If you, like me, did some spring produce impulse-buying and now find yourself wondering what to do with your haul (or even just the wilting herbs in your crisper), then it might be time to make fresh pasta. Using herbs, greens, and other wild plants is one of the simplest ways to impart color and flavor into pasta dough. In Liguria, at the first sign of spring, you’ll find dishes laden with borage (borragine in Italian), a mild herb that tastes faintly of cucumber. In Emilia-Romagna, ortica, or stinging nettle, is a warm-weather staple, used often in ravioli fillings and to make a tagliatelle-like pasta called strettine.
Even if you haven’t tried your hand at fresh pasta, or you’re in the early stages of your pasta-making journey, here’s the great news: Pasta dough is a simple combination of flour and liquid. And the method for making it—by hand, in a stand mixer, or in a food processor—is the same, no matter the type of pasta you’re making. Which means that once you have some basic measurements and a technique—like my master pasta dough recipe—the color and flavor “pasta-bilities” (I had to!) are endless.
So whether it’s that half-used bag of spinach (fresh or frozen will do!) that keeps staring at you, a seasonal favorite like wild garlic, or some leftover carrot tops, here are a few ways to use what you have to make pasta that’s as beautiful as it is delicious.
It really couldn’t be easier: Grab a handful of chives, parsley, basil, mint, or any herb you have hanging around, and finely chop the leaves. Think of it like adding chocolate chips to cookie dough—the goal is a speckled look. If you’re using my master pasta dough recipe, a couple of tablespoons will generally do the trick. With more intensely flavored herbs like sage and marjoram, I tend to pull back to about 1 tablespoon—a little can go a long way. If you’re a fan of woody herbs like thyme, use only the leaves. And for rosemary in particular, make sure to chop it extra finely, to avoid poking holes in the pasta.
Minced herbs can be incorporated with either the wet or dry ingredients, though I often prefer to mix them into the flour before adding any liquids. This way, I can add another pinch or two if the distribution looks a bit sparse.
Vegetable purées impart bold, uniform color to pasta dough. If I’m using leafy greens like spinach, kale, or chard, as well as other vegetables like peas, asparagus, or leek greens (to name a few), puréeing is the route I’ll take. This method works well with large bunches of tender and more mild herbs like basil, mint, and parsley, too.
To make a purée, first remove any tough stems or ribs. (I’m talking kale and chard; tender herb stems are fair game.) Blanch the greens for about 15 seconds in lightly salted boiling water, then transfer them to an ice bath or run under cold water to stop the cooking, which seals in that gorgeous color. Firmer and more fibrous vegetables like leek greens or asparagus may take a bit longer, so just blanch until they’re tender and bright in color, which could take up to 4 or 5 minutes. Transfer the cooled greens to a blender with just enough water to get the blade running and blend until very smooth.
When the purée is done, I’ll mix it with either water or eggs, depending on the type of pasta I’m making. So, for example, if I want to make a southern Italian hand-formed pasta like these vibrant foglie d’ulivo and the recipe calls for 150 milliliters (⅔ cup) of water, I’ll split the difference and use 75 milliliters (⅓ cup) of vegetable purée and 75 milliliters (⅓ cup) of water. Similarly, if I want to make an egg-based pasta, like these adorable cappelletti, I’ll start with a couple of eggs and then use my purée to account for the remaining liquid in the recipe (this recipe calls for beets, but you can swap in those greens instead—for egg-based pastas, if the purée is very loose, pass it through a fine sieve first). Why? Because mixing the purée with some of the traditional hydration a dough calls for helps maintain the pasta’s original texture while also imparting color and flavor.
Admittedly, this is one of the few times I can actually be bothered to reach for my blender, so I prefer to make a large batch of purée and freeze the leftovers in an airtight container. That way, I can make herby, veggie-packed pasta whenever the craving strikes. And if you don’t have a blender, use a food processor or simply squeeze the greens dry and chop them very finely before adding them to your wet ingredients (the result will be more marbled than fully saturated, but I love the effect just the same).
Herb-laminated pasta is one of my favorite ways to celebrate spring. It’s also a showstopping technique that’s surprisingly simple: Layer small herb leaves between two fresh pasta sheets, then press them together by rolling them through a pasta machine (or by hand with a rolling pin) to create stunning designs. Any delicate herb, edible flower, or green will do. For the prettiest pasta, I’d recommend trying dill, fennel fronds, or carrot tops. Laminated pasta is subtle in flavor, so don’t be afraid to mix and match the additions to your heart’s content!