I had the strangest weekend. My husband went to New Orleans for a bachelor party and my in-laws insisted upon watching my son for one of the nights he was away. I was all set to argue that I probably could handle a single potty-trained, getting-himself-dressed, occasionally listening almost-5 year-old for all of 48 hours but when I opened my mouth the only words that came out were, “Thank you! What a fantastic idea!”
All of a sudden, I was flying completely solo for the first time in half a decade and I had no idea what to do with myself. Would I finally clean the apartment? Would I have a giant party? Would I go away by myself for the night, just because I could? Would I watch two matinees in a row and eat popcorn and Reese’s pieces for dinner? Why had I not been planning for this day my all five years I’d had to think about it; I bet when Jacob was 8 months old and hadn’t slept through the night for any of them, I had a crystal-clear idea of where I’d run if given the chance. (Spoiler: Back to bed. Or Paris! Or both!) But that was then and this was Saturday. So, I went for a haircut. I took a walk. I ducked into tiny bookstores and bought new things for everyone to read. With friends, I went for manicures and pedicures, ordered cava and tapas, and stuffed wedding invitations. I slept in! I got a massage with a gift certificate I received over 3 years ago! I finished the book I was reading and started a new one! I realize this is probably the dullest story ever told, but I honestly couldn’t believe the lap of limitless luxury my life had become. I can’t believe there are people that live like this every single day; I can’t believe I was once one of them. This is probably how having kids turns you into one of those fuddy-duddies you remember your parents being.
And then I decided Jacob and I needed a special dinner, the kind of luxurious cooking that you can usually only pull off on weekends, the kind of handmade food that’s completely relaxing to make. It didn’t hurt that I’d had David Lebovitz’s new book open on the coffee table all weekend, bursting forth with inspiration. This is my favorite Lebovitz book yet, a 125-recipe answer to the question, “How does an expat American pastry chef living in Paris eat at home?” It turns out, maybe not at all surprisingly: amazingly. I hardly knew what to make first. Steak with mustard butter and frites? Chocolate dulce de leche tart? Leeks vinaigrette with (gasp!) bacon? I’d finally settled on his carrot salad, which is one of my favorite recipes of his (plus I have my own little riff I’ve been meaning to tell you about) but as if the book knew better, it kept staying open to the page where he’s making an herbed linguine by hand.
Herb, schmerb; I wanted spinach pasta and I wanted it bad. And so it was. I decided to keep in the slow-living luxe spirit of my 26-hour vacation and go old-school, fingertips, flour-walled egg well, 10 minutes of kneading. Blanched, squeezed and finely chopped spinach is speckled throughout, and it’s the prettiest thing. My mini-me returned when I was in the middle of decking our living room in linguine strands and helped crank more out. We picked up some sliced salami, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, tossed the cooked linguine with butter and parmesan (al bambino, as they told me in Rome) and had a dinner he declared “very fancy!”
And now we’re all back together with good hair and full bellies and I need you to tell me what you’d do if you had 26 hours to do anything on earth — no limits! I need to plan better for the next time this happens, in a decade or so.
One year ago: Greek Salad with Lemon and Oregano
Two years ago: Vidalia Onion Soup with Wild Rice
Three years ago: Leek Toasts with Blue Cheese
Four years ago: Leek Bread Pudding and Oatmeal Pancakes
Five years ago: Ranch Rugelach
Six years ago: Brownie Roll-Out Cookies and Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad
Seven years ago: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Fresh Spinach Pasta
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen
Guess what? Making your own pasta is dead simple: all you need is plain flour and eggs, plus a rolling pin and knife. Want to make spinach pasta? Just add 1/4 to 1/3 cup cooked spinach. Want to make herbed pasta as directed by David? Add 1/2 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano or basil. Below is the core recipe. Following that are a ton of notes if you’d like to make things more complicated, be it with specialized flours, more or fewer yolks, food processors, pasta rollers, drying racks or planning ahead. Let’s get started!
Serves 4 generously to 6 petitely; makes about 22 ounces of dough
5 ounces baby spinach leaves
2 3/4 to 3 cups all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
Water (only if absolutely needed)
Additional flour for rolling
Wash spinach but no need to dry. With water droplets still clinging to the leaves, wilt spinach in a hot skillet until completely soft, about 4 minutes. Let cool and wring all the water — seriously, every drop you can get out — out of the spinach in small fistfuls, and then pressing these little bundles out against a fine-mesh strainer. Rest spinach on paper towels to remove even more water, then mince spinach on a cutting board.
Dump spinach, smaller amount of flour and salt on countertop and mix with your fingers, then form into a pile. Make a deep well in the center and add the whole eggs and yolks to it. Use your fingertips to break up the eggs and begin moving your fingers in a circular motion, keeping the eggs within the well (or you’ll have egg lava running everywhere and be in a very bad mood). Each circular movement pulls in a little bit of flour from the sides. In a few minutes, the mixture will become thicker and thicker, finally becoming too tight to move easily with your fingers. At this point, you can use a bench scraper (a perfect tool here) or spatula to start adding the remaining, a little pile at a time. Once a shaggy dough has formed, begin kneading the mixture, scraping it up when it sticks, until a ball is formed. It will look flaky but will hold together.
