By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Long before my ancestors ever met macaroni and cheese or a plate of spaghetti, noodles with cottage cheese was the pasta comfort food in my Brooklyn Ashkenazi Jewish family.
Called “lokshen mit kaese” in Yiddish, it’s an Eastern European dish of homemade egg noodles tossed with butter or sour cream and some kind of curdy white cheese. There are versions topped with fried onions and loads of black pepper; others sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
In “The Book of Jewish Food,” Claudia Roden explains that noodles came to German Jews from Italy in the Middle Ages, via trade and rabbinical connections. Making homemade noodles for the Sabbath chicken soup, she writes, was “a cornerstone of feminine dexterity.”
My grandmother Lily, not a paragon of culinary dexterity, bought her egg noodles at Waldbaum’s. Her lokshen mit kaese was like an unbaked kugel, the hot noodles and cheese tossed with raisins, cinnamon and melted butter. Usually she preferred farmer cheese, which is dry and crumbly like feta. But I liked it best with creamy, tangy cottage cheese, which she stocked up on whenever Waldbaum’s had a sale.
That such a dessertlike dish could be eaten for lunch and not after was a wonder of my grandmother’s kitchen, and about a million times better than her tuna salad with the sweet pickle relish on rye.
It took a pandemic for me to start craving the nursery comfort of noodles with cottage cheese again. For the first few months, I made it exactly as my grandmother did.
After a while I started experimenting, leaning into the dish’s savory side by adding the fried onions and black pepper I’d read about. It was wonderful, but the onions were time-consuming and messy. To me, part of the appeal of noodles with cottage cheese is its one-bowl simplicity.
This version splits the difference between ease of preparation and complex, savory flavors. Instead of fried onions, I tossed in slivers of sharp raw scallion to contrast with the richness of the cottage cheese. Currants — smaller and more intense — replace the raisins. And some halved cherry tomatoes and mint make it juicy, fresh and perfect for summer.
When all was said and done, my grandmother might not have recognized this as a riff on her beloved lokshen mit kaese. But that wouldn’t have stopped her from gobbling it all up.
Cottage Cheese Pasta With Tomatoes, Scallions and Currants
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
- 1/4 cup dried currants (or chopped raisins)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for boiling the pasta
- 1 pound short pasta, such as farfalle, cavatelli or fusilli
- 4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 1 cup whole milk cottage cheese (or ricotta)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
- 1/2 cup torn mint leaves, plus more for serving
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley, plus more for serving
- Ground cinnamon, for serving (optional)
- Flaky sea salt, for serving
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put currants in a small bowl and ladle a little of the boiling water over them to cover. Let soak for 10 minutes, then drain.
2. Meanwhile, salt the remaining water in the pot. When it returns to a boil, add pasta. Cook according to package instructions until al dente, usually 1 minute less than the package directs. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.
3. In a large serving bowl, combine scallions, tomatoes, lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
4. When the currants are soaked, add them to the bowl with the tomatoes and toss to combine. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil.
5. Add pasta to the serving bowl, along with cottage cheese, pepper and a few splashes of reserved pasta water (about 1/4 cup), and toss until evenly coated. If pasta looks dry, add a little more pasta cooking water, a tablespoon at a time. Stir in herbs. Taste, and add more salt and lemon, if needed.
6. To serve, top with a dusting of ground cinnamon (if you like), flaky salt, a lot of black pepper, and more olive oil and herbs. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.