Posts Tagged ‘fresh pasta’

Using What You Have VI: Eating the Siberian Elm


I know a wonderful forager in Flagstaff who mentioned eating Siberian elm leaves, and commented on their mild flavor. I have been meaning for years to look for more uses for the noxious invasive elm, and my goat and chickens eat huge amounts, but I had only found one source alluding to them being edible by people, so I was hesitant. But if Mike says it I believe it, so I was newly inspired to experiment. I could imagine the texture being chewy, as is often the case with tree leaves, so I decided on a context in which the leaves would be chopped very finely. A pasta akin to spinach pasta seemed like a natural experiment.
I was just playing around in the yard, so all measurements given here are inexact. This makes two servings. I gathered a double handful of tree leaves, mostly young Siberian elm tips but also a small fig leaf, a very large grape leaf, and some young mulberry leaves. Fresh pasta only cooks for a minute or two, so I precooked the leaves in the steamer for seven minutes at fairly high heat. Once they were steamed, I turned them out on a cutting board and chopped them roughly with a knife. Then I put a heaping cup of flour in the food processor, added the leaves, and ran the machine until the leaves were chopped as finely as possible. Then I added egg yolks one at a time until the dough formed. For me, this took five yolks. It might be more or less depending on your ambient humidity and your flour. At this point I had a smooth, slightly sticky lump of dough.

I set the dough aside for half an hour to rest, and then set out a cutting board generously sprinkled with flour. I used my Kitchenaid pasta roller to roll the dough, but you could use a hand-crank roller or roll it by hand. Use as much flour as you need to keep it rolling smoothly. I have a metal clothes-drying rack that I use to hang the sheets of pasta as I work with them. This is a good way to keep them organized. Also, they look pretty when sunlight from the window glows through them. These transient pleasures are part of home cooking.


I rolled up the sheets, dusting with flour again, and cut them into linguine by hand because I like the uneven edges that result from hand-cutting. They do have to be delicately untangled after cutting.

Once the pasta is cut, dinner is simple. Heat up a pot of salted water to boiling, and while it’s heating, set out 2 tablespoons  of good grassfed butter and grate a handful of top-quality Parmesan. Have a strainer ready in your sink, and set out two pasta bowls. Have your pepper grinder ready; I have a separate grinder for white peppercorns for more delicate dishes like this one. Put the noodles in the boiling water, keep the heat high, and start testing by biting a fished-out strand as soon as the pot returns to a full boil. Mine was done in about one and a half minutes of boiling. Scoop out about half a cup of water for a “pasta roux” and dump the noodles into the strainer. While they drain, add the butter to the pot, grate about ten turns of the pepper mill over the butter, and return the hot noodles to the pot. This all has to happen fairly quickly, before the noodles stick together. Add most of the grated cheese, toss with two wooden spoons, and add only enough of the pasta water to make the noodles move freely when tossed. Serve into the waiting bowls and top with a bit more cheese.

Here’s how the noodles look before the additional cheese is added. They’re good this way too, but I do like the grainy texture of unmelted Parmesan on top.

We found this absolutely delicious, but then it’s hard to go wrong when you’re using really high-quality Parmesan. It makes everything taste good, so I make no special claims for my leaf pasta. I can say that there is no strong or objectionable flavor of any kind and the texture is light and lovely. It makes use of one of the most Godawful weed trees imaginable, and makes it taste good, and I am satisfied with that. Beyond question, it adds additional fiber to the pasta. What it adds beyond that is unclear, since there is no nutritional analysis of Siberian elm leaves that I can locate. Be satisfied with the fact that you are eating your invasives and they taste good.
This would also be a delicious pasta with some really good olive oil and pinenuts, and it would be excellent for lasagna. I’m also going to try adding some fresh herbs at the processing stage so that their flavor is actually incorporated within the pasta; I think marjoram would be particularly good in this context. Some cream would be great in the sauce.

Living in Interesting Times: Radiant Moments


To sum up the pandemic news: daily life is strange and it’s going to be strange for some time to come. If you don’t have a garden, it’s even weirder and more disturbing. But if you do have a garden, there are moments of such transcendent beauty that you realize with a fresh shock how lucky you are to be alive. They make all the distancing and disinfecting seem worthwhile.

I had a moment like that this morning. My Italian plum is in full bloom, about two weeks later than all my other plums, and when I came out to feed the chickens this morning the whole tree appeared to be in motion. As I got closer, I realized that hundreds of fritillary butterflies were flapping around it, lighting briefly to drink nectar there and there. They moved so fast that I couldn’t get a very good shot, but the whole tree was covered with several butterflies per branch. The beauty and lively motion were such that I stood gaping at it for several minutes, filled with gratitude for this visitation.

