I hope my German friends will forgive me when I say that German food places way down the list of cuisines I ever crave. More like…never. Germany is a country I know intimately: I started visiting early in life because my family had friends and my dad loved it. I remember with much fondness long car drives through the Rhine valley, holidays spent in Heidelberg, the Black Forest. What I remember less fondly are mealtimes.
German food is a bit too meat-centric for my tastes and generally too brown. As a child, I subsisted on mashed and fried potatoes, and excellent cakes. As a grown up, I travelled to Germany more times I care to remember, on business mainly, and there is no major urban center I haven’t visited. Unlike memorable meals that stood out in Spain, Portugal or France, I cannot recall a single meal, even in fancy restaurants, that I had in Hamburg, Berlin or Munich.
Aside from spaetzle, which I call the German version of pasta. I can’t quite remember when I had my first spaetzle but it was probably in the mountains of Trentino Alto Adige, in Italy, where spaetzle can be found on most menus. Chances are sausages and onions were involved. Often served as an accompaniment to meat dishes, spaetzle can shine on its own, as any pasta dish could, and it is an easy alternative to noodles on a weeknight.
Don’t be deterred by recipes that claim to require a spaetzle maker: a colander with wide holes or anything with holes will do. I use the top of a pizza pan I inherited and never used but the top of which I use expressly for spaetzle. I have repeatedly asked a German friend of mine, a chef, to send me a proper spaetzle maker, just for the fun of it, but I am beginning to think he doesn’t take my spaetzle making all too seriously.
Unlike pasta, that needs to be cooked and eaten, spaetzle can be made ahead, refrigerated and cooked with whatever topping or sauce at the last minute. On a recent weeknight, I added a little bit of cooked and chopped spinach to the dough and served it with brown butter and sage. But caramelized onions and sausage is typically the way I go, dusted with a lot of Parmesan.
RECIPE – serves 4 to 6
3 eggs (or 2 eggs and 2 yolks)
1 1/2 cup flour (190 g)
a pinch of salt
a pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup water or milk (63 ml)
- Break the eggs into a large bowl and add flour, salt and nutmeg. Beat with a wooden spoon.
- Add the water or milk, while beating, until you reach a thick, wet batter. Cover and let rest 15 minutes.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Place a large colander or any implement with medium/large-sized holes on top of the pot. Put a small amount of batter in the center and press through the holes with a spatula (if the batter is too thick, thin it out with more water or milk). Simmer a couple of minutes and, when the spaetzle pop up to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon and put them on a large plate lines with paper towels.
- Repeat until you have used all the batter.
- At this point, the spaetzle is ready to be added to your sauce of choice or can be tossed with a neutral oil and refrigerated.