a plate of pasta.
don’t you feel good already? Imagine really toothsome pasta, lavish with but not overwhelmed by a subtle sauce. It is too early in the season for tomatoes, but not for butter. Butter, onion and mushrooms.
thus inspired, we ate tagliatelle with mushrooms on the fire escape. Sitting on the chipped dark green iron, amidst the pots of verdant herbs and lettuces, holding green plates of golden yellow noodle nests with earthy brown mushrooms. A gluttonous silence fell; the sun set. We lifted the plates to our chins and twined the pasta on our forks, shamelessly plowing mushrooms into our mouths left gleaming with butter.
fresh, hand cut pasta cannot be hyperbolized. It wants your time and attention then rewards you lavishly.
to make enough to generously (and, really, is there any other way?) feed two, measure out a heaping cup of flour in a large, heavy bowl—one that will be comfortable for the movements of kneading—and make a hollow in the center, like a volcano. Most Italian cookbooks seem to have extensive discussions of flour, how it varies in glutinousness and absorbency and flavor. Interesting and tasty information; worth investigating between the pages. For now, know that unbleached all-purpose flour works well for pasta.
carefully break 4 cold eggs over your fingers to hold the yolk back, letting the whites fall into a large clean bowl and slipping the yolks into the hollow in the flour. Those egg whites will keep in the fridge for breakfast, or they whip up lickety-split into meringues for dessert that will slowly bake in a low oven while you’re puttering in the kitchen. Leave all the eggs to come to room temperature. Do something else for an hour.
whisk the egg yolks into the flour bit by bit with a fork then stir the lot together with a wooden spoon. Add a bit more flour or egg white as necessary for the dough to come together. When your dough is pulling into a ball, flour your hands and kneed it against the walls of the bowl, adding more flour if needed. Cradle the bowl and press into the dough with the heel of your hand, rolling it along the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough and repeat. Work the dough until it becomes elastic and satiny. Pasta dough is a bit stiff, so kneading for 8 to 10 minutes can be a challenge but have faith. Supposedly spinach pasta is softer and easier to work, and we plan to try spinach noodles for lasagna this week (stay tuned). Let your ball of dough rest for an hour.
using as many mushrooms of as many sorts as you have, pick the stems off and wipe their caps gently clean with a cloth. Slice the caps and set aside. We had a generous 2 cups cremini and maitake. Peel and quarter a small onion, slice it fine. Heat a heavy skillet over high heat, and once it is hot turn the heat down. Add a chunk of butter and puddle of olive oil, heat and add the onions. When the onions begin to sizzle and soften add the mushrooms. Stir and toss and cook over high heat for 5 minutes or so. Sprinkle with salt and fresh pepper. Turn the heat down and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for an hour. This takes some care to carry off without scorching, so add more butter as you go and maybe a swig of white wine. The surprisingly long cook time is a revelation in flavor, and a tip from Marcella Hazan’s Master Class in Marcella Says…
the untamed, bosky quality that draws you to [mushrooms’] flavor emerges with very long, slow cooking after they have completely shed their vegetal waters…. Cook mushrooms slowly in olive oil for at least an hour, longer if you are making a large amount, until they are gelatinously soft. Hover over the pan, and when your nose picks up a scent reminiscent of a dark, leaf strewn forest floor, the mushrooms are done.
she also recommends butter-based sauces for fresh pastas, whose texture is glossed over by oil. The loving handling of the dough, tugged and pulled, gently roughens the surface, which swells luxuriantly with a coating of hot butter.
returning to your pasta, separate the ball into two or three parts, whatever is manageable for your work space. Lightly flour a clean counter or tabletop. Flatten the dough into a disk then roll it out, moving from the center to the edge, turning the disk a quarter turn every few passes. When it is as wide as works, lengthen the sheet by rolling towards and away from you without turning the dough. As you work, stretch the dough on the rolling pin or, in my case, empty juice jar. Starting at the end farthest from you, roll the edge over the pin towards you and hold down the sheet resting on the counter and gently pull, rolling the pin towards you. Work the dough on the pin by moving your hands away from each other from the center out towards the edges, tugging the dough along. Let the sheet fall over the side of your work surface and hang. The dough can be worked so thin you can read newsprint through it. If the dough seems too fragile then thicker pasta is still delicious. Let this sheet rest while you roll out the next sheet.
to cut noodles, dust a rested sheet of dough with flour and roll it into a loose log about 3 inches wide. With a sharp knife, slice across the roll to make ribbons in whatever noodle width suites you. Ours were slightly wider than traditional tagliatelle which is slightly wider than fettuccine. Unroll the slices and spread your noodles out on dry cloths to dry.
bring a big pot of water to boil; salt it generously. Gently hand your noodles into the rolling water. Stir them a few times and cook for about 6 minutes, until al dente. Try one, you’ll know. Drain and toss with butter, salt and fresh pepper. Serve immediately in shallow bowls or plates topped by the mushrooms.