Whether we choose to admit it or not, the days of summer are gone. Pool parties are a distant memory; no more is the air filled with the scent of char-grilled burgers and Banana Boat tanning lotion, and the carefree flip-flopping of open-toed shoes has hushed. Some may find this to be a disappointment. But not me. This means I can finally open my windows, finally take a long stroll without being drenched in sweat, finally have un café a la terrasse and actually enjoy it. Even more, in these next few weeks, we exist in a very special part of the year: without a hard freeze, summer’s last fruits have found their way to the table alongside more hardy vegetables, like squash, broccoli, kale, and chard. If you are one who cooks with the seasons, this might seem like a bit of quandary, trying to come up with dishes that incorporate produce from summer and fall. But don’t fear: as a general rule, the best way to bring together various ingredients is to cook them with some sort of grain or pasta. In doing so, diverse vegetables are no longer incompatible partners; rather, they provide interest and excitement to whatever pasta or grain they’re cooked along with.You could certainly make this dish using store-bought dry wheat pasta, and it would be just fine. But I’ve never been a fan of wheat pasta. In fact, it seems like a kind of oxymoron, like pizza without cheese or sugar-free chocolate. A big part of why I love pasta is its starchy, creamy, comforting texture. This is exactly why I never buy wheat pasta–because it’s devoid of this wonderfully creamy quality. In recent weeks, however, I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of homemade pasta. There was a stellar summer lasagna I made, layered with thick slices of provencal tomatoes, fresh basil, gruyere, and parmesan. It was enormous, and after eating on it for about a week, my wife made a request for a more ‘healthy’ pasta. I often grumble over these requests, but in truth, if left to my own devices, I would be a very fat, very sad man. And in trying to honor her request, homemade whole-wheat tagliatelle was born.I hope that by this point, you know me well enough to be sure that I would not post a recipe that I myself do not believe to be absolutely delicious. But you might be wondering why this wheat pasta is any different from the rest. Here’s the deal. The pasta you buy at the store, be it white or wheat, is made with flour and water. Most fresh pastas, however, are made with egg. It’s no surprise that an egg can provide a richness and creaminess that water alone cannot. It’s this addition of egg that nearly solves the whole-wheat pasta problem. That, and a bit of olive oil. Now, is it identical to a big bowl of fettucine made from white flour(or semolina)? No. Of course not. It does, however, have some very lovely qualities to it. Namely, it has a pleasing chewiness that makes you want to go back for more and a subtle earthiness that pairs well with bright flavors like tomato or lemon. If this is, in fact, your first rodeo, you could always start with a classic and make this first. But if you feel game, let’s go.
2 lbs cherry tomatoes
1 large bunch of chard
1 medium-sized butternut squash, chopped
1 yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
hot chili oil, to taste
for the pasta:
200 g whole wheat flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp olive oil
Start by assembling your ingredients for the pasta. In a large bowl, or on a clean countertop, pour in the wheat flour and make a well in the center. Separately, mix up your eggs and the olive oil with a fork and then pour them into the well. With a clean hand, integrate the flour, a little at a time, to the egg and oil. It will take a little time and toward the end, it will probably seem too dry, as if the remaining flour will not be able to mix in. But continue to work with it until all the flour has been incorporated. At this point, you will have a shaggy dough that needs to be made more supple. This can be done by kneading the dough. For about 5 whole minutes, knead the dough on a clean work surface. As you knead it, you should notice that it becomes more and more smooth. When the ball of pasta dough begins to resemble that of the picture above, wrap it in plastic and leave it to rest on the counter for one hour(or up to a few hours).
While the pasta rests, we’ll make our sauce, and prepare the chard and the butternut squash. To start, pour a good glug of olive oil into a wide pan and turn the heat to high. When the pan is hot, pour in the cherry tomatoes. They will sizzle and spit–all good signs. Let them cook on high heat for about 10 minutes, taking care that they do not scorch(a little charring is good, however). After about ten minutes, turn the heat to medium high and add the minced garlic and the chopped yellow onion. Give it a good bit of salt and fresh cracked pepper and let it cook on medium heat while you prepare the butternut. This sauce will continue to cook as you prepare the butternut, the chard, and the pasta.
To prepare the butternut, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the butternut down the middle, scoop out the seeds(which you can roast and season with savory indian spices!), and cut off the outer skin. Chop the butternut into bite-sized pieces and place them on a wide sheet pan. Give them a good bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let them cook for about 20 minutes, or until they are good to the tooth and slightly browned.
While they cook, prepare the chard. Heat a very large pot of salted water until it comes to a boil. While it heats, remove any thick pieces of stalk from the chard, but keep some for texture and chew. Chop the chard into ribbons and give it a good rinse. When the salted water boils, throw in the chard, cover it briefly, and cook just until the chard wilts (about 2 minutes). Remove the cooked chard, rinse it under cool water, and set it aside for later use.
Once the hour of resting is up, it’s time to roll out the pasta. Begin by cutting the disc of dough into four equal pieces. Lightly flour your work surface and, using a rolling pin, gradually roll out the dough. Flour lightly as you go, so that the pasta doesn’t stick and then tear. If you want nice long tagliatelle, don’t worry about the width of the piece of dough that you are rolling out. Instead, roll it out as long as you can. For me, this meant that each quarter of pasta dough could be rolled out to a nearly-30-inch rectangle. This is not a breeze, and it requires that you bear down with your weight onto the rolling pin while slowly rolling outward, but you can do it! If you lose your mojo and try to settle for thick whole-wheat pasta, you will likely not be pleased. The result will be coarse strands of pasta that are too thick to be moistened by the water in which they will boil. So, with that in mind, hang in there! Once this rectangle has been rolled out long, flour it well and fold it over onto itself into it becomes a neat little folded pasta package measuring about 4 or 5 inches long. Flour the top of this folded package and take care not to press it down at all. Instead, with a sharp knife, cut the length of the pasta so that it is about 1/8 of an inch wide. Once completed, gently loosen these strands with a little more flour. These should now unfold into separate pieces of tagliatelle the length of the initial rectangle of dough you rolled out. Place these aside on a dry plate and continue with the other three pieces of dough. When you’re finished, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. From here, the process moves quickly.
When the water boils, throw in the pasta and crank up the heat on the pan of cherry tomato sauce to high. The pasta should cook for two minutes. After two minutes, strain the pasta and pour it into the pan of cherry tomato sauce. Give it a good mix and let the pasta and the sauce cook together for one more minute. Finally, pour the pasta-sauce mixture into a large mixing bowl and throw in the butternut squash and the chard. Season with a little more salt and pepper to taste, and hit it with a little hot chili oil. Careful, the stuff is hot.