This is what my childhood tastes like.
Everyone has tastes that bring back a specific time and place. I’m sure scientists have some fancy name for it, like “taste memory” or some such equally emotionless phrase that doesn’t even remotely begin to capture the shock of remembrance that eating something you haven’t had since you were knee-high to a Lego dredges up. One minute I’m an expensive-kitchen-appliance-owning-adult and then -shazam!- a bite later and I’m a 7-year old clomping around in my mother’s silver pumps, stepping on scattered Lite-Brite pegs.
This precious Noodle Kugel recipe is one of a handful of recipes that sends my tastebuds into a total timewarp. I made it recently for a friend’s daughters, thinking it would be a sure way to win them over. And I was thrilled that it worked and that they loved it, but I was even more amazed at the memories the mere scent of it baking stirred up: Rosh Hashanah dinners with my grandparents, my mother teaching me to cook, family gatherings where no one could get a word in edgewise because everyone was talking at the top of their lungs trying to be heard.
If you’re not familiar with the wonderful world of Noodle Kugel, you’re in for a real kid-pleasing treat. Although it’s sweet, it’s traditionally served as a side dish next to a roast chicken or a brisket (my family was a lot of things, but Kosher wasn’t one of them.) It’s almost a Jewish macaroni and cheese (sans le fromage.) The noodles poking out of the custardy middle get all toasty and crisp, the streusal topping adds another slight bit of crunch.
As a grown-up, I’m tempted to play with the recipe; I want to ditch the sugar and try to make it savory, maybe adding some caramelized onions and gruyere. I want to tweak and futz and play, but I can’t bring myself to change a single thing. Because then it wouldn’t be my mother’s Noodle Kugel and it wouldn’t taste like my childhood.
Mom's Noodle Kugel
Serves 8-10 as a side dish
1 8oz. package of wide noodles
3 Tbsp. butter (her recipe never specified salted or unsalted, but I used unsalted.)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. apricot or plum preserves
2 Tbsp. butter
1.4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350-degrees and grease an 8"x12" baking dish. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook noodles until very very al dente. Drain noodles and toss with butter in a large bowl.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir in milk.
3. Add egg mixture to noodles and pour into the prepared baking dish. Dot with preserves and then bake for 45 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, make streusel: melt butter over low heat (I used the microwave) and stir in breadcrumbs and cinnamon. Sprinkle kugel with streusel and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the top is crisp and the custard is set.