My little godchild gave me a visit the other day together with her mom who is among my closest friends since we were students many, many years ago. Together with some further friends, we regularly used to recover from our academic ambitions with some gourmet fun projects: cooking fancy things like Canard à l’orange in our tiny kitchens, having some bargain „Oyster-for-all“ lunch at Galeries Lafayette, or trying to collect mushrooms in the woods for some Coq au vin (which ended up buying button mushrooms at a supermarket due to our total lack of any wild mushroom knowledge).
Those of you who have children might have made the experience that such culinary freedom often ends for quite a while where parenthood begins. No vegetables please, cookies for dinner, noodles with pink sauce for breakfast – at least if the nutrition planning were up to the kids ;-). As for the noodles: No Problem! The little cuty, her mom and me turned the all-time-favorite into a home-made noodles adventure. Not just any noodles but noodles with patterns – and this has all been so exciting, the first time cooking together with the three of us and the first time doing some painted pasta thing, that this is going to be a rather long post…
I have seen herbal pattern pasta in many magazines, on websites and in cookbooks without exactly remembering where, so I missed a recipe, even for a basic dough. It had nevertheless been my task to prepare the latter, so I followed round and about the dough recipe within the manual of my pasta machine (which I didn’t have in use for years for whatever reason), added some things that I felt we would need in it, and I was sure we would somehow manage the patterns. Although there was whole spelt flour involved and no eggs, my little guest loved it (and so did my friend and me). I count that on the sauce, too, which turned out to be a funny task in the first place. When I asked the little three year old if she liked tomato sauce, her mother knodded but she was like: No, I like just only-sauce sauce! Ah, ok, which color has only-sauce sauce? Black! Ah, and what’s in that black only-sauce sauce? Well, sauce! In the end, we agreed upon tomato only-sauce sauce and the party started.
It had been a wonderful evening, even though the noodles where too thick and too soft-boiled and no food photo stuff at all. But we where so hungry after the whole procedure that I nearly forgot to shoot a photo of the dish anyway. I retried the recipe the next day and could find out about some tricks to improve it. But the more important thing had been to see the little kid having much fun with moving the crank and especially with kneading the rest of the dough and decorating it with herbs that she had thoroughly covered with flour. I guess she will be a food stylist one day. And I hope we will meet soon again – maybe to cook something with black only-sauce sauce on top.
Here’s our recipe
For three servings, mix 250 g sifted whole spelt flour with one big tablespoon of olive oil, some salt and 150 ml of water. Give the dough a rest of at least one hour after kneading so that the flour can absorb the humidity. Prepare two handfuls of mixed herbs – we used marjoram, fine young arugula, chervil and sage with stems cut off carefully (otherwise they will tear the dough apart).
Flour two big wooden chopping boards and place next to the pasta machine. Cut off a piece of dough (as big as half a fist) and put through the flat roller at level 1 (which is the widest adjustment at my machine). This part is much fun for children – you put something bulky in, turn the crank, and you take off something more or less even on the other side of the roller! Well, at least a little even ;-). You go on with this procedure until you are half through the adjustments (which is 5 of 9 on my machine) and put the noodle plate on the floured board. To be honest: We struggled a little with the procedure as the plates got incredibly long but did neither broaden nor get even at the ends. I found out the trick the next day: Right in the beginning, put in a slim piece of dough width-wise and repeat this several times on level 1 (fold the dough each time before re-entering) until it is broad enough and halfway even at the ends. I am sure the noodle experts among you know this already, but maybe there’s someone out there who is as much a noodle greenhorn as we are – I gladly share my novice’s expertise with you ;-). And here’s another hint: it helps a lot to handle the dough if you put on a bit of flour each time after getting the plates off the machine and before re-entering.
Once you have rolled out two plates of same size, put on the herbs on one plate nose to tail. Don’t be afraid that the pasta will be crowded too much with the herbs – the distances will broaden when the plates are rolled out further. Put the second plate on the first one and fix thoroughly with your hands. Take the plate and get back to adjustment 4 (as you have two layers now). What comes out of the rollers is already beautiful, but only slightly visible, so go on until you reach adjustment 7 and you get very beautiful herbal patterns (7 is my experience after the second attempt the next day as 5 and 6 on the evening before turned out to be too thick). The herbs get cracked and stretched within the dough, indeed it looks a little like cave painting. Cut into squares – of course you can also make fettuccine with the fettuccine roller of the machine, but the squares show off the patterns really nicely. Let get dry. To do so, we had put the noodles on heavily floured plates which ended up with some of them sticking on the plate after resting time and some being clotted with meal which needed to be brushed off (which is quite some work…). A slightly floured wooden board works much better which I discovered by chance afterwards.
Prepare the only-sauce sauce in the meantime: Cut some tomatoes into pieces, as well as two shallots and a clove of garlic. In a pan, heat some olive oil and stir shallots and garlic. Add the tomatoes and a handful of herbs (we took sage and marjoram) and cook until the liquid has gotten less. Mix in a blender – it depends on your kid’s habits whether you blend it until there are no chunks left or if a more chunky consistency is welcome. Salt and pepper to taste, add a little bit of cream and a pinch of raw sugar. Put back in the pot and let simmer until the sauce get’s a little thicker. Done.
Cook the noodles in a lot of boiling and salted water. If you used wholemeal flour like we did, forget about that „they-are-done-once-they-get-to-the-surface“ story as the pasta will taste too floury. If you cook it for another 2-3 minutes you will be fine (just taste a noodle after two minutes and then decide if it needs a little more time). Serve the noodles with the sauce, fresh herbs on top and some bocconcini – children just love those tiny balls.
As I said above: All the three of us liked it a lot. We where a bit disappointed that the patterns would not show that much after cooking. When I retried the thinner version next day, it worked better but still didn’t stand out this much after cooking. I guess that’s how it is with wholemeal pasta – but the little cuty didn’t care for the adult’s stylish sorrows anyway: She was just happy with her noodles with only-sauce sauce.
Here’s a little insight to the dish next day – just to show a bit more what the patterns look like.