Spätzle, as my Grandma Esther would spell it, loosely means “little sparrow” and gets it’s name from a time before kitchen tools like spaetzle makers, or “hobels” as they’re also known, were readily available. Historically it was shaped by hand with a spoon or knife and was thought to resemble small birds. Spaetzle is the base of many dishes in a cookbook my Grandma presented to me on my 16th birthday; A fantastic compilation of family photographs spanning 5 generations, rustic recipes laden with meat and starchy vegetables meant to feed a large farming family, ingredient lists calling for everything from goat’s milk to “Aunt Edna’s canned pears,” plenty of spaetzle, and clippings from newspapers and magazines that had significance to my Grandmother either culinary or personal. This book is a time capsule and I smile every time I go through it.
Spaetzle is traditionally used as a base for both sweet and savory dishes, soups, and one-dish meals, as it is in my family cookbook. It’s inexpensive, filling, and can be modified to please a variety of palates. I’ve attempted every recipe in Grandma’s cookbook including spaetzle with cherry sauce made with Grandma next to me, others like squash pie made along side my dad, and the one I’m sharing here – Käse or Light Cheese Spaetzle – I make for my family. Grandma Esther left a sweet message in the book, noting, “Dear Nee Nee, some of the dishes may not be so practical for modern times (Maybe she was thinking of the kidney pie? My ancestors didn’t waste a bit.) I hope you find a few that you can enjoy.” And I have. The flavor and texture of spaetzle is comforting, and brings warm feelings of nostalgia. It’s quick to whip together for guests, plus one batch of noodles can be topped a variety of ways to suit everyone around the table. I hope you might enjoy it too.
Grandma Esther’s käsespätzle or Spaetzle with Cheese Recipe
Spaetzle Ingredients (Makes 2 servings; Modified from original which served 10)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (this imparts a nuttier, heartier texture)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 pats butter
½ cup grated cheese (my Grandmother used Emmentaler, a harder German cheese) Here is a great website with a guide to German cheeses, for your perusal.
Additional salt and pepper to season
Combine the flour, salt and pepper.
In a second bowl, whisk the eggs and then add in the milk.
Create a depression in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. The flour should be added and blended gently and slowly, scraping from the sides of the bowl, until well combined.
The dough should be thick but not ridged, like a stiff muffin batter. I find the dough is easiest to work with, when I refrigerate for 10 minutes before placing in the spaetzle maker or “Hobel.”
Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Make sure the pot is wide enough to allow for the spaetzle maker to sit on top, if using this device. Place the spaetzle maker over the pot, and clip to one edge.
Fill the hopper with a ball of dough, filling it to the top. Slide the hopper across, and watch the dough fall through the holes, into the simmering pot below!
Do this in batches so you don’t get a thick layer of spaetzle accumulating, which can clump together. With this size recipe, and using a 4 quart pot, I found I don’t have to do batches, I can make all the spaetzle at once and there’s enough surface area on the top of the pot to deter clumping. This dough recipe fills the hoper of the spaetzle maker exactly once. You know the spaetzle is done, when it floats to the surface of the pot.
Stir it gently to prevent it from sticking. Remove the finished spaetzle noodles form the pot with a slotted spoon or dump the whole pot into a smooth surface colander (not a mesh strainer, I find it sticks to the mesh) and give it a light rinse of cold water.
Place the rinsed spaetzle into a bowl with sides high enough to permit tossing, and drop the 2 pats of butter on top. The heat of the spaetzle will melt the butter. Stir in. Sprinkle the cheese into the bowl as well, and stir to combine with the buttered spaetzle. Dish into smaller bowls, and add a little more salt and pepper to taste, if desired. (Or, more cheese on top.) Dig in!
Article Contributed by Nicole H., of HIC