Old World Spaetzle: The New Pasta?

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New Serving1 Old World Spaetzle: The New Pasta?

I grew up eating spaetzle. But I thought it was pasta.  To be even more specific, I though it was NOODLES. It took a curious turn of events to clear this confusion in my mind.

Grandma Mary loaded her Divine Chicken Noodle Soup with these super chewy, squiggly noodles she pushed through a large holed, wire mesh device. They were completely addictive, and I loved them beyond measure. She later gave me the device, but because I had never actually seen her make these noodles (they were always in the soup when I arrived), I tried for years to push regular pasta dough through the mesh, cursing the whole while. It was nigh impossible. And the noodles made in this way were tougher than I remembered hers to be.

Spaetzel batter Old World Spaetzle: The New Pasta?

Grandma pronounced her noodles shpet-sle, not spate-sel, a pronunciation I heard later from others. I never connected these very different pronunciations with each other. This pronunciation snafu is the reason I didn’t associated her noodles with the spaetzle makers I saw in cookware shops. I had no idea she was making spaetzle all those years. Unfortunately, I neglected to have her show me how to make her famous noodles until it was too late. And after several attempts later to reproduce them, I finally gave up.

Preparing spaetzel Old World Spaetzle: The New Pasta?

It was a mere fluke that made me want to try making spaetzle myself a few months ago. I had never made it, as the few times we ordered it in traditional German restaurants, the dumplings were doughy and bland (nothing that reminded me of Grandma’s noodles). But now I know that was due to poor technique rather than to the dish itself.

Spaetzel maker Old World Spaetzle: The New Pasta?

The recipe that sent me to the kitchen comes from the brilliant chef, Roy Yamaguchi, in his inspired cookbook, Roy’s Fish and Seafood: Recipes from the Pacific Rim. The recipe is titled, Steamed Sea Bass with Shiitakes, Asparagus, & Spaetzle in Thai Curry Sauce. And it’s OMG good! Inventive American chefs are showcasing spaetzle, rather than pasta, on their menus these days and to very good effect. (Wildwood Restaurant in Portland, Oregon recently featured a most delicious Crispy Caraway Spätzle with Roasted Winter Root Vegetables, Soft Goat Cheese, Toasted Walnuts and Apple-Squash Puree.)

Spaetzel freshly boiled Old World Spaetzle: The New Pasta?

I’ll share with you my riff on Roy’s dish later, but for now just let me say that the spaetzle was a revelation. As I put the first one into my mouth to test for doneness, memories of those years with my German Mennonite grandmother came flooding back. I couldn’t believe it. I was eating her noodles!

Now if this doesn’t count for a miracle, I don’t know what does. Grandma’s noodle recipe is not lost after all. I can hear her laughter in the recesses of my mind.

Browning spaetzel  Old World Spaetzle: The New Pasta?

Basic Spaetzle

Spaetzle is a cross between pasta and dumplings, with a closer affinity to pasta–but much easier to make. When prepared properly, the pasta-dumplings are light, with a lovely, toothsome chewiness.

The shape is usually small and irregular. You can use a spaetzle maker to push the batter-like dough through a ¼-inch holed plate, or more simply, push off small bits from a spatula into boiling water. I recently used a potato ricer with  1/8-inch holes to very good effect. Of course, using this device, the spaetzle are quite narrow.

The recipe that follows is from the German-Swiss-Austrian-Hungarian tradition; however there is no reason to make only one type of spaetzle or to stay within the traditional boundaries. This simple concept lends itself to endless variation, much like the Italian dumpling, gnocchi. I am still coming up with variations and will share those with you in future posts.

I especially love spaetzle sautéed in a little brown butter with the simple additions of chopped toasted walnuts or hazelnuts and freshly grated parmesan. They also make great soup noodles.

Technique Note   It is virtually impossible to specify exactly how much flour you should use in your spaetzle batter. Flours vary from maker to maker, kitchen to kitchen, and day to day (humidity). For most applications, I prefer a batter that is similar in consistency to a stiff muffin batter. If I want to use the spaetzle as soup noodles, I make the batter even stiffer, which makes a firmer, chewier spaetzle. However, the batter can’t be so stiff that you are no longer able to push it through the holes of your chosen device.

