Udon Noodle and Miso Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

Makes 4 servings
Time: About 30 minutes

Udon noodles are the long, thick, now-familiar Japanese wheat noodle that can be treated pretty much like Italian pasta. Make this soup with any stock-dashi, meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetable.

8 ounces dried, frozen, or fresh udon noodles
11/2 quarts dashi or water
1/3 cup any miso
2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms or a handful dried
1/2 cup chopped scallion

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the udon and cook it until it's just about done-there should still be a light chew to it-about 5 minutes. Drain it and rinse in cold water until cool; set aside. (If you're cooking the pasta in advance by more than 30 minutes, hold the pasta in a bowl of cold water or drizzle or toss with a couple tablespoons neutral oil.) If you're using dried mushrooms, pour some of the boiling noodle water over them to cover; soak until soft, about 30 minutes.

2. Heat the dashi in a large, deep pot over medium heat until bubbles rise from the sides. Put the miso in a bowl, add a cup or so of the hot dashi, and whisk until smooth. Pour the miso mixture into the rest of the dashi and mix.

3. Slice the reconstituted mushrooms, if you're using them; strain their soaking liquid and add it to the dashi. Add the mushrooms to the dashi and cook gently (do not boil) for about 5 minutes. Add the udon and heat though, garnish with the scallion, and serve.

Udon Noodle and Mixed Seafood Soup.

Add 1 pound mixed peeled shrimp, chopped small squid, and scallops; simmer gently (do not boil) in the dashi-miso broth until the shrimp is pink, about 5 minutes.

Soba or Somen Noodle Soup.

In the main recipe of any of the variations, use dried or fresh soba or somen noodles instead of the udon; they won't take quite as long to cook, just 5 minutes or so.