Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest

05
December
2010

Beloved Noodles

My grandmother’s homemade noodles may be at the heart of the best and the worst of my culinary point of view. On the one hand it’s the let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves-and-make-it-from-scratch attitude, on the other is the nothing-store-bought-will-taste-as-good attitude, which is sometimes nonsense.

With a child’s culinary perspective, my appreciation for homemade noodles began early. Chicken and noodles were my favorite childhood meal. I stood and watched as my grandmother whirled the egg together with flour and salt with her able hands, briefly kneaded the dough, rolled it out, and then rolled it up and sliced very thin noodles off the end. The noodles lay coated in flour to dry for an hour or two, or for however long there was until dinnertime. My grandmother was well aware of certain rules about cooking a thing, like drying noodles for X amount of time, but rules were recommendations to her. She cooked as she pleased and had reliable instincts about it all.

In Montepulciano last spring I had a gratifying if somewhat halting conversation with a trattoria owner and cook there. Neither of us really spoke the other’s language, but we each had the appropriate dictionary.  When she described the local pasta, Pici, it sounded a lot like, in fact exactly like, my non-Italian grandmother’s noodles. It was only when she described and wrote down the traditional sauce that goes with it that my noodles and her pasta parted ways.

The whole world seems to have this thing for flour + water = noodles, which are then embellished and defined by the favorite flavors of a place. Noodle or pasta, tomato or tomahto, they’re universally loved.

There’s plenty of discrepancy out there in noodleland about the ratio of flour to liquid when making homemade noodles. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, first published in 1896, recommends 1 egg, 2 C flour, salt and little water if needed; others will double the eggs and liquid; others add a little cream or olive oil. Such variation indicates how utterly unflappable noodle dough might be and that there’s plenty of room for innovation. I made a batch with whole wheat flour and it was good, very whole-wheatish. I plan to try Emmer flour. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter for slicing noodles free hand, or the thinnest ones happened when I loosely rolled the well-floured dough and made very fine slices off the end – finer noodles than are shown in these photographs.

Homemade Noodles Recipe

A large cutting board is needed for rolling out and then cutting and drying the noodles.

Ingredients: Big batch, 3 cups flour, 2 eggs + 4 T water, 1 tsp. salt/ Smaller batch, 1 1/2 C flour, 1 egg + 2 T water, 1/2 tsp salt.

Directions: Place flour and salt in a large shallow bowl and mix/ Make a well in the center and break the egg into it/ Using a fork and beginning at the center, gradually whisk the flour and egg together until they form a rather dry mixture/ With floured hands, pat this dough into a ball and knead gently on floured board for about 5 minutes/ Cover and let stand 15 minutes/ Using a rolling pin and turning the dough often, roll it into a large, thin rectangle, as thin as you can get it/ If it turns out to be an oval instead, simply trim it a little and forge ahead/ Put 1/2 C or so of flour on the cutting board/ Cut noodles directly with a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, or roll well-floured dough into a loose cylinder/ Cut very fine slices from the end – I could have done better with that part – and toss in flour/ Allow to dry for an hour or two.

Bring * broth of your choice to a simmer, shake off excess flour and gently slip noodles into the pot/ Stir and allow to cook for 7 – 10 minutes/ Season noodles and broth to taste with salt and pepper.

Or, call it pasta. Drain noodles, toss with a bit of the broth, some butter or cream, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and grated Parmesan.

Making noodles or pasta by hand is deliciously slow food, especially if you make the broth from scratch too. The mixing and kneading take just a few minutes, rolling out a thin dough and carefully cutting noodles is a labor of love. Worth it when sweet memories are made. And they are.

Noodles, universal comfort food, we love you.

Making broth at home: Slow Cooker Broth, The Best Broth Ever, My Italian Connection

3 Responses »

  1. I absolutely loved this story as I too grew up with “oodles of noodles” which were usually paired with chicken or beef unless it was Thanksgiving. Both of my grandmothers made noodles often for Sunday and/or “special” dinners and I loved to stand and watch. After the noodles were made and “airing out” on the cutting board, whenever we ran through the kitchen and grabbed a raw noodle, my grandmothers would yell, “You’re going to get worms!” It is a wonder we didn’t get something else!

    My Dad’s noodles are “famous” within our family and the noodles I make are pretty tasty, but they’re not like Dad’s. The “food item” which I have found compliments noodles spectacularly is home made “sweet” coleslaw. It is imperative that one add some pickle juice to their coleslaw in order to achieve the desired taste.

    I don’t know if you also serve mashed potatoes with your noodles, but having mashed potatoes was an absolute must in my family! After being married almost 25 years, my wife and in-laws still cannot bring themselves to put noodles on top of mashed potatoes. While it is “redundant” from the perspective of carbohydrates, you’re eating noodles so go for the taste!

  2. Oh yes, the mashed potatoes! I didn’t mention them because I figured no one would get noodles and potatoes. Truthfully, I thought it was just my own thing from childhood and didn’t know anyone else shared this fetish. Such a great combo though. A dill pickle in the mix doesn’t hurt either.

  3. Sally:

    If I had to guess, I would say that you were either raised in the “Midwest” (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, etc. as opposed to Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, etc.) AND/OR your mother’s side of the family hails from one of these states. As I noted, when I was a kid and “company” was coming over (not “formal” company, but equally important “family” company), we almost always had beef and noodles or chicken and noodles with a ton of mashed spuds. In high school, I used to work in a small grocery store where our “focus” was the selling of “butcher shop” cuts of meat. That being said, we used to offer both round steaks (thin cut) and “Swiss” steaks (same cut, only thicker). Most importantly, we used to also offer “arm roasts” which in my opinion comprised the ultimate cut of beef to have along with homemade noodles. Of course, two or three “chuck roasts” also worked well and were a lot cheaper.

    It’s a shame that these cuts of meat are difficult (if not impossible) to find. I don’t know if “meat cutters” have lost the art of preparing these cuts of meat, if the interest of the public began to wane so the meat was made into hamburger or what happened. However, I do know that a “thick cut” Swiss steak “swimming” in stewed tomatoes and onions (along with the ubiquitous “mashed taters”) comprised a fine Sunday meal!