Region: Southwestern Germany, Switzerland, Austria
Meet the parents of the American Classic Macaroni and Cheese:
Mr. Gruyère and Mrs. Spaetzle
I introduced Spaetzle in the previous post but did not elaborate on its history and region.
Spaetzle, a German pasta variation are very dominant in southwestern German cooking, namely Swabia. It is said, that Swabian cooking without Spaetzle is unthinkable and torturous to the indigenous Swabian. It would be like removing Pasta from Italian cuisine. And while an Italian without pasta would most likely live in hell, a Swabian without Spaetzle would at least experience the pains of purgatory (figuratively speaking, of course).
Just like Italian pasta, Spaetzle are so much more than just a side dish. They come in a myriad of variations: as liver spaetzle, herbed spaetzle, spinach spaetzle, pumpkin spaetzle, boiled, gratinated, fried or, as in our case, in a hearty and very filling cheese sauce.
Spaetzle are surprisingly simple to make and I recommend giving it a try. While there are very good off the shelf products out there, nothing beats the home made version. And when you make them at home, think of the fact that you are preparing a dish that dates back as far as the 1700s.
Recipes for Cheese Spaetzle are available in abundance. My recipe adheres very much to the classic version. It is okay to experiment with different types of cheese and ingredients, as long as everything is in balance and no ingredient becomes too dominant.
I use Gruyère Cheese with greetings to Switzerland.
Serves: 4 Difficulty: easy Preparation time: 60 minutes
For the Spaetzle:
- 400g (14.1 oz) Flour
- 4 Eggs, 1 Egg yolk
- 2 Pinches of Salt
- ½ TS Freshly Ground Nutmeg
- 12 TBS of Beer or Sparkling Mineral Water
For the Cheese Sauce:
- 300g (10.6 oz) Fresh Pocini Mushrooms (if you cannot get fresh Porcini, use 30g (1.6 oz) of freeze-dried product and soak in hot water for 30-60 minutes)
- 3 Medium Onions
- 1-2 Pinches of sugar
- 3 Sprigs of Parsley
- 100ml (3.4 fl oz) Chicken Stock
- 100g 3.5 oz Sour Cream
- 3 TBS Butter
- 50-100g (1.8 oz – 3.6 oz) Gruyère Cheese
- Freshly Ground Nutmeg
- Freshly Ground Salt and Pepper
- A few leaves of Parsley or chervil for decoration
Unlike what you read or see on YouTtube, you don’t need fancy equipment. At minimum, you can make spaetzle with a wooden spoon, a bowl, a wooden board, and a long knife:
Combine 400g (14.1 oz) flour, 4 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, 2 pinches of salt, ½ TS freshly ground nutmeg, and 12 TBS of beer or sparkling mineral water in a bowl and blend using your favorite mixer for 5 minutes. Use more water if the dough is too dry.
If you ever wondered what the wooden cooking spoon with the hole in the center is for…; well, it is made for beating spaetzle dough.
What follows is what scares people about making spaetzle: It is beating the dough; a bit of a work out. You need to beat air into the dough. With a wooden cooking spoon, beat the Spaetzle dough for 5 minutes or until you see air bubbles. I use my hands for doing this; messy, but less strenuous. Afterwards let the dough rest for 1 hour.
Tip: It is okay to use a Kitchen Aid for the above process.
Heat a large pot with salted water.
There are several ways of getting the dough into spaetzle shape and into the boiling water. The easiest method uses a wooden board with a handle. Wet the board well with your boiling water, place a small amount of dough on the board, spread it thin and then scrape it off into the boiling water using a long knife.
It will only take a few minutes before the spaetzle are done. As soon as the spaetzle begin to float, remove them from the boiling water with a sieve and rinse with cold water. Set aside for later processing Confused by these instructions? Watch this German lady with a thick Swabian accent demonstrate it.
Once all spaetzle dough has been processes, cover them with a moist towel.
In the meantime, clean the mushrooms, and cut into small slices. Peel onions and cut into rings and chop parsley.
Heat 2 TBS of butter in a medium skillet on low heat, add onions and a pinch of sugar and glaze the onions for 20 minutes, while occasionally stirring. They should have a nice brown color, but not be burned. This will take some time, most likely around 20minutes. Be patient and keep stirring. Remove onions from skillet and keep warm. Melt another TBS of Butter and fry the mushrooms for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in 100ml of Chicken Stock, 100g Sour Cream and add the Spaetzle, and cheese.
Tip: use half of the cheese first. Test if it is “cheesy” enough. You want to achieve a fine balance between the flavors of spaetzle, mushrooms and cheese. Add more cheese as needed. Stir in parsley and season with freshly ground salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Place into buttered oven-prove dish, sprinkle more cheese over it and bake at 200°C (390°F) for 10 minutes or until you have a fragile, straw-golden cheese crust (not dark brown, and definitely not black).
Remove from oven and decorate with melted onion rings and a few sprigs of parsley or chervil.
It is easy being cheesy and unbelievably delicious. You will never go back to Mac&Cheese from a box!