In my winter haze I began fantasizing about travel to somewhere warm and cheap. Since actual travel was not in my budget, I satisfied my need by reading and cooking. I had heard of pho before, but for some reason this year it has gotten more press than ever. Maybe it's because of the clean, cleansing broth, or the slippery noodles and crunchy condiments that make you slurp and chew at the same time. Whatever it is, the pure satisfaction of this dish has had me in a trance all winter long. I found in my research that Pho is generally made with beef, Pho Bo. I knew that if I wanted to serve it as a regular dish on the bakery dinner menu, I would have to come up with a version that could be served as both a beef or a vegetarian dish. It may not be the classic, but it is delicious.
For the broth you will need:
4 ounces dried mushroom blend (preferably one that has shiitakes in it)
2 medium red onions skin on and whole
a fist sized knob of ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole clove
1tablespoon whole coriander
1 tablespoon fennel seed
3 whole star anise
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar ( or a half dollar sized hunk of palm sugar, if you can find it)
salt to taste
To finish the soup:
1 package rice noodles, the thinner ones
chopped fresh basil
fresh mung bean sprouts
scallions thinly sliced in the bias
crimini mushrooms very thinly sliced
To make broth:
soak dried mushroom blend in 4 cups water overnight in the refrigerator
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Drain mushrooms reserving the liquid. Pat dry and toss with olive oil and salt. Spread mushrooms out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment and roast in oven for about 15 minutes until golden and even slightly crispy.
While Mushrooms are roasting cut 2 red onion in half lengthwise and place on another sheet pan lined with parchment. Place whole knobs of ginger on same pan and roast them in the same oven
with the mushrooms. once the onions are caramelized and the ginger is soft, slide the onions into a large stock pot, chop the ginger into big chunks and put it in the pot along with HALF of the roasted mushrooms. Pour in 10 cups of water and bring to a slow simmer. As it's coming to temp, dry roast your spices in a clean dry saute pan and add them to the pot. Add salt and sugar and fish sauce. Let simmer gently for at least 1 1/2-2 hours. Strain broth and keep very hot until ready to serve, checking the spice and adjusting as needed. (or if your doing it ahead chill and store for up to one week)
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add rice noodles cook, stirring frequently. boil until just tender then drain and toss with a tablespoon of vegetable oil to keep from sticking together. Set aside until ready to assemble.
Put noodles in bottom of bowl. Sprinkle on some of the roasted mushrooms and some of the sliced fresh mushrooms. Ladle hot broth over this and serve at table with the condiments on the side, so people can put on what they like. Serve with a nice refreshing bottle of 'Red Saigon' (over ice, the way they do it down there!) and you'll feel like you've had a little trip to Vietnam, sans the jet lag.