Getting Over the Slump by Maya Mathur

The first time I made pasta I was surrounded by strangers— and fawning over the young Italian chef who was instructing us. We all had our own mixing bowls, eggs and rolling pins. We each contributed our handmade pasta to the large pot of boiling salt water and stared in wonderment as our instructor began to plate it a few minutes later, bathing the glistening noodles with a steaming tomato sauce and shaving parmesan on top. It was a simple dish, paired with a glass of red wine, and it was one of my favorite meals in Italy.

After the first two months of Hawaii’s stay-at-home order, I found myself prone to bad brain days— days where I couldn’t bring myself to do anything more than place an order on UberEats and cry in bed. As a recent college graduate, it seems almost impossible not to feel somewhat lost during this time. My one and only job offer at a local magazine was lost due to COVID-19 and I had to push back my moving date to January since leaving home during a pandemic was more trouble than it was worth.

One day, while cleaning my kitchen, I found the red pasta machine that my boyfriend had gotten me as a Christmas gift the year before. We had used it together to make dinner a few times but had lost it in the hecticness of work and school, so it had remained underneath the kitchen sink with remnants of flour littered all over the shiny red metal. After dusting it off and confirming that I had a bag of flour somewhere in my pantry, I decided to do myself an act of service and cook dinner for one. 

I never really cooked for myself— and myself alone— before that night. When it comes to dinner, I am almost always eating with another person. The act of dinner seemed almost sad to do alone, especially when I had such a loving boyfriend and friends in such a close proximity to my home. I still have the boyfriend and my friends are now closer than before, but I’ve found that I prefer to do a date night with myself every week at least once or twice.

My mental health has been stabilized by the art of pasta making. I lose myself in the motion of kneading and rolling the dough, singing along to Mina as if I understand every word she utters. It is a necessary distraction during these unsure times, allowing me the tranquility to focus on the goal of the moment, rather than what awaits me in the future.

I’ve been making pasta for the last few months, a weekly ritual that is not only an act of self-love but an outlet for creativity. I’ve probably used every protein at Whole Foods at least once, while experimenting with textures of various pasta shapes and sauces rich in butter and garlic. Every time I cook a new dish I take a picture to remind myself that underneath the thick layer of shaved parmesan is a self-love letter, a reminder especially during these anxiety-ridden times that everything will be okay.

Recipe for Verdure al Forno for One (the pasta that got me through quarantine)

Ingredients: Pasta

  • 2 cup of All-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of Semolina flour (preferred, but not necessary)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Step 1: 

Mix the semolina and 1 cup of all-purpose thoroughly. Form the flour into a miniature mountain before using your index finger to gently swirl around the top of it, pushing down until you have a well.

Step 2:

Once your well is deep enough, crack 2 eggs directly into the well and only take the yolk from the third egg.

Step 3:

Take a fork and gently start mixing the eggs in the dough. Once the dough begins to shape, if still a bit eggy— add more flour. Add the salt as well.

Step 4:

Once all of the egg is mixed thoroughly, put the dough on a clean, flat surface (if not already) and sprinkle flour evenly. Knead until the dough is completely smooth and has an elastic texture. Wrap with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 20-30 minutes. 

Step 5:

Cut and roll. Cut the dough into 2-3 pieces so it’s easier. If you don’t have a pasta roller or maker, use a rolling pin (or a similarly shaped object if you’re in lack of one) to roll out the dough evenly, and as thin as possible. 

Step 6:

Shape, fill and form your pasta to whatever you’d like! 

I’m a fan of tagliatelle, so without my pasta maker, pre-cut and after rolling the dough out, I would roll the dough into a cinnamon-roll shape. Stretch it out slightly at the ends before cutting it into 1/4 inch pieces. Make sure the pasta doesn’t stick and sprinkle flour as needed.

Unravel and voila! 

Ingredients: Sauce

  • Crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 an onion 
  • 7-10 mushrooms
  • 1 cup of zucchini
  • A bunch of basil
  • Olive oil
  • Pecorino
  • Parmesan
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Step 1:

Cut up your onion, mushrooms and zucchini as desired. Next, add it to a pan and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 

Step 2:

As your veggies cook, shave your parmesan and pecorino into a separate bowl. Slice a few leaves of basil thinly. Mix together and add a dollop of olive oil and some pepper. 

Step 3:

As your veggies come to the end of their cooking, add the crushed tomatoes. Use a fork to mix it all together. After mixing, add your cheese and basil blend and mix thoroughly. 

Step 4:

Add one slice of butter, 1/2 tablespoon to be exact, and let it melt into the sauce before stirring.

Step 4:

Add 1/3 cup of pasta water and let it sit for a few minutes.

Step 5:

Add your cooked pasta and combine thoroughly. Shave parmesan and pecorino and rip up the rest of the basil on top of the pasta. Plate and serve!

I’m Maya, a girl who is passionate about sustainability, but definitely not perfect at it. I am constantly on a journey to discover my own identity under capitalism, while also trying to cultivate better habits so I can become a more proactive advocate for what I believe in. I recently graduated with my Bachelor’s in English Literature and Language and am now a freelance writer, with a focus in sustainable fashion, culture and museum studies.

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