The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.
–To Be Of Use, Marge Piercy
There is absolutely no practical reason to make your own pasta from scratch. There are plenty of fine dried pastas available to you on the grocery store shelves and even fresh pasta in the refrigerator aisle if you are so inclined. And yet, sometimes it is nice to do work that is real, to make something with our hands, purely for the pleasure of creating it ourselves. Or so I told my daughters as we set out to make a batch of homemade pasta. The dough itself was a surprisingly simple affair: flour, eggs and a tiny bit of water whirled around briefly in the food processor until it forms a rough ball. After a brief knead, the dough rested on the kitchen counter while the girls and I went to the basement and found the pasta maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer (it was still in the box…a gift given to me probably 10 years ago but never used). We divided the dough into five equal pieces and began feeding each piece through the pasta roller, again and again, adjusting the thickness of the roller to allow the pasta to gradually become thinner and thinner. Very quickly, a half-inch thick piece of dough became a long, smooth sheet of pasta. The girls began to argue over whose turn it was to feed the dough through the roller and whose turn it was to catch it as it came through the other side. “This is so satisfying,” they said as they let the cool, thin pasta sheets drape over the backs of their hands. How often do we forget to simply notice the way something feels on our skin, the pleasing sensation of something touched and appreciated?
The girls had been to a restaurant recently that served pasta in coin shapes, tossed in fresh basil pesto. So we cut our pasta sheets into circles using a biscuit cutter, stacked them in parchment paper and stored them in the refrigerator until we were ready to cook them. Meanwhile, we got to work on the pesto itself. Basil from the garden, toasted pine nuts, toasted garlic, olive oil and parmesan came together quickly in the food processor to create this high summer treat. We boiled a large pot of salted water and slipped our pasta coins in as quickly as our three pairs of hands could peel them carefully from the parchment paper. After 3 minutes, we removed the coins from the boiling water and tossed them with the pesto. The girls opted for just pasta and sauce while I added fresh tomatoes and lightly dressed arugula. We sat outside on the porch and enjoyed the summer evening and this simple meal that we had literally made with our own hands.
Homemade Pasta and Basil Pesto
adapted slightly from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 eggs, beaten
1. Place flour in bowl of food processor and pulse a few times to fluff. Add eggs and process until dough comes into a ball, about 30 seconds. Small amounts of water (1 teaspoon at a time) or additional flour (1 tablespoon at a time) can be added if the dough is either too dry and doesn’t want to form a ball or too wet and is sticking to the sides of the bowl.
2. Remove dough and place on clean counter. Knead until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes or up to 2 hours.
3. Cut dough into 5 equal-sized pieces. Following manufacturer’s instructions for your pasta machine, roll dough into sheets. Place dough onto parchment-lined sheet pans.
4. Transfer the parchment and dough to a countertop or other work surface. Using a biscuit cutter approximately 2 inches in size, cut pasta sheets into coins. Transfer coins back to parchment, being careful not to overlap the pasta. Stack parchment with pasta onto a sheet pan. Cover pan loosely with plastic wrap and chill while you make the pesto.
2 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (preferably grated with a rasp grater or microplane)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and toast until lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally to redistribute nuts. Watch carefully! Pine nuts go from perfectly toasted to burnt in a matter of seconds. Remove pine nuts from skillet and transfer to a small plate to cool. Set aside.
2. Wipe out the skillet with a couple of dry paper towels and return to medium heat. Add the garlic cloves, still in their peels. Toast cloves, shaking occasionally, until the peels are dark in spots and the cloves are slightly softened, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove peels and finely mince garlic.
3. Place basil leaves, toasted pine nuts and minced garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Process until relatively uniform in consistency, scraping down sides as necessary. With the machine running, slowly add olive oil and continue processing until the pesto is smooth and homogenous. Transfer pesto to bowl and stir in grated Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Fresh tomatoes, chopped (optional)
Baby arugula (optional)
Lemon wedge (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
1. Boil a large pot of water. Add salt.
2. Working quickly, slip pasta coins into the water and cook for approximately 3 minutes, The coins should be opaque and float to the surface. Drain pasta, taking care not to tear the coins. I will often use a spider (a wide strainer with a handle attached) to retrieve the pasta and transfer it to a separate bowl. This allows me to take more care in handling the delicate coins. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water and discard the remainder.
3. Return coins to pot, but do not place over the heat. Add approximately half of the pesto and a tablespoon or two of pasta water. Toss pasta and pesto with a rubber spatula, taking care to not damage the coins as you do so. Add more pesto and/or more pasta water until the mixture is to your liking. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Serve, dolloping a little extra pesto on each portion and topping with chopped fresh tomatoes and baby arugula tossed with lemon juice and olive oil if you desire.
*If you make a double batch of pasta, cook the pasta in two batches. If you get too many coins in there at once, they may stick together.
*Many pesto recipes call for raw garlic, but taking the time to toast the garlic as I recommend here will yield a soft garlic flavor without too much bite.