One of the great pleasures of gardening is commemorating each new emergence in spring, and in food gardening, one tends to commemorate them by eating them. Here, the herbs that are springing up everywhere make a pasta dish that is wonderfully tasty and varies every time you make it. If this doesn’t inspire you to plant your own herbs, probably nothing will.
My instructions will be relatively brief, so if you aren’t familiar with pasta-making, consult a good Italian cookbook such as The Splendid Table by Lynn Rosseto Kaspar. This is one of the few times when I use a food processor to start pasta dough.
This amount serves at least six as a first course, four as a main course, or two real pasta-pigs with lots of leftovers to take to work for lunches.
First, gather your herbs. Aim for a generous bunch. About half should be parsley. For the other half, see what’s springing up outside and decide what you plan to serve with the pasta. I like a good big handful each of chives and cutting celery leaves, the leaves of one small twig of rosemary (more if you plan to serve the noodles with lamb,) a few leaves of arugula, and about a tablespoon of thyme leaves. Later in the season, basil or marjoram might figure prominently. In the winter, green onions (green part only) and chervil might predominate, with some winter savory for oomph. You get the general feel of the thing.
Chop all the herbs coarsely. Put three cups of flour in the food processor, add the herbs, and process until they’re well distributed and finely chopped. Have five very good eggs handy. Add them one at a time, processing for at least 30 seconds after each one. Probably you will only need four of the eggs. When the “crumbs” in the processor bowl just start to come together into a dough, stop and finish by hand. Sorry about the work, but it’s much better that way. Turn out onto a lightly floured cutting board and knead until the dough comes together, adding a little water if necessary, or more flour if that’s what’s needed to make a nonsticky dough. Now knead for ten minutes, until smooth and elastic. Dust the dough ball with a little flour, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit half an hour.
When the dough has rested, roll it into sheets and cut into noodles by your favorite method. If you roll pasta by hand, you will go to Heaven. But if you use your handy machine, either powered or hand-cranked, you will eat fresh pasta a lot more often, and that’s a kind of heaven too. Take your pick.
Either way, when the noodles are ready, you can pack them in plastic bags and store in the refrigerator for two days, or in the freezer for a month. When ready to proceed, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, and dump in the noodles. As soon as the water returns to a boil, start testing them for doneness. The cooking should take about a minute, but may take longer if you let the dough dry out a lot after rolling. Be very careful not to overcook. You do want then al dente
Drain the noodles and toss with a good-sized knob of butter or a half cup of heavy cream or both (note to self: stop revealing your spirit of wretched excess) and about a cup of the best Parmesan you can find, grated. Grind a little black pepper over the top, garnish with a little more grated Parmesan, and serve.
If you’d like to add some herbed shrimp to the plate, for the recipe.
Start with a pound of excellent quality medium-sized shrimp, preferably wild Alaskan spot prawns, shelled and cleaned. Marinate the shrimp in a bowl with half a teaspoon of salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, a couple of tablespoons of very finely chopped parsley, the same amount of chopped chives or green onion greens, and a tablespoon of finely chopped wild fennel fronds or tarragon and a tablespoon or so of cutting celery leaves, chiffonaded. Let marinate between 20 and 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Heat a large heavy skillet until quite hot, film it with olive oil, toss in the shrimp and spread them out in one layer, cook three minutes, turn the shrimp over with a spatula, and cook until done. Finish with a couple of tablespoons of butter swirled in, and serve with herbed pasta.
Whenever you eat seafood, please keep an eye on the Seafood Watch list and make sustainable choices. Yes, they will be hard to find and cost more, but you’ll feel better.