The weekend before last, it was the Easter bank holiday. We spent most of it cooking at the Mill, and on Good Friday, we made this pasta dish for lunch. It was a bit of a store-cupboard raid, having rather failed to plan ahead with our food shopping… Having located eggs, flour, tinned tomatoes and a potted basil (!) we decided on making spaghetti with a herb and tomato sauce. As the herb garden has also really come into its own this spring, we had all the makings of a deliciously simple lunch, without needing to go to the shops.
I picked a basketful of oregano (two types, including a “hot and spicy” variety), a little rosemary, thyme, and a few leaves of fresh mint. You might think the mint is a slightly unusual addition, but it added a touch of freshness to contrast with the warmth of the other herbs. This formed a really simple tomato sauce, but using the ethos “more is more” when it came to the herbs, it was packed with flavours from the garden. (When making this sauce it is important to adopt the mentality of add as much as you think you need of everything, and then add a little more..!) We had so much fun making it, that I decided to write it up for the blog. I have to confess that not an enormous amount of thought went into this creation – we were just working with what we had to hand, and it turned out that we rather liked it!
You will need a pasta machine with both a sheet and a spaghetti setting to make this recipe, or alternatively you can buy dried spaghetti instead.
The grated carrot adds a little sweetness to counteract the tomato, but a teaspoon or two of sugar will also do the trick. I thought about adding a few capers or some chopped green olives this time around to make the sauce a little more complex, but if you have plenty of lovely fresh herbs, it doesn’t need it. This dish is really all about simplicity.
Below – a snapshot of the bluebell woods, taken from that weekend. After collecting all the herbs for the sauce, I took Dusty (my sproodle) for a wander before covering the kitchen in flour!
FOR THE SAUCE
Heat a very generous glug of reasonably decent olive oil in a pan, over a low-medium heat. Add the garlic and fry it off for a few seconds, before adding the tomatoes and carrot to the mix. Use a wooden spoon to gently break the tomatoes up while you stir. Add your herbs, and reduce the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper, and remember to keep tasting it to check it doesn’t need more of anything. Leave it to simmer for 40-45 minutes, giving it a stir from time to time to make sure it doesn’t stick. As it cooks down, the flavours will intensify and the sauce will thicken. Set to one side until ready to use, and serve hot.
FOR THE PASTA
(If you are going to use dried pasta, just skip this step and go straight to cooking your spaghetti according to its instructions.)
Sift your flour into a large mixing bowl and create a well in the middle. Beat your eggs in a bowl. Pour just over half of the egg into the well and combine with the flour using your hands. You can do this in a food processor if you want to preserve your strength for kneading! Add the rest of the egg slowly, and stop if the dough is becoming too wet – you may not need to use it all. You want a relatively dry, breadcrumb-like texture.
Use your hands to mould the crumbs into a ball, then place it on a work surface and knead it to work the glutens. It will form a very short dough, but be patient and keep kneading it until all the flour and egg have bound together to form a smooth ball. This can take up to 10 minutes. If the dough is too dry, you can add a few drops of olive oil to help bring it together. Cover your ball in cling film and leave it to rest in a cool place for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Lightly dust your work surface with semolina flour, slice the dough into four parts, and roll these out until they are thin enough to pass through the pasta maker. First, roll your dough through the “sheet” setting to thin it out to a uniform thickness. It may need to go through more than once until it reaches the desired thickness. Then fold it into halves or thirds, and pass it through again, to achieve a silky-smooth texture. You may need to dust your machine with semolina to prevent the dough from tearing and sticking. Set your machine to the “spaghetti” setting, and pass the dough through. Arrange your spaghetti into nests on your work surface while you complete the batches.
Once your sauce is ready, it is time to cook the spaghetti. Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a pinch of salt, and drop in your pasta. It will take approximately 3 minutes to cook, depending on how al dente you like it.
Stir through the sauce before dishing up, and garnish with a little fresh basil. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and plenty of seasoning. I like to top with some grated Parmesan as well – although the dish works well without it, I rarely miss an excuse to add some cheese…
Some close ups from the herb garden…