First up in our Summer Pasta Series, we have the pasta queen herself, Meryl Feinstein. Meryl is a chef and pastaia who transitioned from the corporate world into the food industry in 2018. Meryl worked for James Beard Award-Winning chef Missy Robbins at both of her Brooklyn establishments, Lilia Ristorante and Misi, where she was part of the pasta production team. Meryl is also the founder of Pasta Social Club, a platform that brings people together through a shared love of pasta, learning, and building real connections both on- and offline. Read on for our interview with Meryl, and her incredible pesto pasta dish!
Q&A with Meryl Feinstein
Brightland: What do you like to keep out on your kitchen countertop or "kitchen shelfie"?
Meryl: Is it too obvious to say olive oil? I always have a few bottles on my countertop--for cooking and for finishing (hello, Brightland!). Other staples include (lots of) garlic, lemons, at least one tin of anchovies, and a huge jar of Calabrian chili peppers. I’m nuts for anything spicy; my husband got me the 1kg jar a couple of months ago, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m already scraping the bottom!
Brightland: What does living in a golden state mean to you?
Meryl: Anytime I’m feeling uncomfortable with what I’m doing, I know I’m doing something right. Since leaving the corporate world last year, I’ve tried to continue taking as many risks as possible to keep growing both personally and professionally. As strange as it sounds, I feel completely at peace when I’m just a little bit scared!
Brightland: If you could host a dinner party at home and invite 3 guests, who would they be, what would you serve and what music would play in the background?
Meryl: Oh gosh, this one’s hard. I’ll narrow it down to pasta-related guests. I’d definitely invite Vicky Bennison, the founder of Pasta Grannies, which I think is one of the most joyful platforms on the planet (check out their YouTube channel). Then probably Marc Vetri, Jody Williams and Rita Sodi… obviously Missy Robbins. Oh, and Ina Garten. Not pasta-focused, but just the queen of everything. And I wouldn’t want to cook FOR them, but WITH them. That’s the power of pasta--it’s a collaborative art!
Brightland: What is your favorite independent magazine to feel inspired by + learn from?
Meryl: I’ll be the first to admit I’m not cool enough to read independent magazines. I tend to stick to cookbooks--is it too cliche at this point to say Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat continues to inspire me to trust my instincts and be more confident in the kitchen? I’m also in love with Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables (I don’t eat meat, but this is an essential bible for any cook!) and my constant bedside companion, the Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini de Vita.
Brightland: What was your favorite thing that your mom/dad/grandparent cooked for you when you were little?
Meryl: I’m not one of those cooks who came from generations of kitchen legends, but my mom made a KILLER tuna noodle casserole--I probably ate half a 9x13 pan of that stuff in one sitting (French’s fried onions on anything and I’m there!). My grandmother also made the best challah french toast. She would completely saturate the bread with eggs and milk and barely cook it, so it was essentially egg custard with a bit of bread and tons of syrup. Heaven!
Her training as a pastaia began after spending time in Modena, Italy, and her dishes draw on influences from her travels, ongoing research into the rich history of traditional pasta-making, and increasingly her Jewish heritage, which is at the core of her love of eating, sharing, and laughing around a communal table.
Fresh Egg Pasta with Pesto Trapanese
- 350 grams type 00 flour
- 50 grams semola or semolina flour
- 4 whole eggs
- 1 egg yolk
If you're short on time, dried pasta is always an option
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ cup slivered blanched almonds
- A large handful of basil leaves
- 8 medium Roma tomatoes
- ¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
- ¼ cup Pecorino Romano, finely grated
- ½ cup Brightland's AWAKE, plus more for finishing
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce, measurements are approximate and should be adjusted to personal taste!
- Combine flours in a medium size mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour with your fist and add the eggs and yolk. Using a fork, gradually mix the eggs into the flour until a shaggy dough forms. Transfer the dough to a wooden surface or large cutting board and knead vigorously until well-combined, about 10 minutes. The dough should be firm and smooth, without any dry or sticky areas. If the dough is too dry, wet your fingertips and add very small increments of water, as needed. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes (or more, if time allows).
- While the dough is resting, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Score the bottoms of the tomatoes with a knife, creating a small X that pierces through the skin. Add to boiling water and blanch until the skin around the score marks begins to peel, about 1-2 minutes. Remove immediately and run under cold water until cool. Peel back the skins of the tomatoes--they should come off cleanly. Halve them and remove the seeds with a small spoon. Roughly chop the remaining flesh and set aside.
- Add the almonds to a dry non-stick pan and gently toast over medium-low heat. Once golden and fragrant, remove from heat and set aside. Smash the garlic cloves and sprinkle with kosher salt. Add to a food processor (or, if you’re traditional, a mortar and pestle), along with the almonds. Pulse 1-2 seconds; in a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, salt, and almonds to a paste. Then add the basil leaves (no stems) and tomatoes. Pulse in 1-2 second increments while drizzling Brightland's AWAKE until a coarse pesto forms. It should not be smooth--note that it will be greener or redder depending on how many tomatoes vs. basil are used; both are equally delicious!
- Transfer the pesto to a large bowl and stir in cheeses, as well as salt, pepper, and additional olive oil to taste. Cover and set aside (refrigerate if not using within an hour or so).
- Cut off about ¼ of the pasta dough and flatten into a rectangle with your hands. Lightly flour both sides if a little sticky. If you own a pasta roller, roll the dough from the thickest setting until it’s about 1/16th of an inch thick (or as thick as you like!). If rolling by hand, roll the dough into a long rectangle (as thin as you can get it, or thicker if you prefer). Once rolled out, flour both sides of the sheet and gently fold into a loose log (do not fold it tightly). Cut the log into sections approximately 1½ inches thick, then unroll them and voila! You should have wide pappardelle noodles--or whatever size or shape you desire. Repeat with the remaining dough and make sure the noodles are lightly floured to prevent sticking.
- Once your pasta is made, bring a medium pot of very well-salted water to boil. Shake off any excess flour, add pasta and cook briefly, about 2-3 minutes, or until al dente. Add to the bowl with the pesto and toss with additional olive oil and cheese, as desired. Top with pecorino, fresh basil, and additional toasted almonds. Enjoy!