Knead the dough, pressing it away with the heels of your hands then forming it back into a blob, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the dough is moist but not sticky. Add remaining flour, a spoonful at a time, only if dough is too sticky. Add a drop or two of water only if it’s cracking when you knead it. In almost all cases, I find that erring on the side of firmer pasta is safer than softer pasta, which doesn’t hold shapes well and will want to stick a pasta roller. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then knead it again for 5 to 8 minutes. Wrap dough in plastic and let rest at room temperature for an hour.
Divide dough into sixths. On a floured surface, roll the pasta as thin as you can; as thin as a credit card and translucent is ideal. Letting rolled-out pasta rest for 10 minutes before cutting it into your desired shape helps yield cleaner, easier cuts.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water for anywhere from 2 to 6 minutes (depending on thickness), until al dente. Drain and toss with fixings of your choice — garlic-sizzled olive oil or melted butter, parmesan or pecorino, dollops of ricotta or mascarpone. Eat immediately.
- Using different flours: In Italy, pasta is usually made with 00 flour (doppio zero, a very finely ground flour also used for pizza dough; it is not low protein, no matter what you’ve read). Do you love it or have it around? You can use it here instead. Do you need to buy an imported bag at a hefty price? I say no, and so does Marcella Hazan in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. “When, outside of Italy, I make fresh pasta at home, I have found that unbleached all-purpose flour does the most consistently satisfying job: It is easy to work with; the pasta it produces is plump and has marvelous texture and fragrance.” Semolina flour (sold in Italy as semola di grano duro; I use semolina flour from Bob’s Red Mill) is milled from durum, the strongest kind of wheat, feels a bit like very fine cornmeal in your fingers but will not taste gritty at all once cooked. It is used in Italian packaged pasta. Here, Hazan and I differ; Hazan feels that although it is mandatory for industrial-grade pasta, there’s no need for it in homemade pasta and she finds it frustrating to work with. But David and I like to use some in our pasta; I often replace 1/3 to 1/2 the all-purpose flour in my pasta with semolina flour and find that it produces a less chewy pasta. Here, I used 1 cup.
- To make in a mixer: You can blend the ingredients in a food processor. The spinach will become better chopped, resulting in a less flecky pasta than you see in my photos. Run the flour, salt and chopped spinach together until blended. Add the eggs and yolks and run the machine until the dough forms a shaggy ball. Knead for a few minutes on a floured counter, then wrap in plastic and let rest at room temperature for one hour before rolling out.
- To make the dough ahead of time: The plastic-wrapped dough can also rest in the fridge for up to 2 days. Maybe longer? I’ve honestly never tried it for more than 2 days. I do hope you’re impressed with my professionalism here. ;)
- To make this pasta greener: My 5 ounces of baby spinach leaves once cooked and wrung out yielded all of 1/4 cup of spinach. I think you could easily use up to double of this for a greener pasta. Hazan says you can go as far as to put a full 10-ounce package of frozen spinach or 1 pound of fresh (again, wilted, and very well wrung-out) in 3 cups flour, though I haven’t auditioned this volume yet at home.
- To sheet the pasta with a pasta roller: Place a little pile of flour (whatever blend you’re using for the pasta, or just plain flour) on a large cutting board. Unwrap rested pasta dough and cut it into small pieces — I like to aim for walnut-size, which seems small but keeps the pasta sheets from getting unmanageably long. Working with once piece at a time, dust the nugget of dough in a little flour, then run in through your pasta roller on the widest setting (usually “1”), then repeat this process with the roller set increasingly smaller (2, 3, 4) until the pasta is very thin. My Atlas machine goes to 9 but I often stop at 8 because this setting makes for thin, delicate pasta that’s not so fragile that I’m pulling my hair out with frustration trying to move it around. If you find your dough sticking, lightly flour it. If it gets too big to handle, cut it in half. If the piece gets too wide for the machine or becomes annoyingly irregularly shaped, I re-“fold” the dough by folding the sides of the dough into the middle, like an envelope, and press it flat. Then, run the piece back through the machine with the open sides up and down on the widest setting again (0) working your way thinner. This allows the machine to “press” any trapped air out. Rest the pasta in single layers on a lightly floured surface and repeat with remaining pieces. Once I’m done sheeting all the pasta, I run each piece through the linguine or spaghetti cutter on my machine. I find that the extra few minutes (usually 10 minutes) of drying time help me get cleaner cuts. If your spinach wasn’t minced well enough, you may find that the linguine doesn’t cut into separate strands very easily in the machine, and needs some hand-separating to finish. You can also cut the pasta at this point by hand on a cutting board into a desired shape.
- If you’re not cooking your pasta right away: It’s better for flavor and texture to dry it completely than to try to keep it moist and wrapped in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it. If you have a professional pasta drying rack, well, that’s great. I do not and tend to hang my pasta on whatever I can find — lately this has been a (clean!) laundry drying rack. (See photos above.) The only pesky thing is that I’m never able to remove the pasta without it breaking at the bend. If I know I’m going to be drying pasta, I will plan for this by making strands that are much longer than I’ll need, knowing that they’ll be half-length before I’m done. Make sure the pasta is fully and completely dry (anywhere from 12 to 24 hours) before storing in a box or tin between sheets of paper towels or mold will develop. This will add 2 to 3 minutes cooking time to your pasta.