Writing in Tablet, a Jewish online magazine, cookbook author Leah Koenig recently made the case that egg noodles and pot cheese ought to be considered the Ashkenazi mac-and-cheese.
But to extend the macaroni analogy, plain noodles and pot cheese is the kind of dish that home cooks might mix up for supper when short on time and money, much like boxed elbows with a powdered sauce base. Noodle, or lokshen, kugel is closer to the mac-and-cheese that shows up on Thanksgiving tables: It is rich, elaborate and typically reserved for special occasions.
Noodle kugel dates back centuries: It likely originated in Germany, where 12th century cooks were influenced by Chinese dumpling traditions. According to Jewish food historian Gil Marks, they steamed bread balls in an earthen jar called a kugeltopf. Those puddings evolved into the modern kugel, always made with starch, eggs and fat.
Once noodle kugel reached Poland, it was further embellished with raisins, cinnamon and sweet curd cheese (pineapple chunks, common in this country, came later.)
Kitchen Cabinet member Steve Auerbach’s recipe calls for pot cheese, a fresh cheese that splits the difference between cottage cheese and farmer’s cheese. Pot cheese is notoriously hard to source, but if you manage to locate it, perhaps save a smattering to spoon over egg noodles. As Koenig writes, whether sugared or salted, it “is Jewish comfort food par excellence.”
— Hanna Raskin