It's Italy, 2010. I stayed up before a midterm to make macaroni with a woman named Claire. Her daughter was my classmate, her daughter was in a coma. She flew all the way from Philadelphia to be with her, and said she was starving when she landed. Everything was closed, so I helped her make mac and cheese. It seems surreal now, to think the only way I knew to comfort her, a stranger, was to make such an American classic. By the time we added the cheddar, her daughter could have been hemorrhaging. But that's the beauty of it--how we ate the pasta out of the pot and she told me about her Christina. How simple it all was. How it distracted her, how we reverted to childhood staples and how she told me Christina would live and how lucky it was that the pope was only a mile away. It was comfort food, and we both savored the moment in our own form of silence. She left one day without saying goodbye. She lived on the other side of the convent I stayed at, on the nun's side. Closer to the chapel. She said it helped her sleep at night. She dropped off almond cookies before she went, a note that said, "Thank you" and nothing else. The script was curly, feminine, concise. Not a single drop of ink was wasted, all of it conserved for future birthday cards for her dear, dear Christina. I was just a replacement, and I was content in that knowledge.
But now, I am not content at all. I am not content in this house with more square footage. Not content to be making the money I make. Not content in being lonely, or the fear of being lonely. And in those efforts to feel normal, I make comfort food myself. I made a food to challenge myself, to know I could do it. To thank the smaller gods, to have just one triumph in this haystack of a million failures. Every cook has a dish they don't think they could make, couldn't muster the technique to create the magical. For some, it might be a soufflé. My mother never thought she'd make caramel until she had to work after the recession in that "hell hole" town of ours. For me, it was pasta. It was a dish done right. We had eggs and flour in that convent kitchen, but we both just knew how to boil water and add some cheese. And if I could go back, I'd show that stranger how much I cared by making her a dish like this. Simple, quiet in its own way, tender and soft like a scrawled "thank you." Comfort food.
Simple Homemade Noodles
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 whole eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- In a bowl, measure and pour flour. Use a wooden spoon and create a well in center
- Crack eggs into well and stir with wooden spoon until starting to become crumbly
- Turn out onto a floured working surface and, with floured hands, knead for several minutes until dough is a pale yellow, springy and firm.
- Cut dough into 6 equal parts and flour work surface again, as well as rolling pin and dough
- Roll equal section of cut dough as thin as possible, working from the center outwards. When dough is at desired thickness and cannot extend any further, dust lightly with flour
- Roll dough back into itself like a pinwheel, creating a tight chiffonade or cigar-shape
- Cut off small strips of dough, place cut pieces onto a floured baking sheet
- When complete, bring water to a boil and salt
- Add pasta dough to boiling water and let boil for 2 minutes or until tender and just beyond al dente
- Drain and serve with preferred sauce
(Of course, you can use a pasta maker. Of course you can use these noodles for other things. But it's so therapeutic and rewarding to know you made it by hand. To know you have the luxury to create and learn and grow as a chef in every way you can think. Be that person, and take it slow. Make it by hand, eat it simple. You won't regret how comforting it can be.)