While still early on my culinary journey, there are many small milestones that have brought me to where I am today.

Some of these milestones include the first time I baked cookies, made a cheesecake, cooked an entire meal, went grocery shopping by myself, studied my first cookbook, discovered that there were cooking shows on TV, ate a meal in a foreign country, and when I realized that food is not just about the physical ingredient, but also about history, family, love, heartbreak, and how we stumble through life.

I have Ruth Reichl to thank for the latter.  Her three autobiographical books, Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires, showcase how food weaved its way through her life’s triumphs, crises, and transitions.  You don’t have to be a gourmand to appreciate the humor, growing pains, and often raw heartbreak that Ruth describes in her stories, but somehow by the end of most chapters food becomes the final ingredient that brings the story into perspective.

This amazing fresh pasta recipes is from Comfort Me With Apples and it is most definitely a composition in itself.  I have been trying to think of something profound to say about it all week, in Ruth’s honor, but in this case, I am at a loss for words and I will let the photos speak for themselves.

What I can say is, making your own pasta is an experience that should be enjoyed and savored and was also one of my early cooking milestones.  Love your food and if you haven’t made pasta from scratch let this recipe help you reach that milestone.

Homemade Pasta with Asparagus and Smoked Ham

Serves 4-6

From Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl

Note:  Okay health freaks, this dish is not a friend of your cholesterol, but you should still make it… The wonderful thing about this recipe is that no fancy pasta maker is required!

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup semolina flour, plus additional for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

18 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped

salt and pepper

1 stick unsalted butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup water

3/4 pound thickly sliced smoked ham, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 pound small asparagus spears, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch ling pieces

Pulse the flours and salt together in a food processor.  Add the egg yolks and oil and process just until mixture forms a ball of dough.  Divide dough into 6 pieces and form each into a disk.  Wrap each disk of dough in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Dust 3 baking sheets with some semolina flour.  Unwrap 1 piece of dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin until paper thin (if you lift the dough light should shine through like stained glass – see picture above), making a rectangle about 11 by 13 inches.  Cut the dough crosswise with a pizza wheel or sharp knife in 11- by 1/2-inch wide strips.  Carefully transfer the pasta, overlapping slightly, to a sheet pan to dry at room temperature, gently turning occasionally, for about 2 hours.  Repeat the rolling and cutting with remaining dough.

To make sauce, cook the onion, with salt and pepper, in 4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until softened.  Add the garlic and parsley and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Cover and keep warm.

Combine the water, ham, asparagus, and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a large heavy saucepan and simmer, covered, until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the onion mixture and season with more salt and pepper.  Keep sauce warm, covered.

Cook the pasta in an 8-quart pot half full of boiling salted water until just tender, about 1 minute, and drain in a colander.  Return the pasta to the pot, add the sauce, and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

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