Today is a return to the cuisines of the sun for me. I spent the weekend outside by the grill dreaming and soaking up the sun. This kind of simple cooking with spring ingredients inspires the art of good living. It makes me want to put new clothes on ancient recipes. When the weather warms up, fresh ingredients reflect the joie de vivre that blooms with the trees. I read a version of this recipe last summer in a Richard Olney’s Provence the Beautiful and it has stayed with me for a full year. The fresh pasta requires nothing more than your hands, a rolling pin and some basic ingredients (eggs, flour, salt and maybe olive oil). The proportions in which to use these ingredients were the daunting part for me and for some reason I also believed this would take forever. Alas, it did not take any longer than most dinners I make. You just can’t be afraid to throw your body weight into the rolling, as you must get these squares very thin for the recipe to succeed.
The basic pasta rule of thumb is to use one egg for every 100 grams of flour. But the exact proportions of ingredients will vary depending upon the humidity in the room, the age of the flour and the time of year. If you just pay attention to the dough and let your instincts guide you, you’ll know when you have a good pasta. The more you do it, the more instinctive it becomes.
An alpine bouquet of green things, wild and cultivated, this pasta is never the same twice. That’s what I love about it. As a new season arrives, I know I’m not the same as I was at this time last spring. The differences are subtle and some are perceptible only to me. Certain recipes, people and goals have loosened their grip over me, while others have captured my attention in full. The weather reminds me of things I’ve forgotten and my gaze has shifted on some things from oblong to direct casting different shadows and bringing new things to light. Like me, this is a recipe that moves with the seasons. It depends upon what is available at the moment. It’s physical. It’s as old as time. And yet, young dandelions, purslane and any other nascent, wild salad greens bring fresh life to it. In spring when the shoots are young and tender, a discreet amount of winter savory is good here. Basil, arugula, parsley, cilantro, celery leaves and green onions can be filled out with spinach or Swiss chard. Take your pick. Next time I’m going to try cranking these out with an old school machine to see if I can get them longer and thinner, as is my preference, though thicker squares are satisfying too. You can adjust every part of this recipe to your liking if you keep the ratios in mind. The possibilities are endless, but the base is tried and true. Old methods, new spring greens and good old fashioned force. This is the stuff of life.
HERB PASTA ~ PATES AUX HERBES
- large pinch of coarse salt
- 4-5 oz mixed fresh herbs and salad greens chopped
- about 3 cups all purpose flour, (2 for the pasta and 1 for rolling)
- 2 eggs
- 3-4 tablespoons warm water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- pepper to taste
In a mortar pound together the salt, herbs and greens to form a paste. Put 2 cups of the flour into a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the contents of the mortar and the eggs to the well and stir with a fork, moving outward to absorb the flour. Add water if necessary or more flour to form a soft but coherent, sticky dough.
Thickly flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Knead repeatedly, pushing with the heel of your hand, folding and pushing. The greens progressively release their liquid, absorbing more flour. When the dough is silken and no longer sticky but still supple (it must be soft enough to be easily rolled out by hand) form into a ball cover it with plastic wrap or a towel and rest for an hour. You can put it in the fridge for a few hours.
Scrape the work surface clean, flour it again and roll out the dough about 1/8 inch thick, turning it over (flip it or roll itup on the rolling pin) on the floured surface two or three times as you work. Cut it into strips about 1 1/2 inches wide and cut across the strips into squares.
Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil. Add the oil. Toss the squares loosely in your hands to rid them of excess flour and drop them in the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, until tender, about 6 minutes.
Drain and serve in plates. Top with cheese, butter or pepper to your liking.