2 large eggs
¾ cup milk
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ cups King Arthur, unbleached, all-purpose flour (batter should be quite thick; add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired thickness is achieved)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or melted unsalted butter

For Frying
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or melted unsalted butter

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and salt.
  2. With a flexible spatula, stir in the flour. The batter should be quite thick.
  3. Cover the batter and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, set a large shallow bowl next to the stovetop and add either 1 tablespoon olive oil or 1 tablespoon soft butter. Locate a slotted spoon or skimmer, plus either a wide, straight-edged metal spatula and small straight-edged spatula, colander and flexible spatula, potato ricer fitted with the largest hole disk, or a spaetzle maker.
  5. Spoon the spaetzle batter into your chosen forming tool and with a large spatula, push the batter through the holes into the boiling water. (If you are using the two spatulas, load the larger one with batter and then use the smaller one to cut and push off small pieces of dough into the boiling water.) You may need to do this in batches. Let each batch rise to the surface, which takes about 1 minute.
  6. Remove noodle-dumplings from the boiling water with a slotted spoon or skimmer and put into the wide bowl. Toss with the oil or butter. (If you are making spaetzle noodles for soup. put the boiled noodles directly into the soup without coating with oil.)
  7. To store for later use, put spaetzle into a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.
  8. To serve, in a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter. Toss the spaetzle with the oil or butter and brown lightly.

Makes about 4 cups.

Cheese Spaetzle

  • Replace ¾ cup milk with ½ cup ricotta, quark, fromage blanc, small curd cottage cheese, or fresh goat cheese and ¼ cup milk.
  • Start with 1 cup flour.

Herb Spaetzle

  • To the completed Basic Spaetzle batter, add 1-4 tablespoons single or combined fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, chives, or green onion.
  • If desired, add 1 clove minced garlic.

Pumpkin Spaetzle

  • Replace ¾ cup milk with ½ cup pumpkin, other winter squash, or sweet potato puree and ¼ cup milk.
  • Start with 1 cup flour.
  • If desired, add 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.

More Pasta Recipes from LunaCafe:

Resources

Wikopedia on Spätzle
As Chefs Expand Culinary Repertoire, Spaetzle Becomes A Popular Pasta Alternative
The Kitchn Blog: Ricotta Spaetzle
Eating Out Loud Blog: Spaetzle for Breakfast

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About Susan S. Bradley

Intrepid cook, food writer, culinary instructor, author of Pacific Northwest Palate: Four Seasons of Great Cooking, and founder of the Northwest Culinary Academy.

Comments

  1. Hi there! I know this is an old post, but wanted you to know that you inspired me 2 years after your original post ;-) Our family recipe was the same as Sarah’s(1c flour/person and 1egg/person+1 with milk, water, or broth-my grandmother used half water, half milk), BUT I never knew I could make them without the spaetzel maker, it was one of those things that I was always going to get but never did and therefore put off making my own…well, thanks to your technique notes, we had spaetzel tonight!! They were super yummy and just like grams used to make!! Thank you for the technique notes!!! It was soooo simple to push them off the spatula and they turned out perfect!!!!

  2. Hi there! I know this is an old post, but wanted you to know that you inspired me 2 years after your original post ;-) Our family recipe was the same as Sarah’s(1c flour/person and 1egg/person+1 with milk, water, or broth-my grandmother used half water, half milk), BUT I never knew I could make them without the spaetzel maker, it was one of those things that I was always going to get but never did and therefore put off making my own…well, thanks to your technique notes, we had spaetzel tonight!! They were super yummy and just like grams used to make!! Thank you for the technique notes!!!

  3. I’m intrigued by this old world pasta and would love to try it, especially with the creative sauces you’ve posted here. Thank you!

  4. Just made my first batch (ricotta cheese with herbs), and my one regret is that I didn’t make it a double! I’ve nibbled them down by half already…

    Thanks for this recipe! I haven’t had these for SO many years. My Nana used to make them when we were kids. They were HUGE, usually 2″ x 1″, and she always fried them up in butter. If they lasted till dinner, she usually served them with beef goulash and sour cream. I think she made them with sour cream too.

