As a humble cousin of trendy pasta, noodles are a delicious comfort food enjoyed throughout the world.
At this time of year, everybody loves noodles, whether they're in tuna noodle casserole, chicken noodle soup, or beef stroganoff - beef in a sour cream sauce ladled on a bed of noodles. Some folks just serve noodles buttered and sprinkled with parsley flakes and parmesan cheese.
Nourishing and satisfying, noodle recipes were brought to America via the Dutch and Germans. Later, an array of dishes from Russia and Hungary appeared. Noodle kugels, or baked noodle puddings, are traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath.
Toledo even has its own noodle company, Hungarian Homemade Noodle Corp. It is owned by Bert Toth and his wife, Aranka, who came to the United States in 1988 and opened the company in the Birmingham neighborhood of East Toledo three years later.
The company's 13 varieties of noodles are the "same dough, different shapes," Mr. Toth says. "These are homemade-style, made with eggs and flour. They're old-fashioned, like your grandmother's recipe." His products are sold at Farmer Jack's and Lee Williams House of Meats, as well as markets in Detroit and Cleveland.
Also in the Birmingham neighborhood, members of churches such as Calvin United Church of Christ and St. Stephen's Catholic Church make homemade noodles to sell at the annual Birmingham Ethnic Festival each summer and at other church dinners and functions.
In recent years, a diverse selection of noodles from Asia has become available. Pan-fried noodles, ramen noodle soup, lo mein, and Pad Thai dishes are moving to the mainstream in the American diet.
Note that this world of noodles is not pasta. From linguine to lo mein, from soba to fettuccine, from Pennsylvania Dutch and German specialties to Hungarian dishes, every noodle has a unique recipe.
However, All About Pasta & Noodles (Scribner) by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker uses "pasta" to refer to the Italian version, and "noodles" when referring to eastern European and Asian dishes.
The Food Lover's Companion (Barron's) says noodles contain eggs or egg yolks, while macaroni and spaghetti do not. Usually noodles are cut into flat, thick, or thin strips.
Mr. Toth said he labels some of his noodles as fettuccine and spaghetti because the Hungarian words for those shapes are unfamiliar to American consumers.
Whether you make your own or buy homemade or commercially processed varieties, noodles cook quickly. When combined with other ingredients, those flat dried strips are wonderful in casseroles, soups, and as accompaniment to entrees.
Kugels are traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath. They are baked puddings made with potatoes or noodles, meat, vegetables, and sometimes other ingredients.
For a kosher meal, dairy products may be used in a kugel recipe if no meat is served with the meal.
"I make one noodle pudding with cottage cheese and sour cream," said June Treuhaft, who was co-chairman of a mandel bread event last fall at Temple Shomer Emunim. Some versions have dried fruits or raisins, but these are "not served as a dessert; they are an accompaniment to the main course."
In my collection, I have a recipe for Noodle Kugel flavored with apricot preserves. It is from a woman in Canton, Ohio, who served the dish for luncheons in place of potato. It is also delicious as a brunch dish.
Even newer to the American table are Asian noodles.
"Oriental noodles have more choices," says Grace Gau, an expert in Asian cooking who occasionally buys different selections at Asian food stores in Windsor, Ont. Some are made with egg, some with rice, bean, or wheat. "They have different flavors, too. Some are flavored with fish and different spices," she added.
Many varieties of Asian noodles are available. Much of the labeling is printed in Japanese and Chinese, but some English directions are on the package. If you don't understand the labels, ask a store clerk for more information.
To prepare noodles, Mrs. Gau notes that "some noodles boil in a couple of seconds or in five minutes. Bean noodles soak in water. Rice noodles soak in hot water and then you stir-fry them, adding broth to make them juicier."
"Most people don't want to mess around with making noodles [from scratch]," said Mrs. Gau, who will teach a class on how to make egg rolls, spring rolls, and wontons (a kind of noodle) from 7 to 9 p.m. March 12 at Southview High School in Sylvania. The class is offered by Sylvania Community Services.
In northern China, cold Asian noodles are a common dish. "These have a round shape, yellow color, and you add sesame paste and sesame oil and serve it with meat or not, shredded Chinese cucumber, and sesame seed," Mrs. Gau said.
Bean paste enhances the flavor of noodles. "Vegetarians use bean paste and tofu with noodles," said Mrs. Gau, who grew up in Taiwan. "The texture of pasta is different than Oriental noodles, which are finer."
The similarity of Asian noodles to Italian pasta is unmistakable. According to the National Pasta Association, Marco Polo wrote about eating Chinese pasta at the court of Kublai Khan. There's evidence suggesting the Etruscans made pasta as early as 400 B.C. This is based on a bas-relief carving in a cave about 30 miles north of Rome. However, the Chinese are on record for having eaten it as early as 5,000 B.C.
Noodles or pasta. Take your pick. Mix and match.
We think of chicken noodle soup as being made with egg noodles. Soup (Simon & Schuster) from Williams-Sonoma includes the recipe for Chicken and Soba Noodle Soup made with chicken stock, 1 boneless chicken breast, 8 ounces dried soba noodles, 1/4 cup miso, 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 2 cups packed baby spinach leaves, and sliced green onions.
Sweet Pepper Stir Fry on Rice Noodles is reminiscent of a northern Chinese dish with the sesame oil and fresh ginger. Cook the rice noodles according to package directions.
Noodles that are long and uncut symbolize longevity in the Asian culture. They may be eaten hot or cold.
Soba is a Japanese noodle made from buckwheat and wheat flour, which gives a dark brownish-gray color. Udon is a thick Japanese noodle similar to spaghetti, which can be round or squared and made from wheat or corn flour.
China's cellophane noodles are made from mung-bean starch; egg noodles are usually egg-based, and ramen are wheat-based egg noodles. Most ramen noodles in supermarkets are Asian instant-style deep-fried noodles often sold with bits of dehydrated vegetables and broth mix.
Lo mein is a Chinese dish of boiled noodles combined with stir-fried ingredients such as chicken, pork, and vegetables. The cooked noodles are tossed with other stir-fried ingredients at the last minute and then coated with a stir-fry sauce.
Pad Thai is Thailand's best-known noodle dish. It combines cooked rice noodles, salty fermented fish sauce called nam pla, tofu, shrimp, crushed peanuts, bean sprouts, garlic, chilies, and eggs, all stir-fried together.
Indeed, noodles are a world of their own.