Several years ago, a friend let me in on a secret. It was Passover and, while I love matzoh balls as much as anyone, I was craving noodles for my chicken soup. Did I know, my friend wondered, about homemade Passover egg noodles?
I regrettably (and embarrassingly, considering I write Jewish cookbooks for a living) did not. But the canon of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine is filled with untold treasures, including a naturally gluten-free noodle so delicious it would soon become part of my year-round repertoire.
In a moment of necessity-driven culinary ingenuity, home cooks in Eastern Europe realized that blintz wrappers — the crepe-like pancakes used to make blintzes — could be sliced into a rustic approximation of lokshen (Yiddish for noodles).
The wheat flour typically used to make blintzes is verboten during Passover, so people whisked up a thin batter made from eggs, potato starch, water and salt instead. They then fried the batter in hot skillets to form thin, light brown pancakes. The pancakes were then rolled up like a jelly roll and cut crosswise (think a basil chiffonade), creating wide ribbons that could be uncurled and slipped into bowls of golden chicken broth.
With a flavor and chew closely resembling broad egg noodles, this Passover “pappardelle” more than satisfied my soupy cravings. I made a double batch and contentedly slurped them in leftover soup all week long.
After the holiday ended, I started scheming for other excuses to make them. I tinkered with the Old World formula, adding a handful of finely ground almond flour to lighten their texture and lend a hint of the sweet, nuttiness you find in semolina-based pastas. I cut them thinner, like fettuccine, and occasionally skipped the jelly-rolling step altogether, chopping the blintz wrappers into freeform, farfalle-like pieces.
With a simple slick of marinara, or a spoonful of olive oil-thinned pesto, I discovered that the noodles transcend their holiday-specific roots. I would imagine the discovery of an effortlessly gluten-free fresh pasta would be particularly alluring to people who eschew gluten or grain from their diets. But they have earned a spot on the table in gluten-friendly households like mine as well.
Making any type of fresh pasta at home is a project — a meditation on rest, roll, repeat. In this case, the process isn’t complicated and doesn’t require special equipment, such as a pasta roller, but it does take a little patience.
I like to turn on music or a podcast and settle into the rhythm of swirling the batter around a hot pan, then sliding the wrappers onto a cutting board to briefly rest before I roll them up and slice them into noodles. Once unfurled, the resulting pasta is delicate, full-flavored and entirely worth the effort. And unlike most fresh pastas, which require a stint in a pot of boiling water (albeit a briefer one than dried), these noodles are ready to use right away without any additional cooking.
The noodles are delicious as is — I often enjoy dressing them with nothing more than salted butter and a dusting of Parmesan. But they also invite plenty of experimentation. You could flavor the batter with a sprinkle of dried thyme and minced fresh rosemary, or a pinch of earthy saffron. Left whole, the blintz sheets could serve as the base for lasagna. And they shine when paired with a bright, vegetable-forward sauce.
In the spring, I usually make a pan of sauteed shallots and mushrooms enlivened with fresh basil and a shower of lemon zest and Parmesan.
But any variety of springtime vegetables — think roasted asparagus, freshly shelled peas or fava beans or buttery sauteed leeks — would work well. In the autumn or winter, a meaty Bolognese or creamy cacio e pepe vibe would be just right.
My Ashkenazi great grandmother probably wouldn’t recognize these takes on classic Passover noodles. But sometimes tradition tastes even better when it has a chance to breathe.
Gluten-Free Pappardelle With Mushrooms
These noodles are made with almond flour and potato starch. The pappardelle alone take about an hour to prepare and could be used with any sauce or dish that calls for such pasta.
FOR THE NOODLES
1/2 cup (2 ounces) almond flour
1/2 cup (scant 3 ounces) potato starch (not the same as potato flour)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup water
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil, for frying
FOR THE MUSHROOMS
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large shallots (3 1/2 ounces total), finely diced
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, stemmed and finely diced
1/3 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (thin strips)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Make the noodles: In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, potato starch and salt. Whisk in the water and eggs until smooth and fully combined. The batter should be just a touch thicker than heavy cream. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes.
In an 8-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat, heat about 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil until shimmering. Pour a scant 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan and swirl it in all directions to coat the bottom evenly with a thin layer of batter. Cook, without flipping, until the bottom is golden and the center is just dry, about 1 minute.
Using an offset spatula, transfer the crepe to a cutting board to cool slightly. Roll it up like a jelly roll, then slice into 1/4-inch wide noodles. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more oil as needed and whisking the batter in between crepes. Unroll the noodles into long ribbons and set aside while making the mushrooms. (The recipe makes about 10 crepes, or about 12 ounces of fresh noodles.)
Make the mushrooms: In a large saute pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and melt the butter until the butter starts to foam. Add the shallots and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are golden and most of their liquid has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the broth, basil, lemon zest and a generous amount of black pepper; bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the noodles and gently toss with the sauce until coated.
Taste and add more salt and pepper, if desired.
Transfer the noodles to serving plates, sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.
Recipe from cookbook author and food writer Leah Koenig.
Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to email@example.com.
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Calories: 364; Total Fat: 23 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 147 mg; Sodium: 520 mg; Carbohydrates: 30 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 4 g; Protein: 10 g.