A couple months ago, we went out with friends to a new Austrian restaurant in our neighborhood and over too much Grüner and Very Large Dark Beers, got in an animated discussion about spaetzle, and how it was the perfect food. It manages to be both dumplings and noodles at once, and as good tangled with cheese and herbs and bacon and vegetables and as it is alongside a hearty braise. It is never unwelcome. And then my friend turned to me, I guess presuming I’m a person who knows how to, like, make things and ask me how it was made. And I realized I had no idea. This never happens — not that I am clueless, as I am routinely clueless, especially in the realm of denim — but it’s rare that I haven’t a single inkling as to how a food is made. But homemade spaetzle, I hadn’t even considered before.
Of course, I forgot all about this conversation for a while (see above: Grüner and Very Large Dark Beers) until last week, when I found 5 whole minutes to flip through The Balthazar Cookbook in peace and spied a recipe for spaetzle. Hey, did you know that spaetzle is ridiculously easy to make? That it uses only three ingredients that I’m willing to bet you already have at home? And cooks in two minutes? What I’m saying is: you could have spaetzle for dinner tonight, and I think you should.
Still, I made it as complicated as possible, but all so you won’t have to — that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. First, I made two different batters; the one from Balthazar uses more eggs than a more standard one I kept seeing, so I decided to make both and do a side-by-side comparison. Then I tried several techniques of dropping the batter into a pot of salted boiling water. The first, the one that’s simplicity had called to me from the Balthazar book, involved spreading a small amount of batter near the edge of a cutting board and using a knife or offset spatula to push small ribbons of batter into the pot. And look, I’m not saying the whole knife/board thing doesn’t work — I was informed that it was favored by Austrian housewives, after all! — it simply didn’t work for me as I ended up with a lot of large, flabby pieces and I wanted daintier ones. A thicker batter might have worked better.
Next I tried the colander method — pushing the batter through the holes of a colander into the cooking water — but quickly found pressing a thick colander of batter over a boiling pot of water very unpleasant. And hot. And awkward. After that, I tried to use a makeshift pastry bag, i.e. sandwich bag with the corner nipped off, but I found the spaetzle too tubular and no more enjoyable to form over a pot of hot water. Not giving up easily, I turned to a potato ricer, certain I’d found my spaetzle-making nirvana but it dumped one hamburger-sized spaetzleblob in the pot and was quickly relieved of its spaetzling duties. At this point, my kitchen, toddler and I were gummed top to bottom in spaetzle batter and I escaped to my laptop to consider whether, despite my general anti-single purpose appliance stance, if a spaetzle maker might be a good thing to have around. I actually whimpered with frustration when I realized that one that people seem nuts about was less than $10 and proceeded to call a few kitchen stores to see if they sold it, but none were in stock. So, it was back to the colander for me!
But really, it wasn’t so terrible. Once I switched to a colander with more than a dozen holes that could sit over the pot of water and put on some potholders, I got the swing of things quickly. We found the eggier batter to make far more light and delicate dumplings, so I’m giving that one the green light below. Finally there are a million ways to enjoy spaetzle — and I would like to discover each of them, you know, between sets of crunches — but we enjoyed the heck out of browning it in a pan with butter, and tossing it minced shallots and herbs. I’ll get to that in a second.
One year ago: Hazelnut Chocolate Thumbprints, Baked Kale Chips and Almond Macaroon Torte
Two years ago: Beef Empanadas and Homemade Chocolate Wafers + Icebox Cupcakes
Three years ago: Chicken with Almonds and Green Olives and Swiss Easter Rice Tart
Four years ago: Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas and Roasted Red Peppers and Rich Buttermilk Waffles
Simplest Homemade Spaetzle
Recipe from The Balthazar Cookbook, technique from trial and error
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
7 large eggs
1/4 cup (59 ml) milk
Combine the flour, eggs and milk in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, or overnight.*
Prepare an ice bath. Bring a large pot of well salted water to boil. If you’ve got a spaetzle maker, use it. Otherwise, do not fret! Set a large colander with holes anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2-inch wide over the pot. Put on two potholders because you probably already know that steam is hot; I apparently did not. Pour 1/4 of the batter into the colander and press it through the holes with a flexible spatula. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes then use a slotted spoon to fish spaetzle out and drop it in the ice bath. Continue with remaining batter in 3 batches. I found it was important to use only a little batter at a time (and even less if your pot is smaller) because if you push too much batter in at a time, it becomes one freakish megaspaetzle as opposed to hundreds of tiny twisty ones.
When you’re done with the batter, drain the spaetzle well and toss it with a small amount of olive oil to keep it from sticking. You can use it right away, or keep it in the fridge for a day until needed.
* The other spaetzle recipe I auditioned did not call for the resting time and worked just fine. I didn’t test this version without resting it in the fridge first for an hour, but suspect that you could get away with it if you were pinched for time. That said, the batter was really lovely — smoother, stretchier — after an hour, so if you can use that hour to prepare a salad or other parts of your meal, you should.
Pan-Browned Spaetzle with Shallots and Herbs
Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Heat 1 tablespoon unsalted butter. Once it is fully melted and beginning to turn golden add a couple cups of drained, cooled spaetzle and let it heat for a minute in the pan before starting to saute it about. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and continue to cook it until each piece has a couple toasty brown edges. Add 1 tablespoon minced shallot and cook for one minute more. Adjust seasonings to taste and, off the heat, toss with 1 tablespoon minced herbs (I used parsley and dill but others, like tarragon or chives, would work well.) Eat immediately.