I can’t see a pasta maker without thinking of this one painting by John Currin. The painting is of two guys, presumably a couple, making pasta together. It’s not a painting that I particularly like, but it is a painting I will never forget.
Representation is an important thing. Those of us in marginalized groups grow to understand this, and either long for it or find ways of embracing our otherness. Seeing yourself reflected in the culture is powerful, it validates you. I grew up without any positive depictions of gay men—literally none. There was no literature read in high school, no characters in film or television, and I certainly did not have any examples in my own life. There were millions of examples of heterosexual love and lives. I have an imagination and so of course I was able to see myself in characters and situations that were unlike me, we all do. I identified with people like Mick Kelly in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks, and Levin in Anna Karenina.
But this identification is not the same thing, it isn’t representation. That painting of the gay couple making pasta is burned into my mind because it was the first (only?) time I had seen my life represented in painting in a literal way. Both in terms of the relationship between the two men and depiction of them in a domestic situation. Even today, when there are more diverse representations of gay men, they are rarely in domestic spaces—they are rarely mundane. The act of painting imbues the couple and their domestic act with an importance that was oddly moving and unsettling the first time I saw it. Over the years it has become iconic to me and impossible for me to separate from the act of making pasta. How odd! I don’t necessarily like this fact. It is stupid that I could feel so desperate for this sort of representation that I am forced to hang onto a painting that I don’t even know if I like.
So when Bryan and I, in a collective effort to make better use of sometimes neglected kitchen appliances, decided to make pasta, we both said: LIKE IN THE PAINTING! Because it is stuck in Bryan’s head too.
Making pasta turns out to be a really sweet thing to do with a partner. There is a slowness to the process that is soothing. It is a task that is possible to do by yourself, but much easier and more efficient with someone else. You do have to stand close together, like in the painting. We had a really nice morning making this pasta, and then our friends came over and we all shared a good meal. These are the friends with that baby I love. He already has seen his “uncles” make pasta together, he won’t need the painting. Hopefully we’ll all get better at including more people in the stories we tell. Hopefully he’ll have enough examples of everything that he’ll feel like he has a place in the world no matter who he is.
Saffron Tagliatelle with Spiced Butter (adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)
- 2 teaspoons saffron threads
- 4 tablespoons boiling water
- 4 medium eggs
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 440g 00 pasta flour, plus extra for rolling
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 80 g pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- 4 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
- 4 tablespoons roughly chopped mint
For spiced butter:
- 113 g unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- black pepper
Place the saffron in a small bowl with the boiling water and leave to infuse for at least 10 minutes. Then add the eggs and oil and beat to mix. Place the flour and turmeric in the bowl of a food processor and add the saffron mix. blend until a crumbly dough forms. You may need a little more oil or flour to adjust the dough to the required consistency—it should not be sticky nor very dry.
Lightly dust your surface with flour, tip out the dough and knead it into a ball. Work for a few minutes, adding more flour as needed, until it becomes silky soft (I dont really know what that means- knead until smooth). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or up to a day.
Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Keep the pieces you are not working with well covered. Using a rolling pin, or your hands, flatten one of the pieces into a thin rectangle. Set the pasta machine to its widest setting and pass the dough through. Continue rolling the pasta, narrowing the setting by a notch every time, until you get to the lowest setting (I stopped at the second lowest setting, I like a little more heft to my noodles).
Fold up the pasta sheet 2-3 times along its length, sprinkling some flour between the layers. Use a large knife to cut strips that are about 1/2-3/4-inch wide. Hang them on the back of a chair to dry for 10 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Next make the spiced butter. Place the butter and oil in a frying pan and cook the shallots gently for about 10 minutes, or until they soften and the butter turns slightly brown. Now, add all of the spices, the salt and some pepper. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and return to the saucepan (or, if you used a large frying pan for the butter, you can also add the noodles directly to that pan). Toss the pasta with the spiced butter until evenly coated. Serve topped with pine nuts and chopped herbs.