I was going to try so hard to save this recipe (Kaze Spatzle from Biergarten) for later in the week, but I was so excited to share it, I ended up doing it first. Isn’t that always the way? I’m so bad at waiting! And this recipe, like all really great recipes, has a story associated with it. But first, a little background on the dish.
Spatzle is a distinctively German dish, translated quite literally to “little sparrow,” and it’s like a cross between an egg noodle and a dumpling with a texture that ranges from fluffy like scrambled eggs, to more al dente.
In Germany, you find it served almost like one would find mashed potatoes in the US, and they’re served with everything from butter to gravy, even with cherries for a sweeter dish. Finding them as a side dish for all meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, isn’t that uncommon at all. They are very much a staple of German cuisine.
Now, my family is German, my mother is actually first generation as both her mother and father (my grandparents) came to the US from Germany just before World War II. Pair that with spending two summers in Germany, it goes without saying that I’ve had a lot of spatzle in my time.
When I went to Germany I had the fresh stuff daily, and since you can actually find it like dried pasta in the international section of most grocery stores, I had a pretty steady amount of it stateside as well. I’m sure everybody has a food that, just the sight of it, triggers 100 happy memories… Spatzle is mine.
When I turned 18 I got my very first cookbook as a birthday present and it actually had a recipe to make fresh spatzle. I was so happy to see that not only was it super simple, that it had none of the steps that makes it tedious to make from-scratch pasta at home, and the ingredients were all very basic and easy to find.
I made a batch on the spot and I was hooked on doing it myself ever since. I’m actually a little proud to say that my spatzle is something of a family tradition. I make it for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and various special family events through the year.
I will freely admit that the way I make spatzle would make a German housewife proud, and a chef cry. Most of the time when you order a dish that has spatzle, it’s made using a spatzle press. What it makes are pea-like little dumplings called Knöpfle or “tiny buttons.” It makes very uniform noodles that, on a whole, are considered more attractive and presentable. Occasionally you’ll see one that works a lot like the noodle attachment on a Play-Doh and it’ll make ribbon or thick, spaghetti-like noodles.
However, the traditional method of making spatzle is to scoop small amounts of batter using a fork or a spoon with numerous large holes, dropping large ribbons or globs of the batter into boiling water. The noodles were all of various sizes and textures, but despite this, it was nearly impossible to over or undercook them.
When the dough was dropped in boiling water, it sank to the bottom, and when it was fully cooked, it’d rise to the surface. In fact, that’s where the name came from… The whispy noodles floating to the top of the boiling water amidst the froth created during the cooking process looked like a flock of little sparrows in the clouds.
Spatzle dough itself is a wonderful medium for adding all sorts of little flavor boosters. I’ve put herbs and finely minced garlic in the dough and, while not traditional, it sure tastes good. I also love to boil the noodles in chicken broth or very heavily salted water, though never add oil or butter to the boiling water.
It doesn’t do much to prevent sticking, and it messes with the texture of the noodle. Instead, add the butter after it’s come out of the water. Speaking of butter… Use a lot of it, even if you plan on putting another sauce with it. It keeps the noodles from sticking and buttered spatzle is the best thing in the world.
It goes without saying that this dish is amazing… I love how it tastes exactly like German kase spatzle, and I love that they actually cook it using the traditional method of just chucking the cheese and butter in, as opposed to making a sauce from flour, butter, and milk and melting the cheese into that. All that’s missing from this dish to make it authentic German, and exactly like dining at Biergarten, is the German band.
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As is served at Biergarten Restaurant, Germany Pavilion, EPCOT
Mix the flour and salt until combined. Mix in eggs until the texture is firm, but still wet, like a dumpling dough. If the batter is too stiff, add a very small amount of milk.
Fill a large stock pot with salted water and bring to a rolling boil. Using a spatzle press, a slotted spoon, or a fork, press the dough through the holes using your fingers. The dough will sink to the bottom, but rise to the top once it has cooked entirely. Remove from the water using a slotted spoon, pasta spoon, or spider. Allow to stand for a moment to dry out.
Saute the cooked spatzle with onion in a skillet with butter until golden. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the grated Swiss cheese and mix well.
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