Egg noodles

  • 5 minutes to make the dough, 5 to shape and boil, plus resting time, once you know what you're doing.

These are rustic noodles, chewy, sturdy, rough-textured, pale yellow to golden from the egg — and quite attractive for all that, not to mention delicious. The recipe goes on a bit, but its length belies its simplicity. It has more variations than Goldberg, but that’s the point: it’s more a theme than a recipe, and you can take it any number of directions. (Read the notes before you make this for the first time.)

I’m indebted to Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, from whose book Beyond the Great Wall the original proportions and food processor technique come, in a recipe for “earlobe noodles.”

  1. Making the dough

      • 2 cups all-purpose flour
      • ½ teaspoon salt (optional)

      Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to blend.

      • a tablespoon of oil (optional; see note)
      • 1 to 3 eggs (see note)

      Add to the flour and run the food processor for 10 seconds or so until all is well blended.

      • up to ½ cup warm water

      Slowly pour in warm water while the machine is running. If you’ve used one egg, you’ll need about a half-cup of water; if you’ve used three eggs, you may need only a tablespoon or two. In any case you’ll need to go by eye. Stop pouring when the dough has not quite come together and still looks like a shaggy mess; it will continue to come together over the next several seconds. If it doesn’t, add another teaspoon or two of water. If you’ve added too much and the dough is wet, add a few more tablespoons of flour. The dough should be smooth and just slightly tacky, especially if you’ve used more than one egg, but not dry and definitely not sticky.

    1. Remove the dough from the machine and knead on the counter a couple of times just to check the consistency. Then set it under an overturned bowl and let it rest for fifteen to twenty minutes to let the gluten relax. I find it helpful at this point to open a beer. Dough is a social creature, and more apt to relax if others around it are doing the same. If dinner takes longer to prepare than you anticipated, or if that beer turns into two or three, don’t worry; the dough can rest for an hour or two if need be. Just keep it covered so it doesn’t dry out. (Use plastic wrap for longer resting, but I find that in plastic the dough can get a little sticky.)

  2. Intermezzo

    1. Get your water boiling.

  3. Shaping and cooking the noodles

    1. When you are very nearly ready to serve dinner — table set, everything else simmering to perfection or waiting for a finishing touch — shape your noodles. At this point, again, you have a couple of options.

      Option 1: Noodles-as-dumplings

      The easiest way to shape them is to make Alford and Duguid’s earlobe noodles, which are based on a noodle from Tibet and are like little chewy dumplings. Divide the dough into eight pieces. Oil your hands lightly and roll each piece into a snake about as thick as your thumb. To shape the noodles, hold a snake gently in one hand and pinch off bits with the other — about as big a piece as will come off neatly between your thumb and forefinger. As you do this, you’ll flatten the pieces of dough somewhat so that they look like — you guessed it — earlobes. Then flick them into the boiling water. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to do this all in one motion — pinch, squish, flick, and repeat. If you find that you’re very slow at this on your first attempt, you may want to cook the noodles in two batches, but after a couple of times you should be doing it fairly quickly. I find I can get the whole mess of noodles pinched off and in the pot in about a minute.

      Boil the noodles for two to three minutes, or longer, depending on how thick you made them. They should be chewy but not doughy. (Al dente. You know the drill.)

      Option 2: Roll ’em out

      If you simply must have noodles, you can of course roll out the dough and cut it into long strips. Unless you do this for a living or are extremely pretentious, or maybe just a Virgo, you do not need a pasta machine for this. I had a pasta machine once, and it was a royal pain to use and to clean. If your noodles must all be delicately thin and precisely the same width, get out your wallet and pay someone to make them for you. This is home cooking. A little variability is a good thing in craft work.

      On a lightly floured board, roll out your dough to about 1/16" thick. (I do mean, ideally, a wooden board rather than a countertop that can be scratched when you cut the dough — but your countertop will do, of course.) The thickness is really up to you; be aware that they’ll swell in the water to about double the thickness you roll. A sixteenth of an inch will give you chewy noodles that curl and tangle attractively in the bowl. I’ve never bothered to find out what happens if you roll them much thinner.

      To cut the noodles, the best tool is a sharp pizza wheel, but you can use a knife. With a pizza wheel you just roll it along to mark off the widths you want, but either way you’re simply cutting the dough into strips. (Or squares! Two-inch squares, or even slightly irregular quadrilaterals, make very nice pasta. So do triangles. Or hexagons, if you have that kind of time.) You will not make the strips all exactly the same width. Some will be narrower than others; some will be narrow at one end and wide at the other. Nobody will mind, unless your guest list includes, say, Ming Tsai, and even he would probably be nice about it. Everybody else will be impressed and delighted that you made homemade noodles.

      Now lift them off the board and drop them individually into the boiling water. This is actually the tricky part, and why I don’t often bother rolling and cutting noodles: they nearly always stick together, and a few of them stick to the board no matter now well I flour it. To minimize that risk, in contradiction to the advice of practically every cookbook I have ever read, do not roll and cut the noodles in advance. If you do, the humidity of the kitchen (you’re boiling water!) will cause them to swell and stick together again — unless you drape them individually over some kind of ad-hoc drying rack, which would take up half the kitchen. (Unless, that is, your kitchen is palatial, in which case I don’t want to talk to you.) Maybe there really is some reason why fresh noodles need to dry briefly before they’re cooked, but I’ve never been able to tell the difference.

      So, to repeat: roll and cut your dough when the water is about to boil, and get the noodles off the board and into the water as quickly as possible. And make sure your knife or pizza wheel is sharp, and slice cleanly all the way to the end of the dough — don’t pull up at the end, as I sometimes do, or your noodles will cling and open up like an endless Z.

      Here again, two to five minutes’ boil is about right. I know that’s a wide window, but everybody rolls their noodles a little differently, so grab one with tongs, pinch off a piece, and taste it. God gave you teeth for a reason.

Notes

  • The salt is optional: it isn’t traditional in Italian pasta, certainly, nor in some kinds of Asian noodles, but I like to add a bit, as fresh noodles don’t cook long enough to absorb much if any salt from the water.
  • With the oil and egg you have several options. Oil is not, again, traditional in many kinds of noodles, but I think it makes the dough easier to roll out. If your context is Asian, go with something neutral, but olive oil is nice if you’re planning Italian flavors. The number of eggs will affect texture and taste: one is good for a basic all-purpose Asian-style noodle; three will give you a fresh Italian-style egg pasta. I usually split the difference and use two.