Lately it’s been all almond cakes, which leaves me with tons of leftover egg yolks. Instead of making endless batches of ice-cream and custard, which would be so good and so bad, I searched for a recipe high in yolks but not in sugar. I found just the thing in the French Laundry cookbook- a pasta dough mixed by hand!
from The French Laundry Cookbook
1 ¾ cups flour
1 ½ t olive oil
1 T milk
The recipe is basic, just 4 ingredients. I searched my shelves for something to spice it up, and I picked a glass jar of espelette pepper that we brought back from Biaritz, and a box of saffron from India. A spoonful of red powder went into the flour and I sprinkled a few red strands into the milk and let it soak while I formed my well of flour.
The trick is to leave enough space in the middle for the wet ingredients, and to build a solid wall that is not too high- the height should be just over your first knuckle, enough to hold in the yolks without incorporating too much flour at once. If you are going to attempt this recipe, a plastic bowl scraper is a cheap investment you’ll be happy you made.
I poured the yolks, milk and oil into the center ring and I had to marvel at how beautiful it looked! I couldn’t wait to get my hands into it…
I started to break up the yolks with my fingers and mix the wet ingredients together. Then, I used my fingers like a whisk in the middle of the well, making small circles and pulling flour in from the walls a little at a time- the mixing technique explained in Keller’s recipe. This slow incorporation of the flour cuts down on lumpiness- as the walls eroded, I used the scraper to gently push them in from the outside.
Eventually, the liquid became a yellow paste, then a shaggy ball of dough which I kneaded for about ten minutes. I let it rest and kneaded it again, until it pulled back when I pushed a finger through it.
The next day, I used my pasta machine to roll out sheets of dough, then rolled them up and cut them into thin strips.
I pulled the strands of pasta apart and laid them on a rack to dry.
Fresh hand-made pasta needs less than five minutes in boiling salted water- I cooked up discs of zucchini and deep green haricots vert in butter and finished with raw chopped tomato.
Springy and delicate, the strands were all flecked through with red espelette and the subtle sweet taste of saffron. The egg yolks added a richness and depth of flavor to the simple pasta, as did the memory of how good it had felt to wiggle my fingers through those cold, creamy yolks.