Literally translated from German as “little sparrow,” spaetzle, sometimes spelled spatzle (SHPEHT-sluh; SHPEHT-sehl; SHPEHT-slee), is a dish of tiny noodles or dumplings made with flour, eggs water or milk and sometimes nutmeg. The small pieces of dough are most often boiled before being tossed in butter or added to soups or other dishes. In Germany, it is served as a side dish, much like potatoes or rice and is often accompanied by gravy or sauce. I first encountered these fluffy morsels in Chicago at the famed, Berghoff restaurant. They have expanded from their appearance strictly on menus in German restaurants to menus of many fine dining establishments. Think of them as a blank canvas allowing you maximum artistic license to add herbs, cheeses, spices or anything else that comes to mind for flavor enhancement.
The dough must be firm enough to be rolled and cut into slivers or soft enough to be forced through a sieve or spaetzle maker. The latter method of forcing through is what I use and it is by far the easiest. The needed tool is readily available online or at kitchen stores and sells for about $16.00. I am not one who usually endorses single use gadgets but I think for the ease it provides, it is worth the small investment. One tip I have is to spray the utensil with non-stick cooking spray for easier clean up as the dough is soft and sticky. It is basically a pasta dough but not as dry using less flour.
Fast, easy and fun, this how it goes down.
SPAETZLE Serves 6
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 – 1/2 c milk or water (I use milk)
Sea salt (about 1t or to taste)
¼ t pepper
1/4 t grated nutmeg
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
Beat the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Stir in the flour to form a smooth but thick sticky batter. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes.
Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil, generously salt it. Spoon a portion of the batter into the square container that runs along the grater. With the spaetzle maker resting on the rim of the pan, move the container back and forth along the grater until the dough is pressed through into the boiling water.
When the spaetzle floats to the top (about 1-2 minutes) lift out with slotted spoon or spider and place in a warm bowl. Repeat until dough is all cooked.
FOR BUTTERED SPAETZLE: Take 4 T unsalted butter cut into six pieces and bring to room temp. Add butter to each batch of cooked spaetzle as it is transferred to a warm bowl. Toss at end and serve.
FOR SAUTEED SPAETZLE: Heat 4 T of unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the drained spaetzle and sauté, stirring occasionally until golden brown and slightly crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
FOR SPAETZLE GRATINEED with CHEESE: Cook as directed transferring each cooked batch into a warmed bowl and adding unsalted butter (4T, room temp and cut into 6 pieces) to each batch. Transfer to a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with ¼ c Gruyere cheese, grated. Slide under preheated broiler and broil until cheese is melted and golden.
These dumplings are a perfect accompaniment to hearty winter soups and stews. I was motivated to make them this week after reading an article in a local publication called, “Nature’s Pathway” written by my friend, Debi Morton, owner of Driftless Depot in Spring Green, WI. I had planned on making a pot roast and I thought it perfect to pair with the” little sparrows.”
I thank Debi for inspiring me and hope I have inspired you to spread the love one pillowy bite at a time. Until next time, stay warm and eat hearty. Sending love from my kitchen to yours. Jeanne