My 14-year old daughter loves “cabbage and noodles” as much as I did as a child. She insists she wants to eat it every day of the year. Cabbage! But Shayna is merely following in the footsteps of an ancient history — the one that connects generations through food and recipes. For more than 50 years my mother and I expressed our deep connection by cooking special things for each other all the time. We used to derive the greatest pleasure by surprising the other with her favorite dish. In my case, my mother made me cabbage and noodles — a homey Hungarian standard that she, too, ate in her childhood. It was our ultimate comfort food and I never knew exactly when a steamy, buttery bowl would make an appearance on her dining room table. Until the day she died, I delighted in its random offering and in the joy she showed in preparing it. My mother would always say, “It’s not as good as the last time,” but it always was.
I have learned that some recipes, even more than photographs, provide the most intimate transfer of information from mother to daughter. As victims of a horrendous time in history, most of our Hungarian relatives never made it through World War II. This simple dish is a witness to our past. It is a poignant conduit of things unspoken.
Sometime in 1930, somewhere in Astoria, Queens, my maternal grandfather and great-grandmother (whose wedding ring I wear) opened a Hungarian restaurant that featured…cabbage and noodles. Naturally. Sometime in the mid-90’s I had an epiphany: It was the moment I realized that this complex-tasting, deeply satisfying dish was made with only three ingredients.
Marion Gold’s Cabbage and Noodles
My mother was gorgeous, inside and out. More Zsa Zsa than Julia in the kitchen, she cooked her heart out and still managed to look glamorous. The goal in making her special dish is to squeeze the water from shredded cabbage after it is salted and left to wilt and then to “melt” it in sweet butter until it is transformed into dark golden strands. It can be served as a first course or as a felicitous side dish with pot roast or roast chicken; or it can be eaten all by itself on wistful days.
3-pound compact head of green cabbage
1 stick unsalted butter
12 ounces wide egg noodles
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core. With a sharp knife, shred the cabbage into 1/8-inch thick slices. Place cabbage in a large colander and sprinkle with 1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt. Toss well. Cover with a plate and put a heavy object on it (a filled tea kettle) to weight it down. Put the colander in a pan to collect any liquid or set it in the sink. Let sit 4 to 6 hours. Press down hard and squeeze the cabbage with your hands to extract as much water as possible. Melt the butter in a very large skillet and add the cabbage. Cook over medium-high heat for almost 1 hour, until the cabbage is very soft and dark brown. Cover from time to time to help soften it. Add salt at this point, if needed. Cook the noodles in a large pot of salted rapidly boiling water. Cook until tender and drain very well. Add cooked noodles to the cabbage and heat gently. Add freshly ground black pepper. Serves 4