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Use Your Noodle

March 18, 1993|FAYE LEVY | Levy is the author of "Faye Levy's International Jewish Cookbook" (Warner Books).

Since my childhood, baked noodle kugel has been high on my list of favorite dishes. I love the tender, rich-tasting noodles, especially the brown, crisp bits on the top and bottom.

Best known in America as a Jewish specialty, these noodle casseroles originated in Europe. They are popular under different names in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Russia and other Eastern European countries. Kugel is a Yiddish word derived from a German word meaning ball , referring to the casserole's original round shape.

Delicatessen menus sometimes present kugel as noodle souffle, but it's much heartier than a souffle and has none of a souffle's fragility. Occasionally it is called noodle pudding. I think casserole is the best description since noodle kugel is really an easy-to-make cousin of macaroni and cheese.

In its simplest form, noodle kugel is a mixture of cooked noodles, eggs and, usually, sauteed onions. It is baked and served from its baking dish. Salt, pepper and paprika are the most common seasonings. Many cooks stir in diced cooked vegetables--broccoli, carrots, sauteed peppers, zucchini or even mixed frozen vegetables.

The most popular version in my mother's kitchen is noodle kugel with mushrooms, our family's customary partner for roast chicken. For a (richer) main-course kugel, she stirs in sour cream and cottage cheese.

Sweet noodle kugels are made by the same technique, but the flavorings are different. The cooked pasta is mixed with eggs, sugar and fruit, usually apples but sometimes pears, pineapple, cherries or raisins. Cinnamon or grated lemon or orange peel are added, and almonds or nuts are stirred in for festive occasions.

Like savory noodle kugels, sweet ones might also contain sour cream and cottage cheese. Certain recipes are very rich, calling for generous amounts of whipping cream, melted butter or cream cheese. Sweet kugels are served as a brunch or supper dish or as a satisfying dessert. Some people sweeten noodle and fruit kugels only slightly and serve them as a side dish.

Most noodle kugels can be refrigerated in their baking dish, ready for baking; they can also be reheated. They are simpler to prepare than macaroni and cheese because there is no need to make a cream sauce. The mixture is very flexible and can be made leaner. I sometimes substitute egg whites for some of the eggs or yogurt for sour cream.

Medium-width egg noodles are most traditional in kugel, but wide or narrow noodles work too, as do shell-shaped pasta and macaroni. For a gentle new twist, you can even use flavored pasta, like herb fettuccine, for a savory kugel or lemon-accented noodles for a sweet one.

This dish makes a great accompaniment to roast poultry or meat. For a richer variation, stir 1 cup sour cream into the noodle mixture before baking.

NOODLE KUGEL WITH SAUTEED MUSHROOMS 8 ounces medium egg noodles Boiling salted water 5 tablespoons oil or butter 1 large onion, minced 8 ounces mushrooms, quartered if small, halved and sliced if large Salt Freshly ground black pepper 3/4 teaspoon paprika 2 eggs, beaten 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, optional

Cook noodles, uncovered, in large pan boiling salted water over high heat, stirring occasionally, until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain well. Transfer noodles to large bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute until very tender, about 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste and 1/4 teaspoon paprika. Saute until mushrooms are tender and onion is browned, about 10 minutes.

Add mushroom mixture, eggs and parsley to noodles and mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste. Oil 6-cup baking dish and add noodle mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, then with remaining 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Bake at 350 degrees until set, 30 minutes. Makes 4 side dish servings.

Each serving contains about: 433 calories; 111 mg sodium; 160 mg cholesterol; 23 grams fat; 46 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 0.9 gram fiber.

This light-textured macaroni casserole with sweet red peppers, zucchini and onions is a good choice for a meatless main course. Serve it with a green salad.

MACARONI AND VEGETABLE KUGEL WITH CHEESE 1/4 cup butter or oil 1 medium onion, minced 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced 2 sweet red peppers or 1 sweet red and 1 green pepper, cored and cut into small dice 2 medium zucchini, unpeeled, coarsely grated Salt Freshly ground pepper 2 cups small elbow macaroni Boiling salted water 3 eggs 2/3 cup cottage cheese 1/4 cup sour cream 1 teaspoon dried leaf thyme, crumbled 3/4 teaspoon paprika 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, optional 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese or 1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese

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