Sometimes, as a threat, I tell my children that there were times, like maybe in the 1950s, when children weren’t even allowed INTO the kitchen. They had to PLAY OUTSIDE until dinner was ready. They did not ever get to help cook, and they CERTAINLY were not allowed to gambol about the cook’s feet or play frisbee with the tupperware lids to entertain the baby. My children stare at me, slack-jawed and wide-eyed. Being banned from the kitchen is as bad a fate as they can imagine.
In fact, many evenings when I head into the kitchen to start thinking about dinner, they beat me there, pulling their stepladders up to the counter. “How can we help?” They measure as we bake, pile cut veggies onto the tray to roast, push the buttons on the machines. They find the pots, help set the table, and enthusiastically stir clouds of flour and glops of sauces right onto the floor.
So when my little chefs make a dinner request, I like to indulge them. The other night my five year old requested stracci di pasta. Actually, what she said, with a bordering-on-maniacal gleam in her eye, was “Mama, can we make that pasta where we get to cut it up by ourselves WITH A SHARP KNIFE?” (Sharp knives–even not VERY sharp knives–are exciting to the preschool set.) Indeed we could.
Homemade egg pasta is actually very easy if you have a pasta roller. If you don’t, forget it, borrow a friend’s and then come back for the recipe. We made ours with spinach both for the emerald color and because I want my kids to cook with and eat vegetables on purpose (as opposed to only hidden-in-their foods veggies, which seems to be a trend). This recipe, like many of my favorites, started its life in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
Fresh Spinach Pasta starts with two c. lightly packed spinach leaves blended with two eggs until liquid. Mix 2 c. flour with 1/4 tsp. salt in a mixer/food processor/bowl then add the liquid while stirring or mixing on low speed. The dough will be quite crumbly but if it is unworkably dry or sticky you can adjust with a spoonful of water or flour. Turn out onto a cutting board and knead until smooth. Cover and let rest 15 minutes. Cut dough into 4-6 pieces and flatten each into a rough rectangle. Set your pasta roller to the widest setting and roll the dough through, then fold in half or thirds and roll again to continue kneading the dough. Do this a few times, then stop folding and start thinning out the dough by running it through the machine on progressively thinner settings. When your pasta is suitably thin, repeat with remaining dough. Let your kids cut the pasta into stracci (“little rags”), or fold it as shown and slice into noodles. (If the pasta seems at all sticky, flour it lightly for this step.) Pull apart into a pile of noodles and toss with a few pinches of flour to keep the noodles from sticking. Cook in a boiling pot of salted water for a few minutes, tasting as you go (cooking time will depend on the thickness of your pasta).
We drained our pasta and tossed it into a pan of puttanesca-style sauce: olive oil, garlic, capers, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and a few more handfuls of spinach.