Spaetzle Two Ways
In German, spaetzle (also spätzle) means little sparrow, an apt and delightful name for the pasta. Spaetzle is actually egg dough that has been pushed through a colander into boiling water. It’s small, irregularly shaped, and has a wonderfully chewy texture — more dumpling than pasta. Although spaetzle is originally from Swabia, a region of southern Germany, similar pastas can be found in the cuisines of other European cultures, from Alsace to Slovakia. It’s not a wonder: spaetzle is one of those hearty, deeply comforting traditional dishes, and to eat it once is to come back to it again and again. It’s perfect for fall.
Like most pastas, the recipe for spaetzle is a simple affair: milk, eggs, flour, salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg for warmth. The only technical piece is the stirring of said ingredients. In the test kitchen, our chef joked that making spaetzle should be a workout — if you’re not sweating, you’re not doing it right. You want to use a wooden spoon to beat the ingredients together until there are no lumps, the batter is smooth and shiny, and bubbles are just starting to form. It’s also really important to let the batter rest, like you would bread dough, so the gluten structures have time to form. (Read: your spaetzle will be nice and chewy.)
Once you’ve got the dough, spaetzle cooks in minutes. Traditionally, it’s a side dish, and you’ve probably seen it served alongside meat with gravy spooned over it, but it’s as versatile as any pasta. Tucked under braised meats, meatballs, or a hearty veggie stew, it also makes a terrific main dish. Here, we’ve gone with recipes that could really play either role on the plate.
If you’re looking for easy but scrumptious, spaetzle with brown butter and sage sauce is the way to go. Crispy, aromatic sage in brown butter is a classic, and we love how it takes the spaetzle up to 11 on the coziness scale — with just enough parsley and lemon scattered through it to keep things fresh. This dish will be lovely served alongside a pork chop or grilled salmon, but it’s also fair game if you want to pile it in the center of the plate, add a green salad, grab a beer, and call it dinner.
On the less sophisticated and slightly more involved side of things, we have the spaetzle mac and cheese — a dish the kids love nearly as much as we do. It’s a layered casserole of spaetzle, caramelized onions, bacon, and Jarlsberg cheese. We can totally get into the crispy-chewy-gooey textural fandango of the dish, but it’s the flavor that keeps us scooping out more and more of the stuff: those sweet, sweet onions taste wonderful with the bacon’s smoke and salt and all that mildly nutty cheese. It’s the kind of thing that feels equally thrilling for an ordinary Wednesday night dinner in front of the TV or for a Thanksgiving dinner at the dining room table with all the people you love most.
Spaetzle Two Ways
In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the eggs and whole milk, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir together the all-purpose flour, kosher salt, black pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Form a well in the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix and then vigorously beat the batter until smooth and very few lumps remain, about 2 minutes. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil — a bit more than a simmer but not a rolling boil.
Transfer the batter to a standard colander or spaetzle maker. Hold the colander above the hot water, and press the batter through the holes with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Increase the heat a little bit and return the spaetzle to a gentle boil.
Once all of the spaetzle are floating, remove them with a slotted spoon or mesh strainer, and place them directly onto a serving dish.
Add the sauce of your choice and serve immediately.
Spaetzle with Brown Butter & Sage
In a small saucepan, brown the unsalted butter over medium-high heat. Quickly fry the sage leaves in the butter for a handful of seconds, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and remove the pan from the heat.
Drizzle the warm brown butter over the spaetzle, then gently stir together. Garnish with fresh parsley and black pepper, and serve hot.
Spaetzle Mac & Cheese
In a medium heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Add the yellow onions, stirring occasionally, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the onions are caramelized and dark amber in color. Stir in the kosher salt and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Grease an 11x7” or similar-size casserole pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Layer one-third of the spaetzle in the bottom of the pan, followed by one-third of the Jarlsberg cheese, one-third of the caramelized onions, one-third of the chopped bacon, and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Repeat the layers until all of the ingredients are gone.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and beginning to get crispy on the edges.
Garnish with fresh parsley and serve hot.
Recipe adapted from: The Daring Gourmet