When you are a vegetarian living in the South of Germany, your preferred dish will be Käsespätzle. Most of the time, there will be nothing else you can order, because their menus are usually quite heavy on meat. Good luck to all those celiac vegetarians, I’m not sure what you’re eating, maybe salad? Anyway, spätzle are traditional home-made thick, short noodles. The’re originally a side, used instead of other potato or rice-based sides. Käsespätzle is a swiss-inspired dish, in which spätzle are fried in butter (so they are slightly crispy) and complimented with a fragrant melted cheese, like Emmentaler, and caramelized, roasted onions. Yeah, it’s as heavy as it sounds. The restaurants try to improve this situation by serving it with a side of salad, so you at least get a few vitamins with your truckload of carbs and fat.
If you’re a vegetarian in the rest of Germany, I suggest you NOT order this dish when at a restaurant, because in all other regions of Germany, they don’t have access to good Spätzle (or the incredibly fine flour used to make them) and neither own the tools nor know the technique of making spätzle.
Outside of Bavaria and Swabia I’ve had Käsespätzle served to me made from thin, dry noodles, like you would cook for pasta. These are spätzle meant to go into soups of the elderly or the lazy, but definitely not intended to play a key role in a main dish. Spätzle need to be fresh (meaning at least refrigerated when you buy them) and be tasty in themselves. I’ve had them served spiced with a curry-type mix (yuck!) and with cheese that was all sorts of bland and wrong, the spätzle themselves a watery affair not worth remembering. My husband would always remind me of past disappointments, and I would keep trying, ever-hopeful for lovely spätzle, but alas, the lesson is: don’t do it! It is a lost cause and you will (wrongfully) be disappointed by this in essence pretty amazing dish, if you eat it outside of its native territory (or my house).
My father is from the South of Germany, and so I’ve always had access to the best spätzle all my life and my standards for this dish are pretty high. It was a huge event whenever my dad would make them (usually to go along with a piece of meat and some sauce), we greatly enjoyed them, even eating them just plain. My brother and I would eat the leftover ones in form of Käsespätzle that evening or the next day, fighting over who received the larger portion and the crispiest batch.
Once I moved of my parents home, I no longer had access to spätzle, but my dad explained to me in great detail how to make them on the phone. You need one egg per one hundred grams of flour, and a bit of salt, and if you want particularly pretty spätzle you should not – under no circumstances, ever – add water, but use more eggs (for colour). The better the egg quality, the tastier your spätzle. My dad also taught me to “beat” the batter with a strong wooden spoon, thus forcing lots of air into it, making fluffier spätzle. He also suggested the dough sit for a bit before you begin the actual process of making spätzle. I have since then always made incredibly delicious spätzle a few times a year – but then again, I lived in the south of Germany, and could buy oodles of refrigerated spätzle at every supermarket.
And then, how does one actually make the spätzle? Well, here you’ve hit on a sore spot my friends. In the south of Germany, there is a huge debate among cooks concerning exactly this subject. Originally, spätzle are scrubbed off a wooden board (also known as “Spätzle schaben“) and radical fundamentalist of traditional swabian cuisine will only recognize spätzle made in this manner as true spätzle. Modern cooks have retreated to all sorts of different tools to assist and speed up the spätzle-making process, my instrument of choice is the so-called Spätzle-Schwob, or spätzle maker. There is only one original brand, Kull. Their Spätzle-Schwob is incredibly heavy-duty and you could probably kill someone with it, which means it’s a breeze to squeeze the (somewhat sturdy) spätzle batter through it.
After I went gluten-free, I tried making spätzle. Unfortunately none of the rules my dad taught me applied any longer. I would make amazing spaghetti. They tasted like spätzle, but they didn’t have the feel of spätzle. Like at all. I would eat my “spätzle” and be disappointed, and then try again. Same thing. I had to figure it out for myself, and after a year and a half of being gluten-free and tweaking the recipe, I think I have finally captured the secrets to gluten-free spätzle. The batter needs to be a bit more liquid that you might think sensible, you shouldn’t – never, under no circumstances – use xanthan or any other of the gluten-free agents – and when you press your spätzle into the water, it needs to be boiling at full force.
So here it is, my recipe. For a good serving for my husband and I (and another meal to serve one generously or two for lunch), I make three times this amount.
100g gluten-free flour mix (I used Schaer Farine)
25g instant polenta (you can ommit this and substitute for an additional 25g of cornstarch)
25g corn starch
2 eggs (large, from happy chickens)
salt to taste
water (if necessary, or more eggs)
Place all of the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the eggs.Beat them into a batter. Continue beating the dough for a good ten minutes (yeah, you need elbow-grease), ensuring lots of air enters the batter. If you have a kitchen machine, let it do the work. Let the batter sit for a while. I have noticed this last step applies even more to gluten-free flours, I find that the liquid ingredients need to be “sucked into” the dry ingredients, and that giving them a bit of time do complete this process can be of help with any type of gluten-free batter. The feel of your batter should be kind of heavy, and it