Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took my arms to recover from this weekend. Embarrassed enough that I just won't say how long. Let me downplay my frailty by emphasizing my nobility – I enlisted to assist in a kids' cooking class on Italian food. Or at least what the under-ten crowd recognizes as Italian: pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs. Baddabing baddaboom. I signed on for this very short notice, knowing full well that 1) Though I usually like kids, I haven't babysat since high school, 2) I panic before setting foot in a professional kitchen (again, NOT A CHEF), and 3) I've always relegated pasta-making to the grandmotherly- or Williams-Sonomaly-types. But, rather than leading these tots off a culinary cliff, I insisted on trying the recipes out at home before taking them under my wing. Which meant making pasta for the first time. Like an old schooler. With my wrists and a rolling pin.

Usually any dough I touch turns to immalleable mortar, but this pasta cooperated, rolling out and cutting most obligingly. The kneading, shaping, rolling and cutting took me about forty minutes though, and by the end, the bones in my wrists were quivering like rubber bands. I've often read that homemade pasta is worth the effort. Maybe it was Chef Lisa Falso's flawless recipe, or maybe I just put enough courage into it. But I was ready to agree after tasting the fruits of my labor. My fettucini-like strips were still a bit thick, but tasted rich and wholesome and soaked up a basic garlic/olive oil/red pepper flakes/Parmesan treatment in a way the bland, boxed stuff only dreams. The next day I worked with the kids, and saw how quickly we turned out sheet after sheet of paper-thin, comically stretched-out pasta. Both my gang of rambunctious boys and I thought it was pretty much the coolest thing ever. And damn did it make me resent those Williams-Sonomaly types with their gadgets. I'd be doing this once a week with those labor-saving toys.

Homemade Pasta with Oven-Roasted Broccoli

a recipe of homemade pasta – really a combination of eggs, flour, and a bit of water. Bust out a KitchenAid pasta attachment, a pasta roller from a yard sale, or your floured-up hands. Try it, sweat and curse your way through it, and thank me later.

1 small head of broccoli, trimmed into small florets
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Parmesan shavings (I'd say at least ¼ cup, and you'll want to splurge on a nice cheese, like Grana Padano)
a generous few shakes (2 tsp-ish) red pepper flakes
a good pinch of sea salt

A note on the pasta: I've never salted water for pasta before. Criminal or judicious? With dried pasta, I don't think it matters. But when boiling fresh, whether you or Whole Foods made it, you should amply salt the water and bring it to a rolling, Biblical boil. Add the pasta and cook until it rises to the surface. I think mine took about 6 minutes. Drain it through a colander, or better yet (since it's a bit more delicate than the dried kind), remove it with a pasta spoon, shake off the access water, and place it in a colander until ready to toss with a sauce.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Steam the broccoli in a colander or directly in boiling water until barely blanched, just about a minute. Drain if necessary and wait until cool enough to touch. Toss the broccoli with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper in a small baking pan. Bake until darkened along the tops, about 15 minutes or so.

Heat the rest of the olive oil in a deep-sided pan over medium-low. When the oil is hot (test it with a sliver of the garlic), add the garlic and salt and swirl the pan around until the garlic is just cooked, less than a minute. Add the red pepper flakes and swirl a few times more. Add the pasta and toss it with the oil. Garnish each plate with the roasted broccoli and Parmesan shavings. Serves 4-6 (I think. I ate most of what I made).