Why It Works
- Adding semolina flour and minced fresh herbs to the batter gives the spätzle a robust flavor and golden color.
- The cutting method requires no special tools and yields a rustic, homestyle spätzle.
Spätzle is gemütlichkeit at its best: homey, oddly shaped little clumps, somewhere between dumplings and pasta. Hearty and very homey. The traditional homemade style of cutting the dough on a wooden board and letting the little bits drop into boiling water is particularly rustic. That's how my grandmother and my mother prepared them. It's something I loved watching as a kid and is now how I make mine.
I'll admit, seeing spätzle being made was more captivating than having to do it myself. But in the end, it's worth the effort.
Mixing the Batter
Though forming spätzle may take a little practice, preparing the dough is as easy as mixing pancake batter. There are two basic keys to getting the right flavor and texture. Adding semolina flour to the all-purpose flour adds flavor, a brighter color, and a texture that is lighter, a touch sandy, and less gummy. Secondly, it's important to rest the dough before cooking it. It doesn't need a long rest, just 15 minutes or so. In the time it takes you to get your spätzle board ready and boil a big pot of water, you'll be ready to start cooking.
Sure, you could get a spätzle maker. They're easy to use (so I hear) and not at all expensive. Or, if you have just the right colander with large enough holes that are not too close together, you could use that. But, with either of these you end up with what I think of as restaurant spätzle. Much smaller and more consistently shaped (like monochromatic Fruity Pebbles), they may be more delicate, but doesn't that defy the essence of spätzle?
The shape and size of hand-cut spätzle is as individual as one's handwriting. Mine tend to be on the longer, thinner side, while my mom's spätzle are a little stubbier. Try it out for yourself and see what your personal spätzle-ization is.
Here's how I form spätzle. First, I get out a heat-proof board with a smooth surface, like a wooden cutting board. I moisten it with cool water, and then spread some of the batter in a long strip going from one end of the board to the other.
I move the board so that one side is positioned over a pot of salted boiling water. Using an offset spatula, I cut off small, thin strips of the batter and slide them into the water. I cut the dough at small angles to keep the spätzle from getting too long (they will almost double in size as they cook). As I cut the dough, I let any small bits drop into the boiling water as well. If the dough doesn’t want to release from your spatula, just plunge the spatula into the water for a second. (You can also cook the spätzle directly in soup broth.)
According to my Oma’s notes, if you work quickly enough you can cook the whole thing in two batches. Yeah right, Oma. The rest of us may do better with small batches – about as much as you can scoop up with one or two sweeps of a strainer.
Once the spätzle floats, let them cook at a gentle boil for another minute or two, until they no longer have a raw flour taste and have a pleasantly firm texture, not tough and chewy. The cooking time will differ depending on the size of your spätzle.
Once they are cooked, I shock the spätzle in ice water. Once cool, I scoop them out, rest the strainer on a clean, dry towel for a moment to get rid of excess water, and then spread them on a baking sheet to dry off further.
You can do all of this up to a day in advance of serving. Once the spätzle has dried off for about 30 minutes, pack them up and store them in the fridge. Or hold them for several weeks by freezing the spätzle on a tray and then packing them up in a well-sealed container.
When you’re ready to serve them, toss the spätzle in a hot pan of melted butter or oil. The simplest way to serve them is to top them with buttered bread crumbs.
The Lighter Side of Spätzle
Spätzle is served with any number of stews, braised dishes, and goulashes. It does a great job of holding on to rich sauces and holding up to hearty meats. Another popular way to serve it, particularly in the Swabian region of Germany, is as Kässpätzle, alternating layers of buttered spätzle and melted cheese topped with frizzled onions.
Though delicious, this kind of food is not daily fare, at least for me. I'm not turning it into spa food, but I do like to lighten it up just a tad and let the spätzle itself feature more prominently. In this recipe, toss some herbed spätzle with butter, crispy speck, peas, and top it with toasted bread crumbs.
Finally, if you have any leftover spätzle, crisp them up in the skillet and pour a few beaten eggs over them for a German-style frittata.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cooking water and final seasoning
1 teaspoon each finely minced fresh thyme, fresh sage
Large pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 to 2 teaspoons neutral cooking oil, such as grapeseed oil
2 ounces diced speck or bacon
1/2 cup cooked peas
In a mixing bowl, whisk together flours, salt, herbs, and pepper. Beat eggs lightly with 1/3 cup milk and add to dry ingredients. Using a fork, quickly and gently combine wet and dry ingredients. If dough is very thick and difficult to work together, add more milk, up to 1/2 cup in total. Allow dough to rest for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare a large pot of salted boiling water. Moisten a wooden cutting board with cool water. Spread a portion of the batter into a long strip along the board.
Use a large offset spatula to cut off small, thin strips of the batter and drop them into salted, boiling water. Cut the dough at small angles to keep the spätzle from getting too long. As you cut the dough, let the small bits drop into the boiling water. Once the spätzle float, let them cook at a gentle boil for another 1 to 2 minutes, until they no longer have a raw flour taste and have a pleasantly firm texture.
Remove cooked spätzle with a strainer and shock briefly in ice water. Drain cooled spätzle well and spread on a baking sheet to dry further while you continue cutting and cooking remaining dough. (To store the spätzle for future use, see the make-ahead and storage section below.)
Heat a skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add bread crumbs and parsley. Toss to coat evenly and cook until lightly toasted and crisp. Transfer bread crumbs out of pan and set aside.
Add a small amount of cooking oil (a little more if speck is very lean) to the skillet. Cook speck or bacon until fat is rendered and meat is crispy. Add peas and remaining 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter. When butter is melted, add spätzle. Cook until spätzle is heated through and slightly browned in some spots. Season with additional salt, to taste.
Transfer to a serving platter and top with buttered bread crumbs. Serve hot.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The spätzle can be made ahead of time. To use the next day, simply transfer the spätzle to a container after they have dried off for 30 minutes, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. To hold them for up to three weeks, let the spätzle dry for 30 minutes and then place the baking sheet in the freezer for about one hour. Transfer the frozen spätzle to a zip-top bag or another well-sealed container and keep in the freezer (thaw before using).
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 19g||25%|
|Saturated Fat 9g||43%|
|Total Carbohydrate 53g||19%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||12%|
|Total Sugars 3g|
|Vitamin C 5mg||26%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|