December 1, 1999, New York Times
From Germany by Way of Everywhere, Spaetzle
By Florence Fabricant
- NEW YORK — At a time when Mediterranean accents seem to dominate many American menus, a little German is creeping in. Spaetzle, the tiny dumplings of Eastern Europe, are turning up where couscous once did, alongside duck, venison and fish.
These close cousins to gnocchi and fresh pasta look like little squiggles of dough, but taste like buttery air. (Think Mozart, not Wagner.)
Jeffery A. Salter/The New York Times
EDIBLE SQUIGGLES Spaetzle, haphazardly shaped dumplings, are browned in a pan by Katy Sparks at Quilty’s.
Spaetzle are everywhere lately, from Quilty’s in SoHo to Artie’s New York Delicatessen and Picholine on the Upper West Side, from Italian restaurants like Felidia and Circo to Frenchified Japanese places like Sono, all in Midtown.
Part of their wide appeal is their chameleon quality. Spaetzle can be plain or be made with chestnut or buckwheat flour; they can be seasoned with only salt and pepper or turned almost green with fresh herbs like chives or sage.
“There are a million and one ways to do spaetzle — and that’s without getting too crazy with them,” said Eberhard Mueller of Lutece, who is from the cradle of spaetzle, Swabia, the Black Forest region of southern Germany.
Spaetzle (usually pronounced SHPEH-tzl in English) take no special skills to make, and in fact look best when they are rather haphazard, almost misshapen. So they are that rare restaurant trend that works for home kitchens. The basic ingredients for the thick batter are flour and eggs. Although there are special German and Austrian spaetzle gadgets, cutting board and knife, or just press the dough through a colander can be used. The little dumplings are dropped into boiling water until they firm up and float and are often tossed in butter afterward. But they can be varied at will.
“As American cooks, we’re exploring the last European frontier,” said Katy Sparks, the chef at Quilty’s, who serves black pepper and herb flecked spaetzle to complement squab in Madeira sauce. “First came the Mediterranean, but it’s time we recognized Eastern Europe.”
Jeffery A. Salter/The New York Times
ONE METHOD Katy Sparks, chef at Quilty’s, pushes spatzle dough (ingredients, right) through a perforated pan into boiling water.
Ms. Sparks said she knew spaetzle from visits to Vienna and other parts of Eastern Europe with her father, M. Kimberley Sparks, who is professor emeritus of German at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It was easy for me to make a gesture to the region with something delicious I’d been exposed to in the past,” she said.
Other chefs, like Mueller and Mario Lohninger of Danube, are even more familiar with spaetzle from their childhoods. Lohninger, the chef de cuisine at Danube, David Bouley’s homage to Austria in TriBeCa, is the son of restaurateurs in Salzburg who sometimes served spaetzle tossed with cheese as a main course, or in soup. At Danube he adds pureed garlic chives to the thick batter, giving the spaetzle a sharp flavor and a verdant tint.
Mueller, who is now using spaetzle as an accompaniment to venison and red cabbage, recalled how they were typically served at Sunday lunch in Germany with braised beef, veal or pork as well as German potato salad and lettuce dressed with lemon juice. “And my mother would put parsley and chives in her spaetzle long before it was fashionable,” he added.
Lidia Bastianich, the owner of Felidia, said she often ate spaetzle back in Friuli, the region in northeastern Italy that abuts Austria. “We make spaetzle to go with braised dishes and we season it with saffron, tomato or spinach, like gnocchi,” she said. (But she added, “I just came back from Italy, and I was served spaetzle in Piedmont. I have no idea where they got it from.”)
Even chefs with no spaetzle in their pasts are experimenting: Terrance Brennan at Picholine makes them with chestnut flour; Chris Metz at Artie’s New York Delicatessen works kasha into the dough; John Reese at Adrienne flavors spaetzle with saffron; and John McGrath at C3 adds sage. Tadashi Ono at Sono makes his with buckwheat flour, giving them the flavor of Japanese soba noodles. Outside New York, spaetzle are being seasoned with Dijon mustard at Spruce in Chicago and with curry at Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco.
In “The Cuisines of Germany” (Poseidon Press, 1980), Horst Scharfenberg called spaetzle the “quintessential Swabian delicacy.” Some trace the name to fat-bodied little sparrows, or spatzen in South German dialect. But Scharfenberg favored the derivation from the Italian spezzare, meaning to cut in pieces. He wrote that spaetzle are thought to have been brought to Germany by Italian workers or monks in the Middle Ages. But he also suggested that they might have arrived earlier with Roman soldiers.
Because spaetzle require no rolling or cutting, they may be the simplest, least technically demanding pasta to make. The process is just tedious. There are special spaetzle-makers: wood boards with sharp edges over which the batter is scraped with a knife (there is even such a thing as a spaetzle knife), or perforated metal gadgets that fit over the pots and have sliding hoppers to push the dough through.
