À table, les enfants! Such a common phrase in France for such a commonplace activity. A jumble of toddlers jostling their way to the table, tummies growling, carefully place a tattered cloth napkin on a row of laps, as grandpère instructs. Squiggling, wriggling children torn between wanting lunch and anxious to get back to their play. But grandmère made frites!
À table, les enfants! The song of so many mothers and fathers, grandparents and older siblings, head out the door or at the bottom of a staircase, hands on hips or hands rubbing clean on an old kitchen towel. Knives and forks clattering as games wait, quiet and abandoned for the length of a meal.
Near on thirty years later, that table is still with us, taking pride of place in the center of our dining area. Throughout the years, this old table, now scratched and marked with time and usage and love, has seen countless family meals and holiday celebrations. It has spent years in service as a sewing table and later used as a photographer's support for a light box. Now back to part time desk, part time dining table.
I have always been loath to part with a table with such a personality, no matter how badly my husband would love to. Warm and familiar like a favorite grandparent, teasingly annoying like a naughty, mischievous child the way it sometimes knocks against one's knee, leaving a bruise, all in good fun. Worn and scarred with time, each knick, mark and stain a memory burnished into the surface.
My brother can drink us under the table and usually does at one of these game nights. While we sip wine or iced tea, he fills glass after glass of whiskey from the babble of bottles clinking and clanking on the drinks cart. One too many and his joy becomes merriment, boasting and laughing louder and longer than the others around the table. But then who am I to talk? Two glasses of wine and I'm under the table.
Evening, the crêpe grill at grandpère's end of the table, batter ladled, crêpes flipped then passed around the table.
My mother-in-law's tiny kitchen floor was taken over by a round table, equally covered with oilcloth, flowers in shades of brown, orange and yellow, a cloth scraped and rubbed white with time and elbow grease. That table saw so many meals made, vegetables chopped, pastry pressed out, sticks of potatoes wrapped in a clean towel waiting to be fried. One single chair, all that there was room for in that narrow kitchen, meant one person standing for breakfast coffee as the other one sat. A mess of coffee cups, broken biscuits, smears of jelly across that table, rickety and unstable, cleared away, oilcloth rubbed and lunch preparation begun.
Gathering family and friends around the table for a meal is a daily joy, and nothing is more comforting and familiar than a plate of fresh pasta. This is a very simple dough to make and although we have chosen to add fresh herbs, the flavor variations are many. Making pasta is a fun project to prepare with the children around the kitchen table. A drizzle of good quality olive oil, a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you suddenly have the best meal ever.
ILVA & JAMIE'S FRESH HERB PASTA
1 lb (500 g) flour, preferably durum
3 tbsp (or more if you want) finely and I mean very finely chopped fresh herbs like thyme, sage and rosemary
¼ tsp salt
5 large eggs, preferable at room temperature
1 – 5 tsps water, as needed
Blend the flour, salt and very finely chopped herbs together in a large mixing bowl; make a well in the center and break the eggs into the well. Using fingers or a fork, whisk the eggs into the herbed flour until well blended, homogeneous and a dough forms. Add water a teaspoon at a time as needed to moisten pockets of flour. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 1 to 2 hours at room temperature.
Divide the dough into 4 or 5 balls. Working one ball of dough at a time, flatten the ball with your hand or a rolling pin. The dough must be rolled out paper thin, either by hand (with a rolling pin on a floured surface) on a large, long table or a pasta machine (follow the directions, beginning the process on the widest/thickest setting and working the strip of dough through every setting until it goes through the thinnest, dusting the dough with flour as needed.)
Lightly roll or fold the paper-thin dough and cut into strips, as wide or as narrow as desired. Unroll to cook in lightly salted boiling water until al dente, 1 – 3 minutes.