Berkeley chef Samin Nosrat shows us the joy of making fresh pasta
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Chef as teacher
Samin Nosrat is as much a born teacher as a chef. “I’ve always loved to eat, but I love people more than I love food,” says Nosrat, who got her start at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and puts on pop-up dinners at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. She also teaches cooking throughout the Bay Area. One of her students, writer Michael Pollan, made her a star of his new book, Cooked. “Everything I know about cooking, I learned from Samin,” he recently said, only half-joking.
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Fresh pasta made easy
Nosrat—who inherited her love of food from her Persian family—has a gift for explaining basic skills in a clear, encouraging way. “My goal is to give students tools so they can feel free in the kitchen,” she says. Her current obsession is homemade orecchiette, as it “has an amazing chewiness and texture that you just don’t get from dried.” When Nosrat saw women in Italy spinning dough into thimbles, she thought: “I’ll never be able to do that. It has to be in your blood.” But, with her radiant confidence, she figured it out—and passed her secrets on to us.
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When you’re cooking with only a few ingredients, their quality makes a huge difference. Nosrat gave us her choices for the recipes that follow.
Extra-virgin olive oil. Santa Chiara brand, from Liguria, Italy. “The coastal weather makes it buttery and mild, not super peppery.”
Gray sea salt from Brittany, France. “It’s slightly coarser than kosher, a bit moist, and deliciously minerally. My resolution this year: sel gris for everything.”
Chiles. Instead of red chile flakes, which have a predictable heat, she buys whole dried chiles—mainly from Mexico, from smoky to fiery—and chops or crumbles them for these sauces. “I add them cautiously, then taste before adding more.”
Clams. “I love the flavor of littlenecks—they’re so clammy. Manilas are little, so they’re good for serving whole in the pasta.”
Ricotta salata. Pietra del Sale, which is surprisingly fresh-tasting and creamy for an aged ricotta.
Semolina flour. Bay Area brand Giusto’s Vita-Grain, milled from durum wheat. “I like how fine it is.”
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With origins in Puglia, Italy, orecchiette (“little ears”) are one of the simplest pastas to make at home. True, they’re time-consuming but, Nosrat says, “making them is a chance to connect to a culture and a place. Even if they didn’t have incredible texture, they’d be worth it.”
When you're mixing the dough in your stand mixer, you'll know it's ready when it “starts to climb up the sides of the bowl,” says Nosrat.
See her mix and shape pasta step-by-step in this handy video.
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Orecchiette with Clams, Chiles, and Parsley
“Clam pasta is a great way to extract all the flavor and texture of clams,” says Nosrat. “Their juices mingle with the butter and wine and cook into the pasta, and the clams themselves are tender-chewy. It’s like having the ocean in a bowl.” Serve with lots of crusty bread for sopping up juices.
“Remove clams as they open, so they don’t get tough,” Nosrat advises.
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Orecchiette with Cherry Tomatoes, Marjoram, and Ricotta Salata
Nosrat cooks down half the tomatoes into a savory jam, then adds fresh ones at the end. “I like to layer flavors, to have two levels of deliciousness.” If you can’t find ricotta salata, fresh ricotta works well too—just drain it and stir in some salt.