Spaetlze Two Ways

The first time I studied abroad, in Mannheim, Germany (Six weeks in Summer 2007 — wow, that seems like so long ago!), I discovered basically the most amazing food Germany has to offer.

Since I didn’t eat red meat at the time (though I would try some samples here and there), I didn’t enjoy much in the way of the wursts or pork knuckle or Leberkäs that Germany is known for. Most days we ate lunch in the college cafeteria — I remember a lot of grilled chicken and salads. Boring.

And for the most part, we were thrifty college students still, choosing to spend our money on beer and travel rather than 4-star meals, so we “cooked” at our dorm, ate “fast food” like Döner Kebobs (kinda like a gyro) or went to the crazy-good pizza place in the Turkish neighborhood down the street from our dorm.

Spaetzle

When we went out to German restaurants, though, we got Spätzle. It was served as a side dish, usually pan-fried in butter, or packed with cheese and veggies for a vegetarian entree. It. Is. Delicious. It’s a cross between a noodle and a dumpling. A bit chewy and springy, it is excellent for mopping up sauces or as a vehicle for getting more cheese and butter into your mouth.

When I got back to the States, there was a void in my life that could only be filled by Spätzle. Not even German beers were doing the trick. There was only one German restaurant in my hometown, and it was expensive and kinda far away.  I convinced my mom to take me once or twice, but that just made me crave it all the more. And there were no German options when I got back to school for the fall semester.

The only solution was to go back to Germany.

So I did, for the Spring ’08 term. Except I foolishly decided to go to Berlin, WHERE THEY DON’T SERVE MUCH SPÄTZLE!!!!! I totally failed to take into account how regional food is in Germany. Mannheim, with its proximity to Italy and Switzerland, is much more amenable to this pasta-type dish. Northerly Berlin is more a potatoes-and-bread type place. Plus, I was living with a local woman who cooked my dinners almost every night, and she never once made me Spätzle!

(Do I sound, like, suuuuuper entitled right now? Obviously, I’m kidding. She was quite the good cook and I tried lots of new foods including fresh sardines and rabbit.)

I’m sure I managed to have plenty of Spätzle on that trip. Just not quite as much as I would have liked. And the third (and final) time I studied abroad in Munich (Thanksgiving 2008), there was Spätzle to be had, though dumplings were the preferred side dish, and this trip was only 10 days. Not nearly long enough to make up for lost time. So when I got home I knew there was only one thing I could do.

Move to Germany.

A Spaetzle maker

A Spaetzle maker

Just kidding. It was learn to make my own damn Spätzle. So I asked for a Spätzle Maker for Christmas. I am pretty sure I made Spätzle a grand total of one time up til this week. I wish I knew why I only made it once. It’s not hard. It takes a bit of time, but is definitely easier than, say, homemade pasta. I saw the Spätzle maker in the cabinet almost every day and thought, “Yeah! This weekend!” but then always felt too busy.

Spaetzle

Well, whatever memories I’d associated with making my own were wrong, so so wrong. Turns out, this is so easy. And this takes delightfully to whole wheat flour. Honestly, it might even taste better than white.

Yes, it takes a few dishes and makes a bit of a mess, but isn’t that what makes it fun? Plus you get about 10 cups of Spätzle (!!!) from this recipe, which you can eat all week, or freeze for a few months from now, when that craving hits again. And when you sauté the fresh Spätzle with greens and onions and garlic and bacon fat (a slight departure from the traditional butter), you get a delicious side dish that, not gonna lie, overshadows that boring piece of meat it’s accompanying.

Basic Spätzle

Recipe adapted from the package my Spätzle maker came in. It originally calls for 3 eggs but I think the 4th makes the texture better. Even if you don’t like nutmeg, don’t skip it here. You won’t be able to taste it, but it will taste bland if you don’t include it. If you don’t have a Spätzle maker, you can use a colander or box grater and press the batter through that.
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups milk
  • 3 cups flour (15 oz.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until slightly frothy. In another bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Add the flour to the egg mixture a half cup or so at a time, whisking to incorporate. As you get to the end of the flour, you will probably have to switch to a wooden spoon. The batter will be firm and elastic but still a little fluid, a little bit stiffer than a cake dough. Let rest for at least 10 minutes, but ideally an hour.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare the largest bowl you have with an ice bath (don’t skimp on the ice). Give the batter a good stir. If it’s too thick you can add a bit more milk.
  3. Place the Spätzle maker over the pot. Load the caddy with batter and slowly slide it back and forth. Little ribbons will fall into the pot. Once the caddy is empty, stir the Spätzle and transfer with a slotted spoon into the ice bath. Continue working in batches until all the batter has been used up — make sure the water comes back up to a boil between batches.
  4. Strain the Spätzle from the ice bath. Reheat desired portion and refrigerate or freeze the remainder.
The setup. Ice bath is ready off screen.

The setup. Ice bath is ready off screen.

Sautéed Spätzle

  •  2 cups cooked Spätzle
  • 3 cups beet greens, kale, or spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsp bacon fat or butter, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat 1 tbsp fat in a pan over medium heat. Add the greens and saute for a minute or two, the place a  lid on to let them steam for a few minutes while you mince the garlic and onion.
  2. Add the 2nd tbsp fat to the pan with the garlic and onion. Saute for a minute or two. Push the veggies to the outside of the pan and add the last tbsp fat in the middle along with the Spätzle. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Let it sit for a minute or two so the crust can develop, then stir and let sit for another minute. Repeat two or 3 more times. Serve; try not to fight over the last few bites in the pan.
Had to squeeze in this pic -- beet greens are so pretty!

Had to squeeze in this pic — beet greens are so pretty!

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