For the last four weeks my son, the child who actually likes and encourages my cooking, has been at sleepaway camp, leaving us home alone with the one I affectionately call Buttered Noodles for Frances. Have you read the book? [Amazon, Bookshop, more indies] In it, a very picky badger named Frances doesn’t want to eat any of the food her mother makes, she only wants bread and jam. Her parents decide to give her exactly what she wants while the rest of the family eats poached eggs, green beans, and breaded veal cutlets. It does the trick — she tires of it and begins to embrace what the rest of the family is eating. Well la-de-da, good for them. Our badger is cut from more stubborn cloth. After the first week of trying to serve regular meals — food with variety and interest, the kind of stuff you might find on any page of the site but this one — I gave up and made buttered noodles every night. I want you to know that on what might be the sixth or sixteenth day, I’ve stopped counting, she has yet to request anything else.
We joke that she is the child I had coming. Every recipe writer deserves a child that will simply not participate in their antics; it keeps us humble! It’s the inevitable conclusion of our culinary hubris! But I did not, it turns out, conjure her out of thin air. Once upon a time, I wrote in a cookbook [Amazon, Bookshop, More indies] about my own love for buttered noodles. I mentioned that I’ve been asked a few times over the years what my desert-island foods would be and that I’ve often disappointed people who were hoping I’d say something nuanced or epicurean when I’ve said, instead, buttered egg noodles. I said that it turns out to be a total conversation thudder because you cannot explain the bliss of buttered egg noodles to people who do not derive bliss from buttered egg noodles. But I also insisted, and still insist, that “not all beloved things elicit, or need to elicit, popular fervor.”
And so with that understanding, from the depths of the dual midsummer trenches of heat waves and cooking ambivalence, please welcome the recipe I make more than any other on this planet. Because I have yet to figure out how to turn my brain off when I’m cooking, here are a few parameters:
- Let’s get this out of the way: These are just butter, noodles, and salt. Would it be excellent with some browned butter, minced garlic, parmesan, flecks of parsley, paper-thin slices of scallions, crushed salted pistachios, and/or my favorite, a finishing glitter of minced chives? Yes it would. Would my Frances eat it? No she will not. Will she one day come around to these things? I remain hopeful. But this is not that day.
- While there are no cheffy twists, the only tiny cooking technique I employ is finishing them in the pan with some cooking water and butter together, creating a glossier emulsification that better clings to the noodles. Most of the butter goes in then. A pat always must be added at the end over the top. This is the butter you taste the most.
- The butter should be salted. There’s a place for basic butter and a place for better butter. I buy basic unsalted butter for baking and salted higher butterfat butter for spreading on toast (or blueberry muffins, which my daughter picks the blueberries out of, or zucchini bread). When a recipe has two ingredients and one is butter, that moment is now. If the butter isn’t salted, be sure to season it well.
- The correct amount of butter for buttered noodles is not a wading pool or anything, but enough so you might have a little runoff puddle at the bottom of the bowl to drag that last, lucky noodle through. I am insistent that a mid-bowl forkful of noodles shouldn’t drip back into the bowl with butter runoff, in part because I’m the one getting the stains out of clothes and in part because buttered noodles should suggest excess, not wallow in it. Oh you want this in tablespoons? I’m sorry, but this is not the moment for such earthly concerns. You will know in your heart whether you’ve correctly buttered your noodles that day.
- I’m choosing egg noodles here because they’re pure comfort food for me and I don’t have enough excuses to feature them, but any pasta shape will work. While they shouldn’t be cooked to mush, this isn’t the time for an aggressive al dente. Egg noodles needn’t have a real bite to them.
- Finally, just a little vibe check: Every one of us knows that the way to get a child to stop eating buttered noodles every day is to stop making buttered noodles every day. This isn’t a cry for kid-feeding help or anything. I’m amused by my 7 year-old and believe we all need buttered noodles in our lives. Part of the reason I accede to her dietary proclivities on days when my cooking ambivalence is high is that she also has a nearly insatiable appetite for fresh fruit and vegetables. I can put out a plate with a mix of stuff, even chunks of raw cabbage and iceberg, and she will chomp her way through it all, usually before dinner starts. If she wants to chase this with a plate of buttered carbs, I keep looking inside myself for a single protest to give, and coming up with a shrug. (I’ll get working on that parenting book, stat!)
Buttered Noodles for Frances
- Kosher salt plus some pinches of flaky sea salt to finish, if you wish
- 1 16-ounce package of egg noodles or box of dried pasta
- 6 tablespoons salted butter, divided, plus more as your spirit requires that day
- Any extras you see fit, listed up top
6 months ago: Spanakopita
1 year ago: Deviled Eggs
2 years ago: Pasta with Pesto Genovese
3 years ago: Frozen Watermelon Mojitos
4 years ago: Corn Fritters and Bourbon Peach Smash
5 years ago: Hummus Heaped with Tomatoes and Cucumbers
6 years ago: Corn, Bacon and Parmesan Pasta
7 years ago: Tomato and Fried Provolone Sandwich
8 years ago: Easiest Fridge Dill Pickles and Grilled Peach Splits
9 years ago: One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes and Hot Fudge Sundae Cake
10 years ago: Bacon Corn Hash
11 years ago: Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones
12 years ago: Mango Slaw with Cashews and Mint, Thai-Style Chicken Legs, Peach Blueberry Cobbler, and Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons
13 years ago: Light Brioche Burger Buns, Blueberry Boy Bait, and Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza
14 years ago: Chocolate Sorbet
15 years ago: Double Chocolate Layer Cake