Sure, this post looks as if it might have something to do with St. Patrick’s Day, but it really hasn’t. We’ve wanted to make up a batch of green pasta for quite a while now, but we’ve just never had everything come together at the right time. You know, having the spinach on hand and needing scratched pasta at the same time. That is, until now, when we wanted to make pumpkin cannelloni and had just received a bag of fresh spinach from the CSA.
Now, if you’re thinking that this post will tell you a method to turn dried pasta green, you’re out of luck. We’re scratchin’ up this pasta by hand. But don’t worry. Pasta is one of those staples that most people think is too difficult to make, but it actually only takes a few minutes. Plus, you’re rewarded with a better-tasting pasta than you’ll ever find at the store.
You can use fresh, frozen, or canned spinach; the only things you need to keep in mind are that you don’t need much, and that it should be very thoroughly cooked, so it disintegrates during the kneading. You can also use special flours for your pasta, but it’s not necessary, as all-purpose works quite nicely. We specify extra-virgin olive oil, but any light oil will work just fine.
Procedure in detail:
Chop spinach. If you’re using fresh spinach, you’ll want to shop it very finely. We just went at it with a chef’s knife. It’s sure easier to clean a knife than some electrical device.
Boil spinach. Once you’ve chopped the spinach, place it and the water in a small saucepan over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat, cover tightly (so the liquid doesn’t boil off), and simmer until overcooked, about 10 minutes. Check the liquid level from time to time, but make sure to cook the spinach a long time so it’ll fall apart while kneading the pasta dough. Once cooked, let cool.
Make pasta dough. In a small to medium bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil and the spinach. For the spinach, you can add the cooking liquid, too, as long as it’s only about 1/4 cup, total. Stir with a spoon until the dough comes together in a ball. The dough should be stiff but pliable, but not sticky. Add flour or water, if needed.
Knead. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead until smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. We find it easiest to count the number of times we press and fold the dough to knead it. For us, 300 strokes is about 5 minutes, and is about the right amount of kneading.
Rest. Wrap the pasta dough in plastic and let rest at least 30 minutes so the dough can become completely hydrated and the gluten relaxed. If you need to let it rest much longer than an hour, place it in the refrigerator and take it out to warm for about an hour before rolling.
Roll and cut. This is super easy if you have a pasta machine, but we’ve rolled pasta with a rolling pin, and once, even an empty wine bottle, so you can manage with whatever you have. Roll the pasta into sheets as thin as you want, then cut into appropriate shapes for your dish. Let cut pasta dry on a clean kitchen towel for at least 15 minutes.
Boil. When you work with fresh pasta, remember that it cooks much faster than the store-bought kind, generally only 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the thickness.
Fresh scratched pasta is so much better than anything you can get a store; we strongly recommend making it yourself whenever you can. We think that making fresh pasta is the one thing that home chefs should master to make their pasta dishes go from good to outstanding. For the amount of effort, it’s the most bang for the buck, and, in the case of green pasta, it’s light years away from that green-colored pasta in a box. This pasta tastes like spinach. A lot. You could serve this pasta with melted butter (or even plain) as a side, and everyone will be impressed with the flavor and texture. Sure, there are tiny flecks of spinach in the pasta, but that just shows you took the time and effort to make your meal the best it could be. Five stars.