Happy Hanukkah and Kasha Varnishkes
Roasted Whole Grain Buckwheat, Bow Tie Pasta,
Caramelized Onion, Sautéed Mushrooms, Walnuts, Parsley
The dish never fails to bring back sweet memories of my Nana and Aunt Edythe. My 2017 version of Kasha Varnishkes includes mushrooms and walnuts. It has more pasta and vegetables in relation to the buckwheat, and uses plenty of heart-healthy olive oil.
I remember that Auntie Edythe would prepare hers with lots of kasha in proportion to the bows and no doubt used plenty of schmaltz. It was more of a buckwheat dish than a pasta dish. She was such a terrific cook. It has been decades since her passing, but none of us will ever forget her cooking, especially her banana cake…and that she served real whipped cream made from scratch in the 60s when everyone else’s whipped cream came out of a can.
Feeling nostalgic with Hanukkah approaching, I was looking through boxes of my mom’s old photographs and came across the one below. Sadly, everyone in the photo except my cousin Robert has passed away. This image, taken at the iconic Palmer House in Chicago c. 1956, is a true treasure. I believe that we bless them and they, in turn, bless us each and every time we think of them. Our memories keep the people who have passed on forever close to us.
My Nana (paternal grandmother) was born in Kiev, Russia 1894. The family fled to Canada to escape the pogroms when she was a young girl. Her birth name was Vitte but she took her sister’s name, Fanny, after Fanny was killed in some sort of machine accident that was never explained to us as children. And now that there is no one left to ask, it will remain a mystery.
She met my Papa (paternal grandfather) when they were teenagers. Their families were living in the same apartment complex in Montreal. His name was Yitzcok when he was born in Romania in 1891 but changed it to Isadore upon arrival in Canada when he was 13 years old. They said he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah on the boat.
Fanny and Isadore married then made their way to the United States and settled in Chicago where Papa took the more American name of Irving, and they raised their children, (my aunt) Edythe and (my dad) Leonard.
I remember one day when we were kids, my Dad asked us if we knew Papa’s real name. I thought about it and said “Is” because that’s what Nana called him. Then I fell into a fit of giggles, “What kind of name is Is, Dad? That’s a verb!”
Our extended family always called Papa by the name Izzy (from Isadore) and Izzy is now my nephew Jett’s middle name. Jett celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Chicago this past summer. Jett’s older brother Stone has Leonard as his middle name. Leonard sadly passed away in 1971 when he was just 49 years old. Stone, his would-be first grandson, was born in 2001. By keeping their names alive, we bless them.
Kasha Varnishkes Recipe
- 3/4 lb. bow tie pasta, cooked and drained
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced thin
- olive oil (lots of it)
- 8 oz. fresh mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
- a few sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 c. kasha (granulated roasted whole grain buckwheat)
- 1 egg
- 2 c. chicken stock or vegetable stock for vegetarian version
- 1 T. butter
- 2 T. parsley, chopped
- 1/3 c. walnuts, toasted and chopped
- kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Sauté sliced yellow onion in olive oil until caramelized.
Simultaneously, sauté mushrooms in olive oil with thyme until browned.
Toast one cup of kasha in a dry non-stick pan for a few minutes, then cool. Add a beaten egg, stir to coat all the grains. Cook briefly over medium heat until the egg has dried. Add seasoned hot chicken stock plus 1 T. butter, stir, cover and cook on low heat until the liquid is absorbed.
Toss pasta with parsley and a good splash of olive oil.
Mix kasha with mushroom, onion, walnuts, salt and pepper, then gently fold the pasta into the kasha mixture.
Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Wishing a very Happy Hanukkah and sending lots of love to my big dear family, near and far…past and present.