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.
The spur-of-the-moment cooking lesson had been prompted by memories of my grandmother making egg noodles. Could it be that she and I did this together? Perhaps I was only an observer as she worked at the red kitchen table, cutting the noodles while softly singing "Rock of Ages" and "I Come to the Garden Alone" as the boiling water steamed the kitchen windows.
For my grandmother, making noodles was as everyday as grinding up leftover roast beef for hash or preparing a boiled dinner. It was simply a meal, and an inexpensive one at that, not a statement of cooking philosophy.
Today, if cooking means "getting dinner on the table fast," then make-your-own egg noodles may be a nonstarter in your kitchen. Yes, it is a bit like preparing your own crackers or marshmallows from scratch -- wholly unnecessary given the commercial products out there (including frozen noodles from Reames Homestyle and Sunrise Creative Gourmet of Hibbing, Minn., both available locally, and which taste very similar to homemade).
But if you're looking for nirvana in a noodle (or cracker or marshmallow), then make-your-own is the way to find it.
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.
The texture of homemade noodles is unmistakable: chewy rather than the slippery presence that commercial brands offer. The phrase al dente comes to mind. Homemade also looks different: thicker, not quite so perfect -- in today's parlance, they would be called "artisan." If you use eggs from free-range chickens, the noodles may be more golden in color because of the extra yellow in those yolks. Serve the noodles in soups or with stews or sauces atop. Even a plateful of noodles with nothing more than a little butter and grated Parmesan is a treat.
Homemade noodles are a link to the past with a flavor profile of the present. Mmm. Good.
And the memories? Indelible.
Lee Svitak Dean • 612-673-1749