When Jewish immigrants came to this country in the first part of the 20th century, mainly from Eastern Europe and Russia, they rapidly adapted other culture’s dishes. This particular transformation of Italian pasta comes from Robert Sternberg’s Yiddish Cuisine: A Gourmet’s Approach To Jewish Cooking, as reprinted in the sadly defunct John Thorne-edited newsletter CookBook, a review of books about food. (I got it in a stack of back issues of Simple Cooking from the wonderful Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks. No link for CookBook- try Googling it – the title makes it an impossible search.)
This is a recipe from Sternberg’s grandmother, who didn’t see any point in preparing lokshen any other way than snapping the spaghetti in two and after cooking it, baking it in a rich mixture of sour cream and farmer’s cheese. The recipe clearly has an Italian origin, starting with a soffrito of celery, carrot and onion in butter, just like Marcella Hazan’s bolognese. However, green pepper and Hungarian hot paprika rapidly follow, along with tomato sauce, the aforementioned cheese and sour cream, and the whole thing is baked in a buttered glass dish at 350 degrees with the cooked noodles and generous dollops of butter on top.
The dish was supposed to have a crust but I was unable to get this in my oven. I didn’t have sauce, only plum tomatoes, which may account for the dish’s strangely unattractive top. I had never come across farmer’s cheese before, but Wikipedia says that it’s sort of a refined version of cottage cheese. I did not go to Murray’s for this but rather the Morton Williams on La Guardia Place, where I found it next to Kraft sliced American cheese. The brand claimed to be Amish, but I doubt that very much.
In any event, it was rather nice tasting, slightly tangy, much like the homemade cottage cheese at Ray Radigan’s steakhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The cheese and the sour cream make this a dairy dish in kosher terms; apparently ground beef may be substituted (for both) for a meat version.
I have to admit that the thought of this dish made me salivate. I miss the rich Americanized pastas, slathered with sauce, from my childhood. Even if I never had this specific dish, it has elements in common with my mom’s spaghetti and noodle casseroles. However, it turned out to taste sort of lasagna-esque, and I don’t mean that in a great way. Perfectly OK, but not sublime, unless (I suspect) you grew up with it. Also, I made the full recipe not noticing that it serves 6-8 people, and now have vast quantities in the fridge.