Tenderly, I wrap the ball of dough in plastic—it needs half an hour to rest so that those tangled up protein strands can relax a bit—and I take this time to heat the broth and chop the vegetables. Then, hooray, it's back to the dough. With any luck, this is the moment when my youngest child, my daughter, abandons the hockey game and decides that she'd like to come and check out what I'm doing. She dusts the board with flour, then plunges her hand back into the flour bag and leaves it there for a minute, just twiddling her fingers in the softness. I should stop her, but I can't; I am bewitched by her shy pleasure.
Rolling out the pasta is hard work—not hard as in complicated, but hard as in muscle building. It wouldn't necessarily have to be a Herculean task if my husband had just gone ahead and bought me the pasta-maker attachment for my KitchenAid that I've been requesting for three Christmases in a row now. He always forgets, then feels guilty and gets me earrings instead—so pretty and pricey that I can't stay mad.
Those earrings are of no use to me now, as I take a cherry-tomato-size lump of the dough and pat it flat on my board, then begin rolling—bearing down and really pushing on the rolling pin, flipping and turning the dough until it has grown beyond reckoning to a sheet the size of a hand towel. This is my second-favorite miracle: The flour and eggs are now as thin, dry, and flexible as a piece of parchment.
I repeat this three more times—pulling a small piece of dough off the big mother lump and rolling it out. I sandwich herbs and cheese between pairs of layers, then roll them thin again. By now it's getting late, but there's still time for my pasta to perform one last miracle. "Time to clean up," I call out to the kids, "so we can have homemade noodles for supper." To my astonishment, they obey.
I feel like a hero when my family loves the food I serve them. But there's a shadow over my exultation, because I want to raise kids who don't just love to eat, but love to cook as well. And I fear I'm not setting such a stellar example by retreating into an extravagantly pointless task for two hours. I mean, maybe they'll merely resent the kitchen because they know I go there to escape from them. I hope, however, that they'll be wise and realize what else I've been trying to teach them: that things that seem to magically appear in their lives—noodles, socks, TV shows—are the result of real work by real people, for example. And that work is not just the part of life you rush through mindlessly in order to be done with it, but that it can be a fine and noble pursuit; that, often, work—good work—is more fun than so-called "fun."
The soup in which the finished pasta is served is really a kind of swindle. The sad fact is that this whole great expenditure of time and labor will not result in enough noodles to fill five plates. But there will be enough to float impressively in five bowls of soup, with some left over for seconds, even. It's okay. Sometimes cooking is not about stuffing everyone's tummies. It's about filling my spirit so I can sit down with my family at the end of a long afternoon, look at their sweet, flushed cheeks, and pray that I can always figure out how best to nourish us all.
We Hear You!