The Ultimate Noodle: Grandma Rivka’s Polish Farfel

For comfort food, there's nothing like Grandma Rivka’s Polish farfel.

Farfel with peas and mushrooms. The ultimate noodle dish.Dan Peretz

Exactly one year ago, we buried Grandma Rivka at the foot of Mount Carmel, facing the sea from which she once came, many years ago, after that war you don’t talk about. The night before the funeral, I couldn’t sleep. So I went down to the kitchen and prepared for my father the food his mother used to make for him, as if to stave off the end.

The house was dark and only the light above the oven dimly illuminated my kneading hands and the onion sizzling in the skillets. With great trepidation I rolled out the dough for the kreplach and roasted the livers for the filling. I boiled the chicken in the soup, poured out the water and boiled it again – like she used to do, his all-powerful mother.

In the morning the pots of food were ready. Her farfel was the only thing I hadn’t managed to make properly. They came out too thick, a tad bitter, and just didn’t resemble Grandma’s delicate, comforting noodles.

When we returned from the cemetery, my father sat down alone, in his usual seat at the kitchen table of my childhood, slowly sipped the soup and pressed open the kreplach with a spoon, letting the filling absorb some of the soup before he ate it. Then we spent some time looking at the few photographs that survived, drank a little, and did the only thing we knew how to do when we’re very sad ? laughed until we cried.

A few months later, Uncle Shloimeh, Grandma’s younger brother and the last survivor of that great generation, passed away too. He worked in his small shoemaker’s shop until the last day of his life, drank a small shot of vodka every evening and insisted on eating sausages and schmaltz despite the family cardiovascular history. After this funeral, Dad returned to his chair once again. The last of the older generation was gone and he, the eldest, was now an orphan, and there was no one left to call and ask: Do you need anything, Mom? How are you feeling? And shulem aleichem, Shloimeh, vas hertzach, how are you?

I worked all week, Dad, to make her farfel right. In time it comes, the hands learn the craft. Come, please, ess a bissel, eat a little, and sigh and remember that you’re still a kid, even when you’re 70.

Farfel with peas and mushrooms

In Poland, farfel is considered the ultimate noodle dish. This is Grandma Rivka’s recipe. The result justifies the effort.

For the farfel noodles:
550 gm. white flour, plus a bit more for kneading and rolling
4 eggs
1/3 c. ‏(80 ml‏.) water
2 tbsp. ‏(30 ml.‏) vegetable oil for the dough, plus 2 more for baking and 2 more for boiling
salt
water for boiling

For the peas and mushrooms:
50 gm. butter
2 tbsp. ‏(30 ml‏) oil
1 medium onion
5 garlic cloves
250 gm. fresh mushrooms
250 gm. fresh ‏(or frozen‏) peas
salt
coarsely ground black pepper

To make the farfel noodles:
Sift the flour into the bowl of a mixer. Add the eggs, water, oil and salt and mix with the dough hook until the dough is soft and pliant. Remove from the mixing bowl and continue kneading by hand on a floured surface until the dough is of an even texture and easy to work with. The dough should be soft, but not sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and divide into three equal parts. Put two back in the fridge and work on each part separately and quickly so that the dough does not warm up. Flour the work surface and roll out the dough so that it is very thin.

Perforate the dough with a fork lengthwise and crosswise so that it doesn’t inflate during baking. Sprinkle a little flour on the sheet of dough and gently roll it into a broad, flat cylinder.

With a sharp knife, slice the cylinder into 6-7 mm. strips. The dough should not stick together. If it does, this means it is not cold enough or was not sufficiently floured before rolling. Reopen the dough into long strips, parallel to each other. Now slice the strips diagonally, with a sharp knife, into diamonds that are about 1.5 cm. long.

Sprinkle on a little more flour and use your fingers to separate the diamonds. Transfer the farfel to an aluminum pan lined with baking paper and place in the upper part of an oven that has been preheated to 250 degrees Celsius.
After five minutes, pour two tablespoons of oil into the pan and mix the farfel, using a spatula or flat spoon. Continue baking, stirring occasionally. In four or five more minutes, the farfel will be a golden-beige color.

This is exactly the time to take them out of the oven, and not a minute later ? otherwise they will blacken and burn and have a bitter taste.

Repeat the process with the rest of the dough, so you obtain 750 grams of baked farfel noodles ready for boiling. At this stage they may be packed in a sealed container, to be used for a later time.

To make the peas and mushrooms:
Melt the butter with two tablespoons of oil in a deep, broad skillet. Chop the onion and fry until just golden. Slice the garlic and mushrooms into thick slices, add to the skillet and stir with a wooden spoon until the mushrooms absorb some of the fat and soften.

Add the peas with a half-cup of water, season with salt and pepper, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.

In a large pot, boil four liters of water with two tablespoons of oil and a heaping tablespoon of salt. When the water comes to a boil, put the farfel noodles in and let cook for three or four minutes.

When they start to float, wait another minute, take them out and transfer immediately to the skillet with the peas and mushrooms. Turn up the heat and fry the farfel in the skillet until they are seared with the butter and lovely to look at. Serve immediately with a nice roast and tangy cabbage salad.