2020.09.20

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Once you become a regular at a farmers market—even as a customer—you notice the patterns, the schedules of others. I’m at the market on the first two Sundays of each month. Sometimes I miss the vendors who only do one day a month, but many are there every week. The woman my mom and I call “Egg Lady” is always there, always on the corner, always with her sunflower tablecloth.

The White Rock Farmers Market starts in May and runs every Sunday until the end of October. Vendor can choose three schedules: all 26 markets, half (13 of your choice), or single days of any quantity. All Day Breakfast was a big experiment, but I had the financial cushion of an inheritance. Even though 13 markets felt like A LOT when I applied in January, it also felt like the commitment I needed. If I was gonna do this thing, I had to make it difficult for my future self to give up.

Last Sunday, I kept myself going through the lulls with thoughts of what I was going to make with the carton I bought from Egg Lady. I had talked myself out of her eggs the week before (they’re fresh brown eggs from happy local chickens, but also $6.50 for a dozen, so I think of them as a treat), and I had regretted it. This week, I was gonna make pasta, eat omelettes, maybe even buy some bacon and do a decadent carbonara.

Egg noodles are not hard to make, but like signing yourself up for 13 Sundays over 6 months, they require commitment. You can make them in a single day, but I usually don’t have that kind of energy or patience. I’ll often mix up the dough late in the day, keep it in the fridge overnight (or over a few more nights), then when I’m starving and remember it’s in there, I roll and cut just enough noodles for me to eat all by myself.

This is a guide, more than a recipe. Eggs can be wildly different sizes. If you buy yours at the grocery store (and there’s no shame in that!) (Just maybe try and get the free range ones), they’ll be sorted into S, M, L, and sometimes XL. Most cookbook recipes assume large eggs. But if you’re buying a dozen from your local Egg Lady, your eggs might be less consistent.

(During the height of the pandemic, I read an interview with a prep cook about how restaurants were handling the supply shortage, and they recalled how a former boss taught them to use their finger to scrape out the white from the inside of each shell. You can get another egg’s worth of white when you crack an entire dozen. I’ve done this with my eggs ever since.)

In a wide and shallow bowl, crack 1 egg. Separate 2 eggs and add the yolks (save the whites for tomorrow’s omelette or maybe a meringue). Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. (Did you know that I make my own and that you can buy it?) Mix with a fork, like your making scrambled eggs. Measure 1 cup of semolina flour (this is the finely ground version of what you probably make polenta with). While mixing with one hand, slowly pour the flour into the eggs.

This is where the size of your eggs matters. I made this recipe last night, exactly as above, but the dough was still tacky after all the flour was incorporated. It needed just a little bit more. Your eggs might require a little bit less, and if you dump the whole cup of flour in at once, your dough might be too dry. (This can still be fixed! I just use a little water.)

Egg dough is firmer than bread dough. You want something smooth and silky. Adding the flour slowly and checking the dough by touch will get you that perfect consistency. Once most of the flour is in the bowl, I use my hand instead of the fork. Knead the dough like you would bread, pressing away from you with the heel of your hand, fold back, and press away. This is why I like to use a shallow bowl.

(If you’re feeling very adventurous, clean a section of your kitchen counter, make a pile of flour with a well in the centre, crack your eggs, add salt, and mix outwards until it comes together into a ball for kneading.)

Kneading works the fat of the eggs and the gluten in the flour, binding them together and making them strong. Which is why your dough needs time to rest afterwards. When it looks smooth, wrap the dough in plastic and put it in the fridge for an hour (or more). Trying to roll it out now will make your pasta buckle and tear.

The first time I made homemade pasta, I used my grandma’s manual machine, clamped to the side of the table, cranked by hand. This certainly makes you feel ~authentic, but is, by no means, necessary. Truly authentic pasta would’ve been rolled by hand besides, but I have the rolling and cutting attachment for the KitchenAid mixer. (My mom bought it, but I’m the only one who’s ever used it lol.)

As with any dough, you’ll want some flour on hand to ensure nothing sticks. Though I make my pasta with semolina, I just use regular white flour for dusting. Working with a portion of the dough (with the rest wrapped tightly), flatten it as much as you can in your hands. With the rollers on the widest setting, feed the dough through, short end first. You want to make a long rectangle.

This first rolling is like a second kneading. Stick with the widest setting, fold the dough in thirds, flatten with your fingers, dust with flour if it feels sticky, then feed it through the rollers. I usually do this twice, until the dough feels smooth and silky again.

Now you can start stretching it. I’ll work fairly quickly here, one pass at each level until I get the thinness I want. My machine has 8 settings, with 1 being the widest for kneading. Last night, I rolled a bit of dough, just enough for me for dinner, and the dough was beginning to get ragged at 6. This is a sign I probably didn’t knead enough the night before when I made it, a sign the dough needs to be stronger.