    I think I have just enough time to whip up another batch before dinner…

  5. Long ago when I was living in LA I hunted down a spaetzle press for my kitchen, and it is still one of my most cherished (and worn) kitchen gadgets.

    Recently, out of baking powder for biscuits, I made my kids spaetzle for breakfast (browned in butter, with sausage and a little cheese). It was a hit, and now I’m thinking of hybridizing spaetzle with one of our other favorite breakfasts, chilaquiles. Spaetzlequiles, anyone?

  6. Oz Old Timer says:

    On a cable channel last night I saw Rick Stien cooking spaetzle with butter, garlic, roasted hazelnuts and parsley. First the normal boil till they rose to the top, dried on a tea towel and fried with the accompaniments as a side dish to venison backstrap with a morello cherry and wine reduction. mmmmmmm I am so starting on the spaetzle trail.

    • Oz Old Timer, that sounds so delicious! I now think spaetzle isone of the most underrated dishes around. I ADORE it — especially prepared as you mention (boiled, then sauteed).

  7. My Oma was a spaetzle-making machine. She thankfully taught me her secrets!
    Her variation was pretty simple to remember: one cup of flour for every person and one egg more than people (so if there are 4 people eating – 4 cups of flour and 5 eggs). Use a dash of salt and add enough water to get the consistency you want…I generally start with half a cup and add small amounts as I go. We have also substituted water with beer/milk etc.
    Sooo yummy!

    • Sarah, how wonderful to have learned this dish from your grandmother. And I love the easy to remember formula. Beer in the batter? I must run to the kitchen immediately and try that. :-)

  8. I have a mixture of Czech/Hungarian and German in my culinary roots, and my grandma and mother both made dumplings that I just can’t seem to replicate in my own kitchen (they looked just like the ones pictured in the fifth photo). They’d simply saute them in butter or sometimes mix in sauerkraut.

    As a child, I used to love a frozen side dish (can’t remember the brand) that mixed skinny spaetzle with string beans. The quality of the frozen green beans wasn’t the best, but no one cared because it had tasty little spaetzle!

    Now that I have my own kids, I’ve been making them spaetzle with a potato ricer. I saute them in butter and onion and sometimes add finely chopped ham and various cheeses like they did at our favorite German restaurant. They always request it for their birthday meal, served with a cucumber salad.
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..I Hate Sweet Wine? =-.

    • Oh Leah, your versions sound delectable! Tomorrow I am going to see what happens when I add cottage cheese and caramelized onions to the batter. And then make larger dumplings. Grandma made a pasta dumpling filled with these plus beaten egg. The cottage cheese added a surprising sour note that was addictive and memorable. I wonder if I will get nearly the same flavor without having to roll out and fill pasta rounds. Really looking forward to seeing what comes of this.

      The fifth photo shows Ricotta Spaetzle (very light) that were shaped with the manual spatula method. They are larger than the other spaetzle I made and more dumpling than noodle. Is that what you remember your Grandma and Mom making?

      Best…Susan

    • If your grandmother made Czech/Hungarian style spaetzle, it has cream of wheat/farina in it (usually 1:1 with flour, or 2 flour: 1 farina), and it makes them quite different than German (pure flour) ones.

  9. Your spaetzle look delicious especially the introduction photo. The variations
    “chopped toasted walnuts or hazelnuts and freshly grated parmesan” or “pumpkin spaetzle” are verry interesting. I think of giving the nut-parmesan spaetzle recipe a trial.

    Thank you for the idea!
    .-= bobbinis-kitchen.com´s last blog ..Quarkkeulchen =-.

    • Thank you Alex and Kristin of Bobbini’s Kitchen! It’s amazing when something this simple tastes so wonderful. I am now offcially addictive and can’t stop making one batch after another. :-)

  10. spaetzle rocks. living in germany it’s probably one of my fave things to eat!! i love it with lentils and mini sausage stew!
    .-= Meeta´s last blog ..Rosewater and Raspberry Macarons =-.

    • Meeta, thank you and what a nice idea: Lentil and Mini Sausge Stew with Spaetzle. I actually have prepared French lentils in the frig waiting for some inspiration. I think you have just given it to me. :-)

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