By Summer Miller, author of New Prairie Kitchen
I scoop a pile of all-purpose flour into the shape of a small, soft, moveable mountain. The front fingers of my left hand curve gently inward making a loose fist that I dip into the center of my creation. I push the walls of flour further outward in a slow circular motion to make a crater or a nest depending on how you look at it. Outside the birds are chirping. The sun spills in across the worn and scratched surface of my countertop. Eight or so eggs in hues of soft blue, green and umber from my neighbor’s chickens sit in front of me, a bottle of olive oil to the side. I pick up a blue egg, crack its shell on the counter and split it open. Its contents fall inside the crater. I follow suit with three more before tossing the white of the fifth egg, and plopping the yolk in with the others. Add the salt, and the oil, and the base of dinner for at least two nights sits before me.
Today, these ingredients will become pasta. Vary the amounts, add some sugar, and a stand mixer and the raw ingredients transform into cake. Today, I am a mother of two school aged children working alone in a quite house. Not long ago, I was a mother of children in diapers, trying to keep them out of the flour and the Tupperware drawer. Here in the quite of my kitchen, eggs, oil, and flour will become pasta dough, rolled out with the same rolling pin that has made endless cutout cookies at Christmas and tenderized the flesh of countless chickens.
This weekend we celebrate Labor and the end of summer. It marks a transition in how we will spend our afternoons as the nights grow longer and the days cooler. Soon we will hear about pumpkin spice everything, and the grocery store aisles will be stocked from floor to ceiling with Halloween candy, even though fall has yet to arrive and Halloween is still two months away. I will not be hurried or rushed, so I make dough, and daydream about transformations. Dough must rest or rise there is no escaping the time needed to develop gluten and structure. Like people, it takes time to grow a backbone or become elastic. One is not exclusive of the other.
I, along with thousands of others, traveled to the center of Nebraska to see the total solar eclipse. I took the kids out of school.My sensible and reserved husband, wasn’t as excited as I was so he stayed in Omaha. I packed my children, whose faces were still puffy with sleep, into my dusty Toyota and followed my brother’s car, two parts of caravan of friends and family. We drove for two hours down country roads until we found a spot near a lake where we set our picnic blankets and sandwiches alongside other eclipse pilgrims. We waited, and watched as the sun became an orange sliver. It was interesting, and beautiful, but not overly impressive. Then we stood in the shadow of the moon, a silver ring glowed around it, and the entire world as we saw it transformed into a living Maxfield Parrish painting. We were awestruck.
My brother yelled, “Lets run up the hill!” Though we are both in our 40s, we ran like children to the top, clomping through the dried remains of prairie grasses and rosehips. His wife and my children ran with us. The moon covered the sun, and a cacophony of sounds emitted from one hill top to the next. We applauded. We laughed joyfully. We were bathed in midday darkness, then soft light. We had a shared collective experience of beauty. These shared experiences are more important than I have given them credit. We build on them socially, they provide structure. They create our backbone and elasticity. Without them we are just random bits of cells floating around bumping into each other but incapable of connecting, incapable of building. We exist as mere fragments of what could be a much deeper, broader and complete existence.
I can’t comprehend the vast natural wonders in the world any easier than I can compartmentalize its villains or heroes. I have been both in my lifetime, and so have you. The wonder I have with every human connection, and the loss I feel when it’s absent live in the valley between two hills and the grade is steep when climbing either side. I am as easily exhausted as I am exhilarated. I am weakened and strengthened by the same experience.
I watch time pass on the faces of my children. It stretches through them and jolts me into a state of awareness. How sudden and sneaky time evaporates, and pushes us like water through a valley into a new stage of our lives. One moment, my children thought the color of the sun was lelow, then out of nowhere it was yellow. On a hillside in Nebraska, the sun was there, then it was gone. It was flour and eggs, then dinner. The garden was bare and seedless, then it bore fruit, and I think to myself, “Yes, the summer was here. It is going now. Catch a moment of it. See it fleeing out the back door.”
I knead the dough, pushing the heel of my palm into it, and folding it over, again, and again. I’m not too gentle, but then again transformations rarely are.
10 Minute Pasta Sauce with Homemade Noodles
I developed this recipe when my son was four months old. He wasn’t sleeping through the night and we were both fussy. I missed good, healthy food, so I came up with this quick, fresh dish. The sauce comes together in just a few minutes. I will freely admit to buying noodles at the store when he was an infant. He’s older now, so I make noodles from scratch. If you’re short on time, buy pre-made noodles, but if you have the time the flavor and texture of homemade noodles are worth the extra effort.
FOR THE SAUCE – TAKES 10 MINUTES:
6 oz of fresh or store bought wide-noodle pasta
2 large handfuls of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
10 fresh basil leaves, rolled up and sliced into thin ribbons
Zest from 1/2 lemon
5 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
4 turns of freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
Juice from 1/2 a small lemon
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, however much makes you happy
Start a large pot of boiling water. Season with a good amount of salt and olive oil.
While the water is coming to a boil, combine everything except lemon juice in a bowl large enough to eventually accommodate the noodles. Give it a quick toss and set aside.
Once the water comes to a boil add 6 oz of fresh pasta and cook for about 2 minutes. Toss genly with a fork a time or two so it doesn’t stick together. If using store bought pasta, cook to package instructions.
Once pasta is finished drain and put noodles into the bowl with the sauce. Squeeze lemon juice on top. Toss until everything is well coated.
Top with parmesan cheese, and serve.
20 min. prep time | 1 hour resting time | 30 minutes to roll dough and cut noodles | 1 hour dry time (optional)
2 ¾ cups all purpose flour + more for dusting and rolling
4 whole eggs
3 teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
Rolling pin or pasta roller
Bench scraper or sharp knife
Heap flour into a pile on the countertop. Create a well in the center. You want the flour to resemble a volcano. Place the eggs, yolk, olive oil and salt into the well. Working from the inside of the well out, use a fork to slowly make a stirring motion from the center of the well, breaking the yolks and pulling in bits of flour as you go. Do this until you gradually combine the wet and dry ingredients until the dough somewhat comes together. Use your hands or a bench scraper to continue to bring the dough together. Form it into a ball, dust a clean part of the counter with flour and knead for 10 minutes. If the dough is sticky add more flour a little bit at a time. You should have a soft, elastic dough. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest on your counter for an hour.
When it has finished resting. Shape it into a fat log, and cut it into 5 or 6 sections. Leave one section out and rewrap the others. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough into a long strip, that is just about paper thin. I use the rolling pin to lift the dough up, re-dust the counter and flip it over with each pass. When you’re finished, you should have a long piece of dough that is 3 to 4 inches wide and a yardstick long. Dust the strip of dough with flour. Starting with the short end loosely fold it over itself a stack. Then cut the stack into 1-inch wide strips. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough. Unroll the individual noodles and stretch them across your dining room table or kitchen island. Let dry for about 45 minutes to 1-hour. The noodles will still be pliable, but should be dry enough that you can create little nests without compressing the noodle. If saving for later, place the noodle nests on a well-floured baking sheet, then place in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the nests to a plastic bag. If you are really pressed for time, you can pile them into the little nests on a well-floured baking sheet, without first drying them. It will still work, but some of your noodles might be compressed.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add a tablespoon of olive oil to the water, and fresh or frozen pasta. If fresh it should only take about 2 minutes to cook. If frozen, it should only take about 3 minutes. Drain the water, and use noodles with the 10-minute pasta sauce.
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