The picked-over turkey carcass lay abandoned on the cutting board, awaiting action from me, a thrifty cook who lets no food go to waste. "I think I'll make soup," I declared to no one in particular, but my son responded nonetheless.
"Make egg noodles," he said hopefully. "Like you always used to."
Such are the vagaries of memory. I had only made egg noodles once, and he helped me on that occasion, when he was 10 years old. Now he's 25.
On that day long ago when he was young, with a soup pot simmering and my tattered Betty Crocker cookbook at my side, we set to work. His older sisters had fled the kitchen after dinner, but he had lingered after I said, "Let's make noodles," a hook he couldn't resist given his love of soup, a meal this picky boy had eaten nearly every day for half of his life.
Flour, eggs, water and salt. It was an easy dough for us novices. We hadn't figured out the efficient method of cutting noodles, so we were faced with a broad expanse of dough on the wooden board. "You cut the noodles," I told him and, with a knife in his wavering hand, his brow furrowed from concentration, he did. Then he beamed.
Since that day when my son requested noodles, I've made them many times. Mine are strictly low-tech. I don't use a pasta machine. (My Norwegian grandmother would have been perplexed by the notion of "pasta," much less a machine that rolls out the dough.) In fact, this recipe requires only a pair of hands, a rolling pin and a sharp knife. (My grandmother, however, used a noodle cutter -- a small rolling utensil that cuts multiple noodles at a time.)
Be forewarned: You do need a little patience with this task because the noodles need to dry. (You've heard of watching paint dry? Well, this takes about the same amount of time.) After the dough is rolled out, it must rest for about 30 minutes. Then the dough is rolled up, jelly-roll fashion, and cut into noodles, in whatever width you prefer. That's followed by more drying time -- a couple of hours -- before the noodles are ready for the boiling water or simmering soup. Actual work time: about 15 minutes.
Homemade noodles are a link to the past with a flavor profile of the present. Mmm. Good.
And the memories? Indelible.
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
3 tablespoon water, or more
1/4 tablespoon salt, optional
2 cups all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, lightly beat together egg yolks and whole egg with 3 tablespoons water and salt. Add the flour and mix thoroughly.
On a floured surface, gently knead dough for 2 to 3 minutes, adding additional sprinkles of water, if necessary for easier handling. Divide dough into 3 parts and set aside 2.
With a rolling pin dusted in flour, roll out 1 mound of dough paper-thin (the dimensions do not matter), turning it over as you work. Let the dough dry for about 30 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.
When the dough has become partially dry on its top surface, roll up the dough as you would for a jelly roll (you may need to use a knife underneath the dough to remove it cleanly from the bottom surface). With a sharp knife, cut the dough into whatever width you prefer for noodles (from 1/8 inch for a fine noodle to 1/2 inch for a broad noodle). Unroll the strips, cutting them further into shorter pieces, if desired. If the strips are kept long, hang them over a wooden spoon propped between two bowls to dry. Let the noodles dry for about 2 hours.
For immediate use: Drop noodles into a big pot of salted boiling water or simmering soup and cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes. If cooked in water, drain and toss with a little oil or butter to keep the noodles from sticking. Fresh, uncooked noodles can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week.
To store dried: Let noodles dry completely or they will mold. Seal in an airtight container for a month in a cool, dry spot. Cook as with fresh noodles, but for a little longer time.
To freeze: Fresh or dried noodles can be frozen, then put directly into the boiling water from the freezer to cook. Makes 6 cups.
>A Germanic noodle
There's another kind of easy noodle that I often prepare to go with Hungarian goulash or other hearty meat dishes with a sauce: spaetzle (SHPET-sul). It's a small squiggle, a cross between a noodle and a dumpling, that's popular in Germany and Austria.
Over boiling water, the batter is pushed through small holes (from a potato ricer, colander, top of a pasta cooker, or spaetzle maker, which looks like a flat grater with a little box on top that holds the batter, available in kitchen specialty stores).
Or the batter can be thinned considerably and drizzled into the boiling water, which is how I learned to make the noodles from my Austrian grandmother-in-law.
Spaetzle are a great addition to soup. I also like to add some sauteed or caramelized onions to them before topping them with cheese and popping the mixture into the oven for a modified mac-and-cheese.
Note: The prepared noodles can be made 24 hours in advance and refrigerated, then reheated. From "Come One, Come All/ Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus," by Lee Svitak Dean.
Makes 6 cups (6 to 8 servings).
3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon (or more) water
In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix flour, salt and nutmeg.
In a large bowl, beat eggs with a whisk until foamy; mix in milk.
Add flour mixture to egg mixture a little at a time, beating by hand, until the flour is thoroughly incorporated. Add 1 tablespoon water and mix the batter thoroughly. If the batter is too stiff to go through potato ricer or spaetzle maker, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time. The batter will be thicker than pancake batter, as well as stickier.
Bring salted water to a boil in a large, wide kettle (wider pots will cook more spaetzle at a time).
To make the spaetzle: Place the potato ricer, colander or spaetzle maker over the boiling water. Add the batter and press through the holes (with the colander, you will need to use the back of a spoon to push the batter through), dropping the spaetzle into the water. This may take a little practice at first. Prepare only as many noodles as will fit in the width of the kettle.
Cook the spaetzle, uncovered, for 2 to 3 minutes. Spaetzle will rise to the surface when done. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Repeat with remaining batter.
If using immediately, cover the bowl to keep spaetzle warm while you cook the remaining batter.
If preparing for later use, place spaetzle in a large bowl of ice water to cool; then drain thoroughly, cover and refrigerate. When ready to serve, reheat spaetzle in one of three ways: in a saucepan with a little butter, in a microwave if you want to avoid the use of butter, or in boiling water, briefly and then drain.
Serve under meat dishes or as a side tossed in butter or cheese. Or add to soup.