(If you don’t have a pasta machine, you can use a rolling pin or even a wine bottle. You won’t get the uniformity or thinness, but that’s what makes it ~authentic, right?)

Cutting your pasta is even easier, and this can certainly be done by hand. Roll the pasta sheet gently, then slice to your desired thickness, using a long sharp knife. My KitchenAid attachment kit comes with two cutters in the same form as the rollers: one thick, one thin. Choose your size (I like ‘em thick), feed the sheets through, lay out the pasta to dry, and you’re done. (I’ll keep it wrapped up in plastic in the freezer, but usually, I just eat it all at once.)

Late in August, my mom and I drove out to Chilliwack, an hour east, to see my grandparents for the first time since the first week of quarantine in March. They’re 84 now, stubbornly independent, but it’s increasingly unsafe for my grandpa to be driving long distances. My grandma is a gardener, and though they deliberately downsized for this move, she continues to fill her greenhouse and her backyard. Summer is my favourite time to visit because I’ll always go home with bags of the freshest produce. This time, when I asked for basil, she gave me an entire hanging pot.

It was overgrown then, so I cut it back ruthlessly as soon as I brought the plant home and made pesto with the harvest. After a week on my sunny windowsill, I cut it back again and made a basil oil that went into my bread for both September markets. The past week of dark skies, fire smoke, and indoor air have not been good for any of us, but the sky above White Rock is blue today, my windows are open, finally, and perhaps I’ll get one more crop of basil before autumn sets in.

Pesto is a wonder because you can make it fancy. The original, pesto alla genovese, uses expensive ingredients. Pine nuts are ridiculously expensive in my local shops; you must use a very good extra virgin olive oil; and buying a chunk of real Parmesan is worth it, but often $8 or more. Basil and garlic—you can grow yourself, pick up at any farmers market, or ask your grandma, if she gardens, too.

But the word “pesto” just means “pounded.” Any sauce you make with a mortar and pestle is a pesto. And an immersion blender works just as well. You can make pesto fancy, but with inexpensive ingredients.

I had pumpkin seeds on hand, but no cheese. So that’s how I made my pesto: basil, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, salt + pepper (of course), and garlic + onion I was roasting to to process later. My grandma had also sent me home with a bag of ripe cherry tomatoes and ripening Romas, which I turned into a sauce. All three of these sauces—the pesto, the tomatoes, the onion + garlic—I portioned into ice cube trays and froze. For the next few months, I’ll use these like one might use a bouillon cube, like turbo boost of flavour in whatever you’re cooking.

This afternoon, I cooked my current favourite meal, a very simple pasta and pesto. All the cooking happens in a single pan; I use a cast iron. Over medium heat, I melted the last of the bacon fat I had saved. Add 1 cube each of pesto, garlic + onion, tomato sauce. Stir until melted and combined, then remove from the pan into a bowl (I used the same one I used to eat lunch). Don’t wash the pan! Add an inch or so of water. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil.

For the first 38 years of my life, I thought you should only add pasta to boiling water. Think of all those minutes wasted, waiting for pots and pans to boil. Turns out, you can cook commercial dried pasta the same way you cook rice and potatoes. You can add them to cold water. My world has changed. Fresh pasta, however, goes in boiling water. Cook as minimally as possible.

I didn’t add salt to the water today, but only because I knew how much salt was in everything else. It’s usually a good idea. Pasta is one of those foods which can take a lot of salt. Stir the pasta in the water to break up any pieces which are still stuck together. Then cover with a lid. This really doesn’t take too long, especially once you add the steam. I wait until nearly all the water is boiled away, then add back the sauce to rewarm, and cheese! Because I had bought some mozzarella to make Hawaiian pizza.

This morning, after a week of that greyish white blanket of smoke over the pacific northwest, I saw blue sky. I opened the windows for the first time in more than a week. We got a reprieve from the fires just in time to enjoy the last weekend of summer. I wish I could be out there, anywhere, doing anything, but it’s not safe yet. Too many people in BC decided Phase 3 meant the pandemic was over, and the province is reporting 100+ new cases daily again.

So I’m still indoors. I’m still lonely. I’m still bouncing between 4 streaming services, 3 Slack groups, 2 books, 1 new book of crossword puzzles, and my bed, of course. But then I got up to make this pasta for lunch today. I ate it with a Phillips Soda cola + vanilla ice cream float. I have a Tragically Hip playlist that’s helping a lot right now.

And then I sat down to write up this recipe for you. I didn’t know it would be this long when I started. It’s not a difficult recipe; I know you can do it. But I can’t be there to show you, so my words will have to be enough for now. Soon, though, I know we’ll have another chance to cook for each other.

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