Friday, January 2, 2009

As Fun to Eat as it is to Say

Spätzle are funny little things. I had never seen the teeny guys until a ski trip I took when I was studying abroad in Austria. We were taking a break at a little restaurant on the side of the ski hill in Kirchberg deep in the Austrian Alps, and I ordered käsespätzle at the recommendation of my exchange partner, Vicki, and her sister Caro. It was fantastic - one of the best things I ate during my six month stay in Austria, and unfailingly befitting the surroundings. I'm not sure how to describe it other than that it's like a German (or Austrian, etc.) version of mac and cheese, little bits of dough smothered in butter and cheese and fresh herbs. It was exciting in its novelty, yet totally comforting in its familiarity. The memory of that meal and that day has never left my mind, and only last night did I get around to recreating it. Sure I've had spätzle since then, but it had never been the same. They were still delicious, of course, but these spätzle experiences lacked the comfort factor that I'd so greatly enjoyed in Kirchberg.

If you're unfamiliar with Spätzle (pronounced schpehtz-leh), imagine little drips of dough, pressed through a sieve or dripped from a spoon into a pot of boiling water. When they emerge from the water, they're such delghtfully chewy, toothsome tiny nuggets, so much more than the sum of its parts. I really and truly suggest you get on this and make some stat. I had never realized just how simple it was, and I'm kicking myself for having taken so long to do it myself. How many times have I longed for that meal, unaware that everything I needed to throw it together myself was, in all likelihood, already hanging around my kitchen. Flour, eggs, milk, parsley, salt and pepper, and about 30 minutes - that's all I ever needed to make spätzle. Who knew such happiness was at my fingertips for so long.

So I don't have any pictures for you to accompany this recipe. And for that I hope you will forgive me. My camera is broken and I have yet to replace it and though I know it's a poor excuse, there's nothing I can do about that right now, so please accept my profuse apologies, or you know, just deal. We all know that the pictures were going to be severely sub-par anyway, especially since I made this at night and the only chance I have at taking good pictures comes comes by way of plentiful sunlight. So you'll just have to believe me that this was an extremely photogenic meal. It was browned, and crispy, and salty, and cheesy and buttery, and everything that winter comfort food should be.

Serves 2

2 servings of spätzle (recipe below), drained well and patted dry
1/2 of a white onion, thinly sliced
2 ounces of ham or bacon, finely diced (I used leftover spiral ham from Christmas eve dinner)
4 ounces of swiss cheese (Gruyere, Emmenthaler, etc), shredded
2 tablespoons Butter
Pinch of Sugar
2 tablespoons of Parsley

Preheat the broiler.

In a skillet over moderate heat, melt one tablespoon of butter. If using bacon, skip the butter, add the bacon to the skillet until it's cooked, then remove it with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain. Reserve one tablespoon of the rendered fat in the skillet and drain off the rest.

Add the onions, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar to the skillet. Cook the onions until caramelized, stirring every once in a while to prevent burning or sticking as necessary. Once the onions are caramelized, add the other tablespoon of butter, add the ham and cook for about two minutes, until browned. Add the spätzle. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the spätzle are browned. Mix 1/2 of the cheese into the spätzle and allow to melt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the spätzle. Place the skillet under the broiler until the top is browned, about two minutes.

Carefully remove the skillet from the broiler. Sprinkle with parsley, spoon out from skillet and serve alongside a nice green salad.

adapted from Danny Meyer via Mark Bittman's Bitten Blog
Serves 2

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 egg
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg into 1/4 cup of the milk. Add the flour and mix to combine. If your dough seems very thick (mine did), add more milk a little bit at a time, until it thins out sufficiently (I probably added about a tablespoon and a half to the 1/4 cup until I was happy with the consistency). Add the parsley, salt and pepper.

If you have a spätzle maker, press the dough through the spätzle maker into the boiling water. If you don't (I don't), press the dough in batches through a ricer or a colander with 1/4 inch holes. Alternatively, just allow the dough to drip off of the end of a spoon. [This is Meyer's recommendation. I started off with the colander method, but that grew old quickly, and I finished with the spoon-dripping method, which worked like a charm.] The dough should sink to the bottom and rise to the top just before it's finished. It should be cooked in two to three minutes. If your dough sticks to the bottom, just gently nudge it form the bottom of the pot - it will rise to the top. Fish the dumplings out with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water until all dumplings are cooked. Once all the batter has been cooked, drain the spätzle in a colander.

1 comment:

Anne-Lise said...

yay!! so glad it turned out well and seemed to have been totally worth the (not so huge) effort. xoxo