Another Day in the Country
The noodle maker
© Another Day in the Country
“I’m hungry for noodles,” my sister said as she paged through a magazine. “Here’s a recipe for a noodle casserole,” she went on, her mouth watering.
“Remember how Mom made noodles with butter and toasted breadcrumbs on top? We haven’t had that in ages and that’s what I’m hungry for,” I countered.
“You should make some noodles,” she said, meaning that was a good job for me while her job took her elsewhere. “I have mushrooms and artichoke hearts. You have asparagus — doesn’t that sound good?”
So, today, I’m making noodles. I wondered which recipe I should use; after all, what are noodles but eggs and flour?
In my grandma’s old, old, cookbook that my mother inherited, “The American Women’s Cookbook,” it suggested: 1 egg, ½ teaspoon salt, and flour. That was it!
In my Pasta Cookbook, it suggested: 2 eggs, a pinch of salt, and 1½ cups bread flour. I noticed the salt was considerably less.
The pasta maker, which I inherited from my mother, had a recipe, too, in six languages and picture illustrations for how to use the machine. Talk about thorough. From the pictures, I gathered it was just three eggs and flour.
When I ran into the most marvelous noodles I’d ever eaten, a couple of years ago at a Napa Valley farmer’s market, the lady who made the noodles told me she had learned pasta making in Italy. She used olive oil in her pasta.
I like to use semolina wheat flour for my pasta, and on the back of the package you would know there is a recipe: 1½ cup semolina, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 eggs or 3 egg whites, beaten, 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons olive oil. This is the one I settled on.
As I set up Mom’s pasta machine, I had to chuckle. She’d gotten this when arthritis started making her hands ache. It was quite a concession for her to surrender to a machine rolling out her noodle dough and cutting the noodles.
But, once she tried it, she was hooked. This machine could even cut noodles finer than her mother-in-law had, and Grandma Ehrhardt’s noodles were always the standard.
My Dad wrote on the lid of the box, “Go to 7, it might take three tries.” Now seven is the finest, thinnest, airiest, delicate noodle you can imagine. In my book, they are too fragile, so the finest I’ve ever gone is a six. Usually I stop at five.
You can tell that making noodles is a cultural experience.
“Let the dough rest for half an hour,” my instructions said.
That’s always difficult for me to do. Once my hands are in the flour, I’m eager to see the final results.
“Keep going to 7,” my mother wrote. It’s like having her here in the kitchen. She’d be so impressed with the semolina flour.
I needed an extra egg for my noodles, so I went out to the chicken house to check for eggs, even though it was still early in the day (my girls are late layers). Sure enough, there were already two blue eggs in the top nest box, just what I needed.
“How lucky can you be?” I said to myself when I began to roll out the noodle dough with the help of Mom’s pasta maker.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 levels, and strips of thin noodle dough were covering the counter top. What had begun as two eggs and flour had now multiplied like the proverbial “loaves and fishes.”
Level 6 — that dough was incredibly thin and translucent.
“Could I really go to seven, like Mom had suggested so many years ago?” I wondered.
As my mother stood at her counter making these exquisitely fine noodles, did she think ahead to her oldest daughter making noodles in Ramona with blue eggs, on another day in the country?