There are plenty of other things to be grateful for. I have a job, and that alone makes me really lucky. I have chickens and as long as they’re fed, they lay. Giving them fresh green grass and edible weeds makes the yolks deep gold. Still exulting over the butterflies, I decided to make egg fettuccini. I have written about this before and will only add here that using all yolks in the dough adds another layer of deliciousness, and you can afford this extravagance  if you have chickens. I wanted something with a Southern Mediterranean feel and used sautéed green garlic, capers, pine nuts, a few rinsed and chopped anchovy fillets, some chopped grilled scallions left over from another meal, cherry tomatoes dried into wonderful “tomato raisins” in a slow oven, a good pinch of red pepper flakes, and floods of top-notch olive oil. Finished with shavings of good Parmesan, this makes a meal that isn’t quickly forgotten and came out of your garden, your pantry, and your freezer.

Be kind to those around you, take care of your health as well as possible, love your friends and your pets, and let gratitude flood you whenever possible. If you own a little bit of ground, put it to food production. Tend your pantry and freezer. Try to have enough to share. Survive, but survive kindly.

Kitchen Staples: fresh pasta


Now that my chickens are laying and I have all these lovely fresh eggs around, I’m trotting out all my recipes that use up eggs. One of my very favorites is fresh pasta, and I can’t think of any kitchen skill more worth acquiring than pasta-making.
I used to make and roll pasta entirely by hand, and so I made it about twice a year. If you want to do it all by hand, you can get directions from any of several excellent cookbooks, and I particularly recommend The Splendid Table or Essentials of classic Italian cooking. My own current method is (surprise!) a lot more rough and ready, and relies on my Kitchenaid mixer. If you have one, get the pasta roller attachment (expensive but it works really well) and you’re all set. I use the Pro 600 mixer. I don’t know if the lighter ones will do the job. This is still a time-consuming undertaking, best suited to those relaxed weekend days that I think of as Domestic Goddess days, but it’s worth investing some time for a really delicious result.
The quality of the eggs is important. If you don’t have your own hens, make an effort to get real free-range eggs (not the supermarket kind.) Start with the bowl in place on the mixer and the regular mixing blade. I usually start with three cups of flour, which makes 4 main-course servings or at least 6 first-course servings. Have about six eggs handy. Put the flour in the bowl, crack one egg into the mixing bowl, and start running the mixer at the lowest speed. After the first egg is incorporated, about half a minute, crack in the next one. Keep adding eggs until you have yellow shreds of moist-looking dough and some dry “crumbs” in the bowl, as shown here. Usually I use five eggs, but a lot depends on the flour, the size of the eggs, and the weather. If the dough won’t come together smoothly when you switch to the dough hook, add another egg and try again.

Now switch to the dough hook. Run the mixer at the lowest possible speed until the dough comes together into a ball on the hook, and keep kneading for at least five minutes. This is where I don’t know if the light models will work. Even my pro model strains pretty hard. It’s a stiff dough, much harder to handle than bread dough.

When the dough is smooth and thoroughly kneaded, dust the ball lightly with flour, wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to eight hours. When ready to roll it out, attach the pasta roller attachment. Cut the ball of dough into pieces about the size of a lemon, and dust each lightly with flour. SEt the rollers as wide as they will go, start the mixer at lowest speed, and start feeding the balls of dough through. I like to do all the balls through the widest setting, then all through the next setting down, etc. Now this is where a trick comes in handy. You are going to need a lot of hanging room for the sheets of dough. Wooden racks are sold for this purpose, but I got a metal laundry-drying rack instead and took the nylon mesh “shelf” off the top. It’s easy to clean due to the smooth surface, HOlds a lot more than most wooden racks, and folds away neatly when not in use. The sheets of pasta look absurdly charming hanging from their rack.

When they are all as thin as you want them, let them hang until somewhat leathery. This may be 15 minutes or may be an hour, depending on humidity, breeze, etc. When they are leathery but can still be folded without cracking, you are ready to cut the sheets into noodles. The pasta roller has an attachment that will do it for you, but I greatly prefer to do this step by hand. I like the unevenness that results, and I can cut anything from thin linguine to very wide papardelle, depending on the meal that I have planned. Work on a lightly floured surface, roll the sheets around your hand to form cylinders, and cut across to make noodles, as wide or thin as you like. Unfold them and lay out on clean dishtowels spread on the counter for the purpose.

Cook soon for best quality, use plenty of salted water, and start testing for doneness as soon as the water returns to a boil. Sauce them simply to let their quality shine. In the near future I’ll post on my favorite mushroom sauce for fresh pasta, but for your first effort you might want to dress them with butter, cracked pepper, some chopped parsley, and the best Parmesan you can find. There is no simpler, or better, flavor.

The Greens of Spring: Green Herb Pasta

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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, click here