There are certain recipes and techniques that all cooks (professional and amateur alike) should have in their repertoires. Balanced vinaigrette, perfect chocolate chip cookies, tender omelets, and flaky pie crust are all on my list, and I’ve just added another one: spaetzle. It’s my go-to recipe when I need something is less time consuming than homemade pasta but just as tasty and crowd-pleasing.
It may be hard to say (its pronounced shhpetzlee), but boy are they easy to make and even easier to eat. Spaetzle (sometimes spelled spätzle) are tiny noodles made from an egg-based batter. They are commonly found in German, Austrian, Hungarian, and Alsatian cuisine and are usually served with saucy meat dishes.
However, anyone who has wolfed down the “kids” dish of noodles with butter and cheese will tell you that fancy sauces and elaborate accoutrements can be superfluous on the perfect bowl of pasta. These heavenly little homemade dumplings need nothing more than a sauté in butter and maybe a sprinkling of chopped parsley to become omg-I-just-ate-the-whole-batch….I-better-make-another-one good.
The batter consists of nothing more than flour, eggs, salt, and milk. I like to add a dash of nutmeg for that certain je ne sais quoi. It is much thicker than crepe batter and heavier than pancake batter, but it is certainly looser than dough. After the ingredients for the batter are whisked together, it needs to rest for 30 minutes (or up to one day) to allow for the flour granules to fully absorb the liquid and for the strands of gluten to relax.
After a nice rest, the batter is scraped across a coarse grater (a colander, potato ricer, or food mill all work fine too) into simmering water, where they cook until they float and puff up slightly. Post-poach, they are spread to cool on a greased cookie sheet, where they will remain until you decide to eat them.
It may be difficult, but wait at least 15 minutes before sautéing them, as this allows for the starches to gelatinize a bit and reduces the likelihood of them sticking to the pan. They can also be covered in plastic wrap and kept for up to a day this way (hello perfect holiday side dish!) or frozen on the cookie sheet and then transferred to a zip-lock bag in the freezer for up to two months (hello perfect weeknight dinner!).
When you can wait no longer, heat up a sauté pan, swirl a nub of butter around until it melts, then add a single layer of the spaetzle and cook until GBD (golden brown and delicious). You will have to cook them in batches to brown them evenly, but it is so worth it.
The spaetzle can be served plain, adorned with cheese or herbs, or sautéed with other seasonal goodies. Sometimes gilding the lily isn’t so bad, and moment I spied some beautiful chanterelle and cremini mushrooms at the market last week, I knew I wanted to pair them with earthy whole wheat spaetzle and crumbly gorgonzola.
So that’s just what I did last night. I also added some caramelized shaved Brussels sprouts for good measure and some thyme leaves for some woodsy notes. This dish would make a perfect pairing with some juicy roast chicken, or solo as a satisfying vegetarian entrée.
Whole Wheat Spaetzle with wild Mushrooms, shaved Brussels Sprouts, and Gorgonzola
Even if you haven’t mastered the vinaigrette or omelet, give spaetzle a try. I’ve given you the basic spaetzle recipe as well as the whole wheat version with wild mushrooms and Gorgonzola. After you make these dumplings just once, I’d be willing to bet that spaetzle will soon become your go-to recipe too.
Many people believe that mushrooms should never be washed for fear that they’ll absorb water. I disagree; mushrooms, especially wild ones, are very dirty and need to be thoroughly cleaned with water (just don’t soak them).
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and nutmeg together until combined. Add the eggs and milk to the flour, whisking thoroughly to ensure a lump-free batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes (or up to one day in the refrigerator).
Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray and put it aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add some salt (like you would to pasta water). Place your grater over the pot and scoop some batter with a ¼ cup measure onto the grater. With a spatula, push the batter through the holes on the grater until they fall into the boiling water. Repeat two more times (so you’ve used ¾ cup of batter total) and cook for about two minutes, until the spaetzle float, puff up, and separate from each other.
Remove the spaetzle from the water with a slotted spoon and spread out on the prepared cookie sheet. Repeat the cooking process until you’ve used up the remaining batter. At this point, the spaetzle need to rest for at least 15 minutes and up to one day in the refrigerator, or two months in the freezer.
When ready to serve, melt some butter (or oil) in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When it is hot, add the spaetzle and toss to coat in the butter. Sauté until the spaetzle are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove them to a plate while you cook the remaining spaetzle. Serve immediately, topped with the herbs, cheese, or whatever else.
For the mushroom preparation:
Wash the mushrooms thoroughly, checking that no dirt, bugs, or pine needles are hiding in crevasses. Tear the chanterelles (if using) into strips and cut the creminis (or button mushrooms) into wedges. Strip the thyme leaves from the branches and chop them finely.
Pull off any loose or tough outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and trim the bottoms. Cut in half, and then slice into thin shreds.
In a large sauté pan over high heat, heat one tablespoon each of the butter and oil. Add the mushrooms and thyme but do not move the mushrooms around or they will exude all their juices and won’t brown properly. If you leave them alone for one minute, they will brown nicely. After they have browned, cook them for an additional couple minutes stirring frequently until they have shrunk and are cooked thoroughly. Season the mushrooms, remove to a plate and set aside.
Add the remaining butter and oil to the hot pan. Add the shredded Brussels sprouts and a good pinch of salt. Cook until the leaves are wilted and some are caramelized, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the sautéed mushrooms and spaetzle to the cooked Brussels sprouts. Crumble in the cheese and cook until all is warmed through and the cheese has melted slightly, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.