A Lost Art

No matter what their shape or how they’re served, there’s something universally appealing and utterly irresistible about noodles. Considered comfort food around the world, most culinary cultures have their own version. Whether the cook calls them spaetzle (Germany), udon (Japan) or linguine (Italy), tosses them with butter or slathers them with gravy, they’re all noodles and they’re all good.

Versatile, inexpensive and filling, noodles are part of Cleveland’s food history. They were a staple for many of the immigrant groups who found a home here, and even became a business for Gaspar and Bertha Weiss. The couple began selling Bertha’s homemade Hungarian-style noodles to local restaurants in 1923, and their family continued production under the label Mrs. Weiss’ Noodles for the next 70 years, first at a factory on Woodland Avenue and later in Solon.

Before they were available dried and packaged, every housewife knew how to make them. Matthew Mathlage, chef and co-owner of Light Bistro in Ohio City, remembers rolling out the dough and cutting it on the family’s green Formica table under his mother’s watchful eye while chicken simmered in a big black Dutch oven with a broken handle that she still uses.

“We would leave the noodles about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch thick and cook them in the broth,” says Mathlage, who grew up in Akron. “They turned chicken soup into a feast. My family was not even close to middle class. This wonderful inexpensive dish was our Sunday dinner, with leftovers to last through the week.”

Fresh noodles are surprisingly easy to make. Mathlage estimates it takes just 45 minutes, and 20 of those are for letting the dough rest. But since it’s not something most of us are going to do every day, he shares his secret for giving the store-bought version an upgrade. “Spread on a baking pan and toast in a 200 degree oven until light brown, 30-60 minutes. Shake the pan a few times. You’ll be amazed at the difference.” They take on a nutty flavor that’s a close second to the ones he and his mom used to make.

Mathlage is known for his cutting-edge approach to cooking, but he still has a soft spot for simple things such as the chicken and noodles he ate as a kid. It’s not on his menu, but he does serve it to his employees, especially during cold-and-flu season. He shares the recipe here, along with another that features Asian flavor and fire. The National Pasta Association has designated March as National Noodle Month, and these recipes are great ways to celebrate the homey food.
Homemade Egg Noodles

Jazz up this basic recipe with garlic powder, carrot juice or chicken stock instead of water, or add minced green herbs. Makes 1-1 1/2 cups of noodles.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt together.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and water together. Form a depression in the flour and add the egg mixture. Mix well.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead for eight to 10 minutes or just until the dough is smooth and elastic.
4. Cut the dough in half. With a rolling pin, roll each piece out, 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick. Cover the dough with a cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.
5. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into strips 3/8-inch wide. Drop the noodles one at a time into the simmering soup. Cook until tender.

Plus: More Recipes
   Chicken and Noodles >>
   Thai Noodles with Barbequed Pork >>
Share this story: