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.