Many years ago, Grayson and I spent an entire month wandering around the western US. Early in our journey, we stopped in Boulder, CO to spend a few days with Rachael and Brendan. We hiked through the Flatirons, stocked up on veggies and homemade tortillas at the farmers market, and window shopped on Pearl, occasionally popping into a store or two to purchase a local souvenir. We happened upon a thrift store and strolled inside, in part just for a short break from the hot sun. While digging through a small box of books, a large, yet completely unassuming cookbook, The Pasta Bible, caught my eye, and after quickly flipping through a couple of pages, I tucked it under my arm and headed to the counter to check out. The design on the cover of the book wasn't anything special, and the corners were pretty battered, but for some reason I was really drawn to this cookbook. Cooking was a relatively new presence in my life at the time, but I fell in love hard and fast, and The Pasta Bible was the first cookbook I'd purchased on my own, all others having been passed down to me by my sweet mom.
After a long month on the road, we returned home to Lexington, Kentucky, where we were living at the time, and invited some friends over to catch up and share stories from the summer. Having read The Pasta Bible from cover to cover many times over on the long stretches of highway between the west coast and Kentucky, I decided to try my hand at making a big batch and an accompanying tomato-carrot sauce from scratch. Later that evening, we all gathered around the kitchen table with full plates and a couple of bottles of wine.
This meal stands out to me as one of the formative moments in my amateur cooking career; it was one of my first experiences cooking completely from scratch, and I was so surprised by how simple it was. It was an opportunity to lose myself in thought, spending extra time kneading the dough, rolling it thin, cutting it into long noodles. I felt like I was able to be truly creative and inventive in the kitchen for the first time. Sharing the fruits of my labor with some of my closest friends brought me so much joy, and inevitably shaped some of the values that guide my approach to cooking, and my work in community food systems advocacy.
Homemade pasta is still one of my favorite meals to make, and here's how I'm preparing it these days:
Fresh Pasta with a Roasted Carrot-Tomato Sauce
For the dough:
> 2.5 cups flour (white, whole wheat, a mixture of gluten-free flours––whatever you prefer)
> 3 eggs, preferably at room temperature
> 1 tablespoon course salt
> 1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Sift the flour into a small mound on the table and make a hollow well in the middle. Add eggs, salt and olive oil to the well and use a fork to wisk the wet contents together. Slowly start to incorporate the flour into the mixture and keep incorporating more flour until you have a mass of dough.
2. Knead the dough with your hands, adding a little flour if the dough is too wet and sticky, or adding a little water if it's too dry and crumbly. Continue to knead until the dough is a cohesive mass, and then cover it in plastic wrap and set it aside for at least an hour, at room temperature (this part is important in keeping the pasta light and fluffy).
3. Once the dough has rested, dust a little flour onto your work space and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough (it might help to cut the dough in half to make it more manageable for rolling). Keeping in mind that the thickness should be consistent so that the pasta cooks evenly, cut the dough into long, thin noodles. Dust the noodles with a little flour after you've cut them to keep them from sticking and set them aside.
4. Cook in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain, return the noodles to the pot and drizzle a little olive oil on them to help them from sticking to the pot.
For the sauce:
> 4 lbs tomatoes (if it's summer, ripe heirlooms from the farmers market make the freshest, most flavorful sauce, but if it's winter and you can't get your hands on hothouse grown 'maters, I recommend organically grown canned tomatoes)
> 5-6 large carrots
> 3 cloves garlic
> 1 sweet onion
> 1 bunch fresh basil
> 1 stick butter
> Salt and pepper
> A drizzle of olive oil
1. Set the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the carrots into thin, small pieces and place them on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then roast for 15 minutes, or until they're tender.
2. While the carrots are cooking, melt the butter in your sauce pot and chop the onions in a food processor until small, but not pureed. Cook the onions in the butter on low heat until they're soft and caramelized. Chop the garlic and add to the pot. Once the carrots are done roasting, chop them in the food processor into small pieces and add them to the pot, pouring in a little water to help them continue to cook.
3. Chop the tomatoes into medium-sized chunks and add to the pan. Coarsely chop the basil, set some aside for later, and add to the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and add a little water if needed. Simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes.
Pour a hearty serving of sauce on the pasta, sprinkle a few shreds of fresh basil on top, and serve. This meal tastes best when shared with friends or family, and leftover sauce is perfect for freezing for later.