Saffron Semolina Dumplings with Herb Pistou

PHOTO BY MICHAEL PIAZZA
STYLING BY CATRINE KELTY

Herb pistou is French-style pesto traditionally made with blanched fines herbs (parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon). It does not use basil, pine nuts or cheese as in the Italian version. I like to use this sauce as a way to show off a mixture of herbs at their peak. Use what you’re growing and/or found at the market that looks really fresh and vibrant as the sauce should be bright green and full of herbal deliciousness. This mix I suggest here (parsley, tarragon, lovage and mint) is one of my go-tos, primarily because I like the way these particular herbs work together. The sauce is paired with simple semolina dumplings, easy to make by hand with no special equipment. Herb pistou with dumplings is a perfect first course or side dish—but the sauce on its own is a wonderful dressing for any short dried pasta or roasted vegetables.

Serves 6–8

Semolina Dumplings:
¾ cup boiling water
1 teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
2½  cups semolina flour
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl steep the saffron threads in the boiling water until cool. Strain to remove the threads. Beat the eggs with the olive oil, saffron water and salt. Combine with the semolina flour in a large mixing bowl. Work with your hands until a dough forms and knead really well for 10 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 1 hour.

To form the dumplings, divide the dough into fourths and wrap 3 of them in plastic wrap. With your palms, work the dough into a sausage shape then lay it on the table long side toward you. Roll the dough into a long snake-like shape with your hands: Begin in the middle with your thumbs, applying just enough pressure to roll the dough back and forth while stretching the dough by moving your hands away from each other. This may take a little practice to find the right amount of pressure, but it isn’t difficult. When the snake of dough is the width of a chickpea, use a knife to cut it into dumplings. Roll each cut dumpling into a chickpea-sized ball and toss onto a sheet dusted with semolina flour. Repeat with all the dough. Store in the fridge covered with plastic wrap for up to 4 days.

Herb Pistou:
1 cup parsley (stems included)
¾ cup tarragon (stems included)
½ cup lovage (stems included)
¼ cup mint (no stems, just picked leaves)
¼ cup olive oil
salt
lemon juice, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 big handfuls of salt—it should be really salty, like seawater. Set up a bowl of ice water. Plunge the herbs into the boiling water for about 30 seconds to wilt. Quickly scoop the herbs out with a strainer and place in the ice bath. Remove to paper-towel-lined plate to drain.   

Place the herbs and a teaspoon of salt in a food processor and process until they begin to break down. With the motor running, drizzle olive oil into the mixture just until it begins to form a thick spread, like pesto. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Store in a metal or glass container set in a bowl of ice or covered in the fridge until needed. This will last a few days, but it is best eaten the day it’s made.

To finish the dish, bring a pot of water to a boil and season with salt. Have a saucepan, 1 tablespoon butter and about 8 tablespoons of the pistou ready. Boil the pasta for 3 or 4 minutes (longer if they’ve been stored a few days), then drain—reserve half a cup of the cooking liquid. Place the pasta, the cooking liquid and the butter in the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the sauce until it thickens slightly and looks glossy, then turn off the heat and add pistou. Toss to combine, add salt if needed and a splash of lemon juice, and serve.

BEN RIGBY is a professional cook, freelance writer and anthropologist. Amateur gardening and banjos round out the days. Follow him on instagram at @rigbybenjamin