This recipe has been made so many times throughout my life from my father’s side of the family, it has been introduced to almost every single person our family has had over for dinner. My Grandfather was the chef in my Dad’s family, and he used to make this every time my Sister and I would come visit.
At this time the recipe was made with as much butter as there was love…gobs and gobs of it. In fact, he would put in an entire stick of butter in the recipe so every single noodle would be covered and shiny with its buttery goodness. My Grandparents loved having us over and my Grandfather showed his love through cooking so we would have breakfast in bed, lunch on the patio and dinner starting at 3 to make sure we had enough time to eat all the courses before going to bed stuffed like a turkey and happy.
My Grandparents immigrated to the US when my Father was 8 from France, and they brought their European style and dining habits to America and passed them down to us every chance they got. I am very thankful for the time I had with them, watching my Grandfather cook breakfast and immediately after we were done would jump up, clean the dishes and then start cooking lunch. I swear he never left the kitchen. When I was a kid I thought he just didn’t want to spend time with us so he would stay in the kitchen all day. But as I grew older and more comfortable in the kitchen, I realize it was his way of showing us love and making sure our hearts and bellies were full the entire time we were there.
He never let me help in the kitchen, no matter how many times I would sneak in there and try to help, he would kick me out and say in his tough-guy voice with a thick French accent “Allonz-y, get out of my kitchen!” Again I was convined he didn’t want me there, but I am sure now it was because he saw the kitchen duties as “work” and he didn’t want me to “work” but instead go “play” and have fun.
My father continued this tradition and made this recipe when I was a child, and it was always the first thing he would make for my sister when she would come home to visit from College. He never told her, but she would call and ask him to make it, and he would always tell her on the phone how he didn’t have the ingredients, and how he now HAS to go to the store, and it will take a long time. Basically pouring out reasons why he didn’t want to. But she had no idea, he already went to the store and came back with one bag and all it had it in were ingredients to make her favorite meal. He was so excited for her to come home and he was making her favorite meal no matter what, he just didn’t want her to know that he alredy was ready. He would get the silliest grin on his face making his little joke having her think she was putting him out and he wasn’t going to make it, all the while already planning it. He was showing his love in his own way.
Growing up in my family we didn’t use salt, I really think my Dad thought it was rude to salt the food as you were saying it wasn’t good. This is far from the truth, my Dad’s cooking never ceases to impress, and yes sometimes I prefer a dash of salt. Thanks to my husband, I finally figured out that Salt Is Good, but that’s for another day. However you always knew we were having this meal because the salt would come out of the closet and show up on the table. This was the meal where you could use salt.
When I was in college, I didn’t know how to make much, but I did keep trying to make this, but I didn’t have all the right ingredients or directions as I was piecing it together from what I learned from sneaking into the kitchens of my Grandfather and Dad. Thankfully my sweet roommate Sherri let me experiement multiple times with her until I got it right, and typically we would have at least one bottle of wine with it. As I kept trying, I realized, I don’t need all that butter (my hips thanked me for this revelation).
So here it is, my version of my Families Noodles and Cheese patched together from the kitchen of my Grandfather, my Father, and perfected for my family in mine. I hope you enjoy it as either a main dish, a side, a treat or a sign of love. Oh, and don’t forget the salt.
Noodles and Cheese Family Recipe
1 Package large shell noodles
1 Pound Swiss Cheese
3 Basil Leaves (or 1 TBSP dried Basil)
2 Oregano leaves (or 1 TSP dried oregano)
1 tsp butter (to cook the onions with)
1 tsp olive oil
2 Garlic Cloves finely chopped
1/2 Onion finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook the noodles according to package directions.
Hint: only cook to the minimum doneness. So if the directions say boil for 8-10 minutes, cook for 8. They will be a little crunchy (aldente) but will cook more in the oven.
3. While the noodles are cooking cut the onion and garlic into little pieces.
Hint: to get the garlic out of the paper shell, take a knife and turn it on it’s side. Then crush the garlic by smashing it down, the paper will come off very easily. (Thank you to my daughter for taking these photos!
4. Warm up a pan on medium high heat. When hot add the butter and oil and coat the pan.
5. Cook the onions and garlic until they are soft and then take off of the heat and save for later.
6. Shred the Swiss Cheese. This is the only job ever I had in the kitchen, and technically it wasn’t in the kitchen, it was on the dining room table. I swear it was to keep me busy and out of the kitchen haha.
7. Roll up the Basil and Oregano into a little tube.
8. Cut the Basil and Oregano crosswise to get little strips of yumminess.
9. Find a pot that can go in the oven (Most can, but just be safe, you don’t need melted handles in your oven.) Mix the cooked noodles, shredded cheese, cooked garlic and onions, basil and oregano and then add a little salt and pepper. Mix well.
10. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Mix at 20 minutes to make sure the cheese gets all over.
You can cook this a little longer if you like crunchy pieces, my husband likes this, but just keep an eye on it as it will be quick to burn once the crunch crust is made.
11. Serve! My favorite is as a side to Barbecue Chicken and Kielbasa, but you could also make it as a main dish, with red wine on the side, right Sherri?