Italian and Japanese cuisines are renowned for being both steeped in tradition and executed with precision. Both, too, can be characterised by their commitment to quality, seasonality and simplicity. But each are unique when it comes to technique and flavour. Italian cooking prides itself on generosity with big dishes like pastas that feed entire families, while Japanese is typically minimalist with a focus on precise flavour combinations and delicate, individual serves. But what happens when these two cuisines intersect?
Enter wafu pasta. “Wafu” means “Japanese-style”, so wafu pasta literally translates to Japanese-style pasta. It sees the Italian pantry staple of dried pasta shaken up with the addition of Japanese ingredients. Spaghetti might be infused with umami-rich ingredients like soy sauce and wakame, or Bolognese sauce bolstered with miso and topped with fresh shiso to create a fusion of Italian and Japanese flavours in the one bowl.
The style is said to have originated in Japan after World War II, when dried pasta became readily available and Western influences flourished. In Japan, wafu pasta is typically served at casual restaurants, and is seen as a quick and affordable lunch option. One of the first known wafu pasta dishes was created by chef Shigetada Irie of the prestigious New Grand Hotel in Yokohama. Dubbed spaghetti naporitan, its ingredients comprised mushrooms, capsicum, bacon, and simply, ketchup. An ode to Italian-American cuisine, the concept of wafu has come a long way since then.
Fettuccine with prawns, tomato and sake-soy-butter
Across Australia, you might see wafu taken to elegant new heights at Adelaide’s Shobosho with its “sandos” and pizza collaborations, or at Sydney’s LuMi where head chef Federico Zanellato adds salty shiitake mushrooms to traditional lasagne, and tops gunkan sushi with scarlet prawns, caviar and truffle. Mitch Orr, of Bondi’s Ciccia Bella and previously Acme, is renowned for his fusion of Italian and Japanese flavours. Ciccia Bella’s menu has featured linguine tossed with tomato dashi (a mixture of tinned tomatoes, kombu, white soy, mirin and shiro dashi), blistered cherry tomatoes and bottarga, a salt-dried mullet-roe; as well as malloreddus enriched with blue swimmer crab and finished with a dusting of dried wakame.
GT’s food director, Lisa Featherby, says the reason Italian and Japanese ingredients work so well together is because they not only complement, but enhance one another. “Many chefs love to add Japanese ingredients to dishes because they are packed with that savoury flavour that is so moreish: umami,” she says. “Things like miso, soy, nori, katsuobushi, dried shiitake mushrooms and togarashi, a Japanese chilli condiment, really shine when they’re paired with simple Italian staples like pasta or pizza.
“I love miso butter, which is just wonderful with everything. Butter and soy are also great together, as is miso and cream to finish a pasta.” Featherby also suggests adding Japanese ingredients to dishes for a touch of decadence. “An omelette infused with miso and sake becomes something quite luxe. Or try topping it with crabmeat and a scattering of furikake.”
Here, we combine simple Italian concepts with bold, Japanese flavours to create our own versions of wafu pasta, with the addition of a Japanese-inspired pizza.
Pizza All props stylist’s own. PREVIOUS PAGES Carbonara Shigaraki unglazed clay cup from Studio Gala. Yoshino cedar chopsticks from Ginkgo Leaf. All other props stylist’s own. Fettuccine Black bowl (top) from George Dolling. All other props stylist’s own.
SERVES 4-8 // PREP TIME 20 MINS // COOK 35-55 MINS (PLUS PROVING, COOLING)
Here, we’ve taken the concept of wafu fusion to pizza. The best way to cook pizza is in a woodfired oven, but getting your oven super-hot and heating up a tray first will still give you a nice crust.
400 gm canned whole tomato
2 garlic cloves, finely grated on a mandoline
16 thin slices provolone
2 burrata, thickly sliced
100 gm shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling Katsuobushi (see note) and furikake (see note), to serve
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 tsp dried yeast
450 gm pizza flour
1 For pizza dough, combine oil, yeast, ½ tsp salt and 350ml lukewarm water in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook and set aside until creamy on top (2-3 minutes). With motor running, gradually add flour and mix until a dough forms. Alternatively, mix by hand, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding extra flour if needed, until smooth and elastic (6-8 minutes). Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stand until doubled in size (1-1½ hours). Knock back dough, knead lightly, then return to bowl, cover and set aside until doubled in size (45 minutes to 1 hour).
2 Blend tomato and garlic with a hand-held blender in a saucepan, then reduce over medium heat until sauce is thick (15 minutes). Season to taste and cool completely.
3 Preheat oven to 250°C and place 2 oven trays or 4 individual pizza trays in the oven to heat. Divide dough into 4 pieces, then form each into 30cm-diameter rounds, and place on separate pieces of baking paper. Spread tomato mixture over bases, top with cheeses and shiitake, and drizzle with oil. Bake pizze on baking paper on heated trays, in batches and swapping trays halfway, until browned at edges and cooked through (8-10 minutes). Drizzle with oil, top with katsuobushi, sprinkle with furikake and serve.
Note Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and furikake are available from Asian supermarkets.
SERVES 4 // PREP TIME 10 MINS // COOK 20 MINS
Who doesn’t love carbonara, with crisp pancetta and richness from the egg and parmesan sauce. Add miso and nori, and you will really supersize the flavour hit. Pictured p50.
2 tbsp olive oil
250 gm bacon, diced, or 100gm pancetta, cut into batons
2 tsp shiro (white) miso
300 gm dried spaghetti or bucatini
3 eggs, lightly beaten
100 gm parmesan, finely grated, plus extra to serve Shredded nori and spring onion, to serve
1 Heat oil in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat and cook bacon until golden and crisp (5 minutes). Set bacon aside (leaving fat in the pan). Add miso and stir (2 minutes).
2 Meanwhile, cook pasta in a saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (5-6 minutes; reserve pasta water).
3 Whisk eggs and parmesan in a bowl to combine.
4 Remove spaghetti using tongs, add to hot pan and toss over medium heat, gradually adding egg mixture and a few tablespoons of pasta water, tossing to combine and coat pasta with sauce.
5 To serve, top pasta with parmesan, nori and onion.
Fettuccine with prawns, tomato and sake-soy-butter
SERVES 4 // PREP TIME 15 MINS // COOK 15 MINS
Tomato, soy and sake are all umami flavours, and when combined they pack a serious flavour punch. You can swap out the prawns for crab or lobster if you like. Pictured p53.
300 gm dried fettuccine
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
300 gm cherry tomatoes, halved
15 small raw prawns, peeled
2 tbsp sake
1 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp light soy sauce Togarashi and shiso cress (see note), to serve
1 Cook pasta in a saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (5-7 minutes). Drain.
2 Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add garlic and stir until fragrant (10 seconds), then add cherry tomatoes and stir until blistered (2-3 minutes). Add prawns and sake, and stir until prawns are half-cooked (2 minutes), then add butter, soy and pasta, and toss to coat and combine.
3 To serve, sprinkle pasta with togarashi to taste and top with shiso.
Note Togarashi is available from Asian supermarkets. Shiso cress is available from select greengrocers. ■