Each week, Linda Miller Nicholson receives hundreds of emails from her fans asking questions like: How did you make those rainbow-hued agnolotti? Are you offering cooking classes? How do you stay so skinny when you eat pasta every day? Where do you find this or that obscure ingredient?
She gets her fair share of passionate, persistent internet trolls in response to her social media presence, too—particularly people who insist that she couldn’t possibly be creating her colorful and stunning pasta by using only natural ingredients (she does). But in the immortal words of Taylor Swift: Haters gonna hate.
Photograph by Debora Spencer. Linda Miller Nicholson drapes herself in sheets of pasta as Lady Gaga-esque couture.
Thirty-nine-year-old Nicholson hums Swift’s “Shake It Off” as she moves about her custom-built kitchen in Mitchell Hill (a tiny community east of Issaquah), deftly cranking sheets of pasta dough through her much-loved pasta sheeter. After all, with internet celebrity—92,000 followers on her @SaltySeattle Instagram account, an Insider food video of her rainbow noodles that’s been viewed 20 million times, weekly Facebook Live demos for the Food Network that receive thousands of comments (most of them kind)—comes plenty of opportunities to shake off ugly commentary. But it’s also earned Nicholson a cookbook deal; the book, which will be full of the recipes for her colorful pasta, will be released next year, published by HarperCollins.
Nicholson’s foodie fame didn’t happen overnight. While she spent many years in both the front and back of restaurants, those years “prepared me for life in general,” but weren’t essential to her roles now as a content curator, social media influencer and pasta artist.
What was essential? She’s been cooking pasta since her grandparents showed her how to make egg noodles at age 4. She dialed into her pasta passion while living in Torino, Italy, with her husband, Jonas, for a few years in the mid-2000s. But it wasn’t until her son, Bentley (now 9), stopped eating vegetables in preschool that she started experimenting with color. Using spinach or beets in the dough resulted in brightly hued pasta, and Bentley learned that a rainbow of foods could be delicious.
Nicholson eventually developed recipes for more than 25 different colored doughs, from bright blues dyed with butterfly pea flowers and spirulina (a blue-green algae superfood) to shades of orange and yellow using harissa and turmeric. A longtime lover of fashion and art, she experimented further: first, with simple patterns such as polka dots and plaids, and now, with elaborate creations like a replication of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” in noodles and an entirely edible outfit made from sheets of pasta.
Photographs by Alex Crook (black and white bow-tie pasta) and Linda Miller Nicholson.
“I really love the confluence of art and fashion and food as a textile,” Nicholson says. “Bringing that all together, that’s what I’m most interested in: feeding people, letting people eat, but also making people think.” Her book will begin with simple pasta basics—she insists her pasta only looks complicated—but will also include some of her more whimsical creations like emoji-decorated ravioli.
It’s worth mentioning that her art is not only gorgeous but delicious. (For lunch, Nicholson made us cacio e pepe, a simple cheese and pepper sauce, served over chitarra pasta, a sort of square spaghetti; the entire dish took far less than an hour to prepare.)
Nicholson understands just how unusual her career is. When people ask her, “What do you do?” at cocktail parties, she doesn’t have a tidy answer. She writes, she takes photographs, she makes a lot of pasta, and she’ll be teaching classes again this fall after taking a hiatus to write the book. “But I’m living proof that you can make careers out of very random, esoteric things and utilize nontraditional means,” she says. “Use social media, use whatever—we’re living in the Wild West of the internet era. We might as well be the cowboys.”
Photograph by Linda Miller Nicholson.
Nicholson used to take custom orders for her colorful, artful pasta, but is too busy now that she’s doing so much work on social media and her book. Her personal goal, though, is that she’ll find a way to make her beautiful pastas—simple designs like stripes, flowers or polka dots—easily available for retail purchase within a year. “I’m super interested in scaling up in a way that I can skip being the artisan pasta maker in the pasta studio all day,” she says.
Let’s Dough This
When she’s not shaping colorful bites to feed her family or shoot for her popular social media sites, Linda Miller Nicholson likes to use those sheets of pasta in other ways. She turned them into reproductions of famous paintings. “I’ve always been on the creative side of things and been obsessed with art and fashion and food,” she says, though she has no formal training in any of these. “But I don’t feel like I ever found my medium until I found pasta.”
HOW DOES SHE DO IT?
Photographs by Alex Crook. To get the brilliant green, her signature shade of chartreuse, used for these ravioli, Nicholson uses parsley with a touch of turmeric “to yellow out the green,” she says. The purple is a combination of beet and blueberry. These are additions that don’t add flavor to the dough—only health benefits. (She says when she’s doing something like a spicy arrabbiata sauce, a red dough colored and flavored with harissa works nicely.)
These ravioli were flavored simply with a mix of ricotta—when she doesn’t make her own, she recommends Bellwether Farms’, which you can find at PCC—and parmesan, salt, pepper, cream, sugar, and nutmeg. The whole process, from rolling the dough to separating each raviolo, takes less than an hour.
Even though she uses a restaurant-scale food processor and this pasta sheeter almost daily to make her creations, Nicholson says she makes pasta by hand once a week “to keep my old-school skills fresh.”