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A Taste of Home
Eating everything I miss
Everyone has a dish that feels like home. Proust’s madeleine, a taste that brings with it a flood of warmth and memories. For me it’s my mother’s noodle pudding. It’s a traditional sweet kugel, egg noodles baked in a mixture of pot cheese (or cottage cheese), sour cream and butter. But it’s the cinnamon and raisins that make it taste like a hug.
Did I forget to mention - I’m in the States this week, busily stuffing my face with all the meals I miss.
One of the oddities of expat life is a cultural on/off switch that you flick at the airport. I don’t miss noodle pudding in France – I have croissants and tagine and tarte au citron. But as soon as I hit immigration, the American in me comes roaring back. When I come to the States, I get ravenous. I eat all the things I miss all year in ten days, which leaves me with a huge smile on my face, 3 extra pounds and a sugar migraine.
Some of my appetite is nostalgia, some is practical. Noodle pudding never tastes right when I try to make it in France. There’s no sour cream, and crème fraiche doesn’t have the same tang. There’s no pot cheese, cottage cheese is hard to find, and ricotta is often too dry and bland. The egg noodles aren’t the right shape. My oven is too hot. In a word: disaster. So I gave up. Some things just don’t translate. Like the time I tried to show my husband the movie Pretty in Pink. He just didn’t get the whole “wrong side of the tracks” thing. For him, no teenager with her own car, however beat-up, could be poor.
We were down in Delaware for a few days this week. My son went fishing with my uncle. I did some discount shopping with my aunt. And we ate. And ate. My Aunt Joyce is the best cook in our family, and she likes to spoil us when we come. In addition to noodle pudding, she made my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce, a rich tomato-based ragu filled with homemade meatballs and falling-off-the-bone country pork ribs. It looks a mess, I know. But the taste…sweetness and acidity from the tomatoes, deep savory yumness of the meat, intense after a long simmer, even better the next day.
The recipe is in my first book, Lunch in Paris. It took me a few tries to get it on paper, standing next to my grandmother in the kitchen as she added a pinch of this and that. I had to go with her to the supermarket to buy the ingredients. She picked them out by the size and color of the cans. And I can confirm - it doesn’t come out in the wash. When my cousins and I were little, we were instructed to come to the table in our pjs, or turn our shirts inside out.
There’s always history, and often irony, to a family recipe like this one. My grandparents, two Jewish newlyweds from Brooklyn, lived in Utica, New York during World War II, where my grandfather, an engineer, worked for an aeronautics factory. My grandmother learned to make her sauce from the Italian ladies she met on line at the local butcher. Italians usually add at least two kind of meat to their sauce – and pork is always one of them. Hence the irony of my Jewish grandmother’s spaghetti sauce filled with juicy pork ribs.
We are off to New York tomorrow, and the list of cravings to be satisfied goes on: soup dumplings, sushi, apple cider donuts, chocolate babka. We already took care of the pastrami sandwich at the 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia.
I’m still on the hunt to replace the deep fried sweet cheese blintzes that my dad and I used to eat at The Kiev, an all-night Ukrainian diner on 2nd Avenue. If anyone has a suggestion, love to hear it!
I’d say bon appétit, but this week, it’s more like all you can eat…
My Mom’s Noodle Pudding
You can serve this with roast chicken and some sauteed Brussels sprouts for a family dinner. Or do what I do, and eat a big square on its own for breakfast, lunch or dinner – like a sweet lasagna.
12 oz. large egg noodles
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
5 eggs, separated
½ cup sugar
1 pound pot cheese or full fat cottage cheese
1 pint sour cream
¾ golden raisins
Cinnamon to decorate
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180C). Butter a 9x13 inch casserole dish.
Parboil the noodles for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Melt the butter in a small pan or bowl in the microwave. Cool.
Separate your eggs. Put the yolks in a large bowl, the whites will be beaten separately.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until they are a nice lemon yellow. Add the pot cheese (or cottage cheese), sour cream, and melted butter. Add the noodles and raisins, stir to combine.
Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold gently into the noodle mixture. Transfer everything to your casserole dish. I like to make a lattice pattern with cinnamon on top, like you would on a pie – but if your not feeling fancy, you can just sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden.
Noodle pudding freezes and reheats well.
What’s the dish that tastes like home to you?
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