Sunday, March 6, 2011

Noodling Around

I used to watch my (great) Aunt Emma make egg noodles.  There was a recipe but it was in her head because, ”It is too easy to write down.”

So I watched and tried to figure it out.  I was seven the first time I saw her make them.  I saw her build a mound of (unmeasured) flour on a wood cutting board and carve out a crater in the center.  I watched her break whole eggs into the crater. Number, unknown.  I think salt arrived around this time. Perhaps a little water too. Again, unmeasured.  She gathered the ingredients up in her strong and boney hands and kneaded a few times.  She rolled the noodle dough out too an impossibly thin and flexible sheet.  She used the tines of a fork to cut thin noodles.  The fork gave her an even cut. The noodles rested on a checkered dishtowel until they were dry enough to add to homemade chicken soup.  I’ve eaten many egg noodles.  Packages ones are not bad.  Yet none tasted like these, slightly uneven in length and so soft and light.  

I’ve never made noodles on my own.  I look at pasta machines and think I will get to that one day.  I look at recipes for noodles, with and without eggs, and know they are not hard to make, especially for a person who has watched my expert aunt.  Still, the quantities seem large and we are a small household so I held off.  I’m not looking for big projects these days. 

Today I found myself with two leftover egg yolks.  I’d just been reading a book of Amish recipes and the one for noodles was easily divisible for the number of egg yolks I had.  I also liked the instructions for rolling out and drying the homemade noodles without a pasta machine.  It did not look like a big deal.  And it wasn’t.

It took no time to combine the four ingredients and roll out the dough to a pretty thin sheet.  Practice will result in thinner sheets in the future.  With the recipe cut down to 1/3, I knew the rolling would be manageable and I’d have just enough noodles for a main course for two.  The sheet of dough dried on a dishtowel for about an hour, turned over once, before I placed it on a cutting board and cut it into thin strips with a pizza cutter.  I used ruler to help guide my hand.  Even though they’d been left to dry for a bit, the noodles were closer to fresh noodles so I boiled them just 2-3 minutes, tasting several as the moments passed.  With homemade noodles, you can really appreciate the al dente stage. 

Although my noodles were much thicker than my aunt’s, there were tender and light.  We ate them in a lemony-sage stewing broth from thinly sliced pork chops.  The texture of the noodles reminded me of the kind of noodle I’ve eaten in Japanese soups.  Pleasantly (but not too) chewy and really flavorful from absorbed broth. 

If we hadn’t eaten all the noodles, I could have dried the uncooked ones completely and stored them in an airtight container for another night or put them in the freezer in single serving mounds.  Next time I’ll try a full recipe.  And one where I get to build a crater for the eggs. 

Homemade Noodles for Two
Adapted from The Best of Amish Cooking by Plyllis Pellman Good, published 1988

Ingredients
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
3/4-1 cup flour
large pinch salt

Method
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks and water with a fork until completely mixed. Add salt and most of the flour.  
  2. Mix, first with the fork and then with your hands, to create a stiff but still flexible dough.  Add more flour as needed, a tablespoon as a time.  If the dough is too dry, add a tablespoon of water.  
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured cutting board and roll out into as thin a sheet as possible. Turn the dough over as needed and sprinkle on a bit more flour to keep it form sticking.  Now try rolling it even thinner.  
  4. Slide the thin sheet onto a dishtowel to dry for an hour, turning once.  (If towel becomes too damp, replace it.)  
  5. Once dough is dry to the touch, cut thin strips using a knife, pastry or pizza cutter.  There are also multi-blade pasta cutters for noodles.  (If you have one, you are already more experienced than anyone else trying this recipe.)
  6. To eat the noodles right away, place them in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes.  Taste them for the desired consistency.  The thinness of your rolled out sheet of dough will determine how long the noodles take to cook. Drain and toss with your favorite sauce or a bit of butter and chopped parsley.  
  7. To store, dry sliced noodles completely and store in an airtight container.  Cook dried noodles as above but for a few minutes longer, perhaps 7-9 minutes.  

Note: My mother recently reminded me that Emma, who frequently called me over while she cooked to show me the desired color, texture or shape of an ingredient, did not step into the kitchen until midlife when family circumstances required that she learn to cook in addition to her full time job.  One of my many cooking heroes, Emma demonstrated that cooking is a skill any of us can master when it is our time.