Jeffery A. Salter/The New York Times
The basic ingredients for the thick batter are flour and eggs. Although there are special German and Austrian spatzle gadgets, you can use a cutting board and knife, or just press the dough through a colander.
But most chefs make spaetzle simply by forcing the thick batter through the holes of a colander or a hotel pan (a kind of perforated saucepan used for warming or steaming). A large stainless-steel colander with holes one-eighth inch to one-quarter inch wide can be used. Hold it over a pot that is half filled with boiling water and use a large spoon, a wooden spatula or a dough scraper to push the batter through the holes.
That is the method of choice of the cashier at Schaller & Weber, the German food store on the Upper East Side, where I bought packaged spaetzle for comparison purposes. When I asked which of four brands to choose, she responded: “You don’t have to buy it. You make a simple batter with eggs and flour and press it through a colander.” (I now understand the universal disdain for the packaged spaetzle, which are more like twisted bits of egg noodle and not as feathery as the homemade kind.)
Mueller scoffs: “The colander is not the authentic way in Germany. That’s considered the fast food version.”
Instead, he scrapes the bits of dough off a board and into boiling water with a knife, in a rapid-fire motion he learned from his mother. “Where I grew up, there was a saying that if a woman couldn’t make spaetzle by hand she was not worth marrying,” he said.
I found a cutting board easier to use than a colander, and the yield was slightly greater, since there was no waste. With a colander, some batter will cling.
Balance the small wooden cutting board, preferably one with a handle, on the edge of the pot and use a table knife to scrape tiny bits of batter off and flick them into the pot. Dip the knife blade frequently into cold water to help the batter slip off.
When the dough is pushed through a colander, a hotel pan or a perforated metal spaetzle maker, the pieces tend to be plumper and shorter. Scraped off a board, they are like little strips or squiggles. The thicker the batter, the shorter the pieces tend to be.
Chefs like spaetzle because they do not have to be served at once — a boon to the home cook as well. They can be reheated later by lightly toasting them in a skillet with butter. A good, traditional finishing touch is to let the butter turn hazelnut color, stir in bread crumbs and let them brown before adding the spaetzle and a dusting of minced herbs.
In Germany, liver puree is sometimes mixed into the batter. It’s a variation New Yorkers might like — but with foie gras, of course.
Adapted from Sono
Time: 1 hour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup light buckwheat flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter.
1. Whisk flours, salt and pepper in large bowl. Add egg and 3/4-cup stock. Beat until well-blended to make thick batter.
2. Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil and reduce to a simmer.
3. Hold a colander a few inches above the pot. With a large spoon or spatula, push about 1/4 of the batter through holes into the water. Or place 1/4 of the batter on a small wooden board and rest it on the edge of the pot; use a knife to scrape tiny bits into the water. When spaetzle rise to top, remove with skimmer or slotted spoon to a baking sheet lined with paper towel. Continue making spaetzle in batches.
4. Transfer well-drained spaetzle to bowl, cover and set aside. You should have 3 to 3 1/2 cups.
5. When ready to serve, melt butter in large skillet. Add spaetzle and sauté a few minutes, until starting to brown.
Yield: 4 side-dish servings.
BLACK PEPPER AND CHIVE SPAETZLE
Adapted from Quilty’s
Time: 1 hour plus 1 hour’s resting
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter.
1. In large bowl, mix eggs, lemon, pepper, chives, nutmeg and salt with 1 1/2 cups water. Slowly beat in flour. Cover. Set aside 1 hour.
2. Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil in a large pot. Reduce to a simmer.
3. Hold a colander a few inches above the pot. With a large spoon or spatula, push about 1/4 of the batter through holes into the water. Or place 1/4 of the dough on a small wooden board and rest it on the edge of the pot; use a knife to scrape tiny bits into water. When spaetzle rise to top, remove with skimmer or slotted spoon to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Continue making spaetzle in batches.
4. Heat butter in large skillet. Add spaetzle and toss until coated with butter and starting to become very lightly browned. Serve.
Yield: 5 to 6 cups spatzle. Serves 6.
SWABIAN SPAETZLE WITH HERBED BREAD CRUMBS
Adapted from Eberhard Mueller
Time: 15 minutes plus time for making spaetzle
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons dry white breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons each minced fresh parsley, chives, chervil
3 1/2 cups prepared, drained spaetzle
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
1. Heat butter in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat until golden brown. Add bread crumbs and continue cooking until crumbs are lightly browned. Remove from heat and add herbs.
2. Add spaetzle and stir gently to coat with butter and the herbed bread crumbs. Reheat briefly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at once.
Yield: 4 side dish servings.
(The url for above changes from time to time, the url shown below is the most recent spot where I found the above.)
If you have a user-name and password for the New York Times, you can use theabove link to see this article in its original web format. (Though havinga user name and password is a requirement for access, you can get them forfree.)
You can find the above recipe(s) by tapping here on the Home Cookin’ index.
Copyright © 1999-2005 S.H. Klock/ The Recipe Reader / at Home Cookin’.