Saturday, May 1, 2010

Eat More Greens


It was a whim, pure and simple. And green. Very green. There was some fresh basil in the fridge (leftover from the bruschetta we made), and it needed to be used up fast. It wasn't getting any younger, if you know what I mean. Not enough left to make pesto with and too early in the year to start thinking about Caprese salads... why not try making colored pasta with it? So on the most spontaneous of whims, I began mixing up and rolling out green pasta dough. Just because. Bizarre and beautiful and basil-y. Basil is one of those smells and tastes that seem like the very essence of summer to me.

In the summer version of my dream garden there would be walls of basil and rosemary, and sage and (of course) lavender. And in the center of this hedge-room would be a tomato garden, like a green room filled with clusters of ripe red jewels. Or... in the alternate summer dream garden, the herbs are planted to form a labyrinth* with the tomatoes growing at the very center. Imagine it: walking and picking herbs in deep profound contemplative thought, then plucking ripe tomatoes and journeying back out, all the while being surrounded by wafts of real herbal essences. Sigh. Of course, in the winter it would look like hell. That's why this is the "summer version" of my dream garden. Let's just say that the winter version involves a plane ticket, a hammock and PiƱa Colada. Oh, but I digress. And yet, that really is the point of it all. Digression: to turn aside, to stray. I made basil pasta yesterday and my mind digressed for a moment to warmer days ahead and Caprese salads on the patio...

Basil Pasta
Makes 4 - 8 servings (depending on whether it will be a side dish or main dish)

1 big handful of washed and dried basil leaves
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3 eggs, lightly whisked
a good drizzle of olive oil
3 oz. water

Pulse the basil in the food processor until it's chopped up really fine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour, salt and pepper, pulsing a few times to mix the dry ingredients together. Add the eggs and olive oil and start up the machine again. After a few seconds, begin adding the water slowly and process until everything is thoroughly combined and dough looks like very course pebbly, sand.

Dump the dough onto a floured board and start kneading. Knead until extremely smooth, at least 10 minutes. Divide dough into quarters, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30-45 minutes.

Working with one piece of dough out at a time, knead it until it's smooth and pliable. Begin rolling it out, brushing it with flour if it starts sticking. Flip the dough over periodically to work each side and roll out as thin as possible; you should practically be able to see through it. Dust a little flour over it and fold it in half twice, then make 1/4" - 3/8" slices across it with a sharp knife or pizza cutter. Unfold the strips of pasta, toss in flour lightly and pile into "nests". Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Start boiling a big pot of water. As soon as it is at a rip-snorting boil, toss in a tablespoon of salt and gently drop the pasta nests in the pot. If you're cooking all of the pasta, you may want to cook it in two batches depending on the size of your pot. Stir pasta often and check for doneness at 3-4 minutes.** Drain pasta, toss with a little olive oil and serve immediately with your choice of sauce.

If you won't be cooking it right away, you can freeze it for up to a month. Place the uncooked pasta nests on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Place the frozen nests into a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible and put back in freezer. No need to thaw them before cooking either, just drop them straight into the pot of boiling water.

My Notes: We cooked half of it right away, and froze the rest for later. A little of the color came out during cooking but overall it was still plenty green. I think I'd like it even more basil-y though, so next time I'm putting a lot more basil in it. The dough might need more flour and/or liquid with the addition of more basil, I'll update this post with my notes the next time I make it.
  • Read how to make other colorful pastas in this article from The Kitchn.
*The first time I walked a labyrinth, I was blown away by the "distance" you could walk in such a relatively small space. I mean that both physically, and poetically. I thought them silly before I walked one, but they really are quite calming and focusing.

**The only accurate way to test pasta for doneness is to bite it. Fish a piece out of the water with a fork, let it cool for a second and take a bite. The "flinging it on the wall" technique is by no means accurate but must be done once, in your first apartment, when you're 18 and sharing a giggle-fit with your roommates.
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