Finding the pattern of mother recipes | Kitchen to Kitchen

Sidonie Maroon
Posted 5/18/23

I’m reading two cookbooks by Faith Heller Willinger: “Adventures of an Italian Food Lover” and “Red, White and Green - The Italian way with vegetables.” It’s one …

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Finding the pattern of mother recipes | Kitchen to Kitchen


I’m reading two cookbooks by Faith Heller Willinger: “Adventures of an Italian Food Lover” and “Red, White and Green - The Italian way with vegetables.” It’s one of my favorite pastimes, sinking into a comfy chair with a cup of tea and perusing well written recipes from faraway places.

Recipes are little dramas unfolding into a tasty dish. It’s especially satisfying when the author glimpses into food culture and takes me on an adventure with her stories.

An Italian Mother Recipe

I came across an antipasto recipe for “Frittata di Strudel with Tocai Zabaglione.” That’s a mouthful!

I wasn’t as interested in the recipe as much as the mother technique, which bakes whipped eggs and cream into a flat rectangular sheet or “strudel.” What a great idea! I immediately tried it out. The recipe is below. I scaled the cream back and made it sour cream instead, which I thought would be more accessible, and added potato starch to help bind it.

In my first rendition I made an herby cream cheese to spread over the finished egg strudel, rolled it up into a log and cut it into rolls. I hope you’re also imagining the possibilities of this mother technique. How about rolling up cream cheese and lox? Or tomato and mozzarella, roasted veggies, olives and sausage…

One Technique with Many Variations

A mother recipe is a fundamental cooking pattern you vary. If you’re making muffins and use banana puree instead of pumpkin, then you are adapting a mother recipe to suit your ingredients and the season. Using the principles of mother recipes vastly increases your repertoire.

My second experiment, using the same mother technique, is the recipe I’ve included for an “egg noodle” lasagna. I cut the flat “egg strudel” into “noodle” strips. I cut them thinner than typical so I could spiral the pasta layer into a round casserole. As I made the lasagna, I realized how each part of the recipe is a mother technique to vary with your mood, occasion and seasonal produce. Making pasta sauces in the oven, while also roasting seasonal veggies to include in cheese fillings are both mother techniques that will make many of your meals easier. 

How to Cope with Complicated Recipes

Recipes that have long ingredient lists and multiple procedures always feel daunting when you first read them. When we used to learn to cook at our parents’ sides, we repeated the same processes day by day until cooking was easy.

We can train ourselves to read through recipes, visualize the steps, get the ingredients and equipment in place, and estimate the time it’ll take to make, including the cleanup. What if it was OK to never progress past “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when learning the piano? No, we expect to encounter more complicated music as we increase our skills. Practice makes perfect.

Solid Life Patterns are Mother Recipes

A good mother gives us solid life patterns to work from, and however far we travel from our beginnings, her influence is always there. Good cooking is similar — we may adapt and improve recipes, but they remain like mothers — fundamental.

Mother Recipes

Vegetable “Egg Strudel Noodle” Lasagna

Makes one 10-inch round or a 9-by-13-inch rectangular casserole.

Egg Strudel ‘Noodles’

6 large eggs

½ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons potato starch

¼ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Cheese Filling

1 cup cultured cottage cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

2 sticks celery, diced

8 medium crimini mushrooms, chopped

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper


1¾ cup grated mozzarella

¼ cup grated Parmesan


28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

¼ cup tomato paste

1 to 2 tablespoons minced combination of fresh herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, or oregano

2 cloves minced garlic

¼ cup parsley, chopped

½ cup red wine

To finish 

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey 


Make the Egg Strudel into Noodles! 

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a rimmed 9-by-13-inch baking sheet with oiled parchment paper so that it makes a shallow rectangular bowl. In a food processor, whip the eggs, sour cream, potato starch, salt, and chili flakes together until smooth. Pour the liquid into the parchment paper and push it into the corners. Bake on a middle rack for 13 to 15 minutes. Allow it to cool and cut into long ¾-inch noodles.

Roast the Veggies and Make the Cheese Filling

While the egg strudel bakes, prepare the onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms. On a parchment lined baking sheet, toss them with olive oil. Roast in a preheated 425F oven for 20 minutes.

Use the food processor to grate the mozzarella and parmesan, and set aside.

Blend the cottage cheese in the food processor until smooth, about 1 minute. Cool the roasted vegetables for 5 minutes and add to the cottage cheese in the processor with the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Pulse until the veggies and cottage cheese are blended to a small uniform size. Scrape the mixture out onto the strudel parchment paper and save yourself a bowl to wash.

Make the Sauce

On the same parchment lined baking sheet that you used for the roasted veggies, stir together the drained tomatoes, paste, herbs, garlic, parsley, and wine. Roast in a preheated oven at 425F for 20 minutes. Puree the sauce in the food processor, and finish it with the balsamic vinegar, honey and salt to taste.

Put it together

Preheat the oven to 350F. Use a 10-inch round quiche dish, or a rectangular 9-by-13 casserole dish. I’ll give instructions for the round version.

Spread 2/3 cup of sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Starting on the outer edge, spiral half of the noodles towards the center by going around the circle.

Spread ½ of the cheese and vegetable filling over the noodles. Layer ½ of the cheese over the filling.

Add more sauce and repeat the sequence ending with the grated cheese. Cover with foil or an oven proof lid. Note: You won’t use all of the sauce or it’ll be too liquid.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Take the foil or lid off for the last 10 minutes to brown the cheese.

Allow the casserole to cool and set up for 15 minutes before serving or it’ll be soupy. If there are leftovers they’ll continue to firm up when refrigerated.

Note: If your oven is bigger than mine, roast the sauce and veggies at the same time, but keep them on separate baking sheets.

(This recipe and more are available at Sidonie Maroon is culinary educator at The Food Co-op; Follow Sidonie on The Food Co-op’s Facebook group, Cooking with the Co-op.)


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