned out too wet and sticky to gather properly into a ball or rough cylinder shape, add a little more flour, sparingly, and reprocess until the stickiness is reduced.

Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured surface, sprinkle the top of it with a little flour, and cover the whole business with plastic wrap or a dish towel. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt this generously.

Cut the dough into thirds. Begin by rolling one of the thirds out on that lightly-floured work surface, into a long, roughly-rectangular shape. Roll it as thinly as you can. If you notice the dough sticking as you roll, add the absolute minimum amount of flour necessary to stop it. It may also try to stick to your rolling pin. If it does, flour the pin frugally and keep going.

Once the dough is rolled as thinly as you can manage, cut it into strips of varying thickness with a big sharp knife or (if you like) a pizza cutter. (The mixture of thick and thin noodles is seen in most country kitchens as aesthetically pleasant, and even fancy town cookshops of the Kingdoms imitate this style.)

Repeat this process with the other two pieces of noodle dough. When it's all been cut into noodles, cover them with the plastic wrap or dishtowel again until the water is boiling.

Drop the noodles into the boiling water in small batches to keep the water from going off the boil. Once they're all in and the water is back to its full boil again, they should take no more than a couple of minutes to cook.

After a maximum of two minutes, scoop the noodles out of the water with a noodle scoop or kitchen sieve and drop into an oiled or buttered dish. Stir each addition to the bowl around so that the butter or oil can coat them and keep them from sticking to each other.

When they've been tossed with the butter and oil, serve them with more butter and some herbs (sage works well for this), or fresh-ground pepper, or a sauce of your choice. While these noodles are versatile as a side dish, they're also very good by themselves, with maybe a little grated cheese on top.

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cooked pumpkin (drained if possible)
  • 1 whole egg (medium)
  • 2 egg yolks (medium)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5-10 threads of saffron (more or less, according to your preference)
  • About 2 fluid ounces / 60ml of boiling water (for the noodle dough)
  • At least 2 liters of noodle-boiling water, and a tablespoon or so of salt for it

Method:

First of all: put the saffron threads into a very small heatproof bowl (or a teacup if you prefer). Add the boiling water to them and set them aside for at least 15-20 minutes. At the end of this time, fish out the saffron threads, chop them very fine, and return them to the water.

When this has been done: add flour and salt to a large bowl and mix them well together.

In another bowl (or a large measuring cup), beat the whole egg and egg yolks together. To these add the puréed pumpkin and the saffron water with the chopped-up threads in it. Beat well again.

Add all these to the bowl containing the flour and salt and mix it well together until it gathers into a sticky dough. Turn this out onto a well-floured work surface and knead it all together by hand, for ten or fifteen minutes, adding just enough flour as you go along to make it manageable. Somewhere between the ten-and fifteen-minute mark you will wind up with a smooth, pliable ball. Sprinkle it and the work surface beneath it lightly with more flour, cover them with plastic wrap or a dishtowel, and let them rest for 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt this generously.

Cut the dough into thirds. Begin by rolling one of the thirds out on that lightly-floured work surface, into a long, roughly-rectangular shape. Roll it as thinly as you can. If you notice the dough sticking as you roll, add the absolute minimum amount of flour necessary to stop it. It may also try to stick to your rolling pin. If it does, flour the pin frugally and keep going.

Once the dough is rolled as thinly as you can manage, cut it into strips of varying thickness with a big sharp knife or (if you like) a pizza cutter. (The mixture of thick and thin noodles is seen in most country kitchens as aesthetically pleasant, and even fancy town cookshops of the Kingdoms imitate this style.)

Repeat this process with the other two pieces of noodle dough. When it's all been cut into noodles, cover them with the plastic wrap or dishtowel again until the water is boiling.

Drop the noodles into the boiling water in small batches to keep the water from going off the boil. Once they're all in and the water is back to its full boil again, they should take no more than a couple of minutes to cook.

After a maximum of two minutes, scoop the noodles out of the water with a noodle scoop or kitchen sieve and drop into an oiled or buttered dish. Stir each addition to the bowl around so that the butter or oil can coat them and keep them from sticking to each other.

When they've been tossed with the butter and oil, serve them with more butter and some herbs (sage works well for this), or fresh-ground pepper, or a sauce of your choice. While these noodles are versatile as a side dish, they're also very good by themselves, with maybe a little grated cheese on top.

TOTF #3: The Librarian cover