This year, I skipped my regular New Year’s resolution of shedding a few pounds for a more achievable goal: Host Shabbat dinner more frequently. While I’m not a regular at Friday night services, the practice of getting family and friends together to break bread is a rich cultural tradition that I wanted to incorporate into my weekly routine.
But: Friday night isn’t exactly a walk in the park in terms of hosting dinner, especially if you have to work all day. That's how my go-to contribution to Shabbat became good ol' noodle kugel. This classic Jewish casserole is the OG back pocket pasta, and uses a combo of ingredients you probably already have in your fridge and pantry.
For those of you unfamiliar, traditional kugel is made up boiled egg noodles tossed in a mixture of sour cream, melted butter, cottage cheese, and eggs, before getting baked in the oven. This base is often met with the addition of raisins, cinnamon, and sugar—but your kugel does not have to lean sweet. Gone savory, kugel makes a great a quasi mac & cheese that’s the perfect star for any dinner party.
Let’s start with the first tip for making a kugel that won’t get ignored on the dinner table: Use brown butter. You’re going to use a stick of melted butter in this dish, so by browning the butter before whisking with the eggs and dairy, you’re able to add a depth of flavor and rich nuttiness to the kugel. The best part is brown butter goes both ways. Whether you skew sweet or savory, I can promise you it will be part of what sets your kugel in a league of its own.
For this recipe, caramelized onions and minced herbs add both a bit of sweetness and a whole lot of savory earthiness. After throwing everything into a bowl and tossing it together, it’s baked until golden. Any little bits of noodle sticking out become crispy and addictive, begging to be picked at. You could either throw it all together quickly before your guests arrive, or you make it the day before and reheat right before you serve.
Now, since I’ve laid claim to it being a back-pocket dish, let’s discuss how you can take this recipe and make it yours. First, add whatever the hell you want to it—as long as you keep the ratio of cottage cheese, sour cream, and eggs the same. Everything else is up to you. Want to add meat? Throw in some shredded chicken or ground sausage (the latter ain’t kosher, so maybe not best for Shabbat). I sometimes add shredded Gruyere or slices of mozzarella in the middle, like a lasagna (if it’s been a rough week, I’ll do both). Have rosemary instead of thyme? Who cares! I can honestly tell you that I will make this kugel as is and just fold in whatever leftovers I have in my fridge from the week. The sky’s the limit for this dish.
If you’re looking to satisfy that sweet tooth, you can pivot this recipe easily. Just cut back on the salt and remove the onions and herbs. Then, get creative. Throw in warm spices like cinnamon and clove. Instead of caramelizing onions, try caramelizing apples or pears to fold into the noodles. Finally, raid your pantry for whatever dried fruit and nuts your heart desires.
Any way you attack this kugel, you’re going to have the perfect back-pocket casserole that would make your bubbe very proud.
What do you like taking to Shabbat dinner? Let us know in the comments!
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).
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