Kugel seems to come in two varieties. Boring noodle and boring potato. If there was ever a dish that cried out for a makeover like a Long Island mall rat it’s the kugel. My thinking about kugel started a few weeks ago when I made a nice veggie lasagna for a synagogue pot-luck. Its always heartening to see your dish empty after dinner, but I suspect any carb would have done well amongst the myriad tossed salads on offer. But I got to thinking, is there a Jewish equivalent for lasagna? I started rooting through my cookbooks and learned that there is a theory that Jews brought pasta to central Europe from Italy. That might be, but I think we should have stayed in Italy until we mastered cheese making. I found a lot of uses for ribbon egg noodles but there was nothing that called for the bigger sheets of pasta used in a lasagna.
When I read the many recipes available for kugel the recurring theme was that most kugels were still firmly anchored in the poverty of the past. Somehow in the trend of updating knishes with smoked salmon and coming up with even more extreme versions of the deli sandwich the kugel got left on the side of the road. I decided to change that armed with a version of baked mac & cheese from Gourmet that I had made for co-workers last year. A word of warning, this one is complicated and I had to write my steps down (unusual for me) to keep everything straight. My suggestion, read the instructions before you start the test.
Recipe after the break.
Noodle Kugel like your bubbe never made
2 cups flour
2 tb butter
2 tb flour
1/4 cup cream
1 cup beer
1/2 cup mushroom broth
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 tb blue cheese
1 tsp chili flakes (optional)
4 thick slices of cauliflower
8-10 thick slices of tomato (beef steak or plum)
1/2 cup dried shitake mushrooms
1/4 lb crimini mushrooms
3 oz whole milk cheese (any type)
Pasta: toss eggs in a mixer bowl, scramble. Add flour and mix until it comes together. Switch to a dough hook or knead by hand until it has a nice sheen to it. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and set aside to rest at least one hour.
Then make the filling: place Shitakes in hot water to hydrate. Mince leeks into small slices (first cut off roots and leaves then slice in half lengthwise) saute over medium heat in olive oil or butter. After 3-4 min add sliced criminis and then shitakes (note, remove shitake stems as they are very tough). Reserve water from the shitakes and put them in a small sauce pan over medium heat until reduced to 1/2 cup. Once all the mushrooms have some color remove them from the pan and set aside. Add additional oil to the pan and then brown cauliflower slices (cut them off the head 1/2 inch thick) for about 90 seconds a side just to give them some color and add some nuttiness to the flavor. Set these aside as well.
Now start the roux: in a medium sauce pan place flour and butter, whisk together into a paste over medium low heat. After 5 min slowly add the beer, cream and mushroom broth whisking constantly until it is smooth. Add the salt, pepper, blue cheese and bay leaf turn off the heat and let sit.
After resting the dough divide into four balls and roll out on a floured surface as thin as possible so each sheet is at least as big as an 8×8 in pan.
Assembly: In an 8×8 pan place a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place one layer of pasta on it. Then arrange the cauliflower in a single layer over that with slices of cheese on top. Another later of pasta, followed by a layer of sauce. Now layer in the mushroom/leek mixture, use about half. Another sheet of pasta, sauce and mushroom/leek and put a layer of tomato slices on that. Now, the final sheet of pasta. Use the last of the sauce and then arrange the rest of the slices of tomato on top. Garnish with grated hard cheese if you like.
Bake at 350 for 30 min covered in foil. Remove foil and bake another 10 min until the cheese on top browns. Let rest at least 10 min before serving.