Pasta

The Umami-Packed Pasta I Cook When I’m Home Alone

This single-serving eggplant spaghetti takes just 30 minutes to make.

by:
August 23, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


The very first piece I wrote for Food52 was about how much I used to hate eggplant. It took a simple salad—which you can make from start to finish in a quarter sheet pan—for me to finally gain an appreciation for the bitter nightshade fruit. (Yes, eggplant is botanically a fruit, technically a berry.)

Since that first column, I've been riffing on the same construction because it's so easy and reliable: Roast an eggplant in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then toss it with some acid, maybe an herb for freshness at the end.

That original recipe calls on lemon juice and mint, but these days I've been going a deeper, sweeter route by roasting the eggplant with a pinch of cumin and thickly sliced red onion, which get gorgeous and caramelized in the hot oven. I'll eat this as a side dish with lamb chops or grilled baby back ribs.

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“I have a pretty frustrating job that usually involves projects taking years to get to completion, and I usually just need that hour of feeling like I have completed something (a new dinner), from start to finish!”
— Ali
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Any leftovers the next day I'll blitz up in the food processor with a dollop of Greek yogurt for a last-minute bademjan dip. It's nice to stave off that post-work ravenousness with a makeshift appetizer like this, complete with pita chips and a glass of red wine, while you're cooking the main course.

A quarter sheet pan is the solo home cook's most reliable vessel. Photo by Bobbi Lin. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Most recently, I've been obsessed with white miso.

That's a lie. I bought white miso once only to use a teaspoon of it, I forget for what, and the rest sat in the back of my fridge for weeks.

Until one night, I went to a Japanese restaurant and ordered a miso-glazed black cod dish that tasted so buttery, so savory, so full of umami that I vowed to recreate it at home as soon as I could. That tub of white miso quickly disappeared as I tested various recipes I had found on the internet, including this one:

Namiko Chen's marinade only calls for three ingredients: miso, mirin, and sake, all of which I keep in my pantry at all times (though the sake's not so much for cooking, but for drinking, hot, alone on the couch with a good book).

This black cod with miso was easily one of the most delicious dinners I'd cooked for myself in a while. Eager to stretch the leftover marinade-slash-glaze for as long as possible, I found ways to use up my reserve a little at a time: as a breath mint, as a dipping sauce for French fries, and as a salty-sweet caramel for roasted eggplant.

When I made the eggplant in particular, I found that I could extend its life by tossing it with cooked spaghetti—a quarter pound, which is the perfect portion for me. A few more ingredients joined the party as I continued to refine the dish: red pepper flakes for heat, rice vinegar for balance, and garlic for savoriness. (The sake didn't make the final cut because I drank it all.)

As I twirled and slurped my dinner in bed, watching television (easily one of life's greatest pleasures), I thought: Is there anything more satisfying than making exactly the right amount of food so you can eat something new tomorrow?

One thing about me is that I don't always want leftovers. I love heading into my kitchen every night, tabula rasa, peeking into my fridge and messing around with ingredients in my pantry to come up with a meal I've never had before.

Still, if ever there were a dish you'd want to eat over and over—one that awakens and satisfies the taste receptors of the tongue that love glutamate—then this umami-packed pasta must be it.

What kind of pasta do you cook for yourself when you're home alone? Let us know in the comments below.
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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his weekly solo dining column, Table for One, runs every Friday morning. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

17 Comments

Barbara J. September 3, 2019
As often as I look at recipes here, I'm not sure how I missed this. As a solo person, my cooking has definitely declined some (except when I go on giant cooking binges and feed my work colleagues). Thanks so much for these amazing articles, my cooking urges thank you.
 
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Eric K. September 10, 2019
:)
 
Katherine August 28, 2019
wountchknow you did it again...I usually reach for 1 minute oatmeal !!!
Many thanks
 
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Eric K. August 28, 2019
Hey, 1-minute oatmeal is delicious.
 
Noreen F. August 26, 2019
Ooh, I've got half-a-dozen eggplants sitting on my counter right now. Some of them are going into Six Seasons' Pasta alla Norma tonight, but this recipe sounds just right for the rest.
 
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Eric K. August 26, 2019
Sounds like you've got a delicious week ahead of you. All that eggplant—what a dream!
 
lori August 26, 2019
If I'm alone and crave pasta umami when I have cauliflower around, it's sautéed/stir-fried cauliflower with a dollop of anchovy paste, loosened with just a bit of water/stock/wine/whatever's at hand, over spaghetti. Somehow I never seem to have leftovers although I would happily eat them. I just happened to pick up some Trader Joe's mushroom umami powder and may try adding a bit of that next time, too.
 
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Eric K. August 26, 2019
Sounds divine.
 
Stephanie D. August 26, 2019
This is why I tend to eschew meal prep – I do not want to eat the same thing multiple times in a row. Sometimes twice, max three times, but I must be able to disguise it – typically with tzatziki or chili crisp. Like you, I tend to keep umami-boosting ingredients readily available, to transform whatever calls to me each evening. I will never get tired of miso-glazed cod, but I think I could happily eat a shoe with that same marinade. Also, if you’re looking for ways to add depth to your vegetables (or really anything savory), I highly recommend Takii umami powder – I use it for everything. It’s even great as a broth base mixed with water. And it makes eggplant sing.
 
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Eric K. August 26, 2019
Never heard of it; thanks for the tip!
 
Ali August 24, 2019
Oh wow. Finally someone (and someone cool!) agrees with me about not always wanting leftovers. I have a pretty frustrating job that usually involves projects taking years to get to completion, and I usually just need that hour of feeling like I have completed something (a new dinner), from start to finish!
 
Evan August 24, 2019
You described my life.
 
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Eric K. August 26, 2019
"Satisfying" is one of my favorite words.
 
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Eric K. August 26, 2019
It's also a crazy-viral Instagram tag, apparently: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/satisfying/
 
HeidiHo! August 23, 2019
Where can I find the printed recipe for the Miso Marinated Cod?
 
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Eric K. August 23, 2019
Right here! https://www.justonecookbook.com/black-cod-with-miso/
 
HeidiHo! August 26, 2019
Thank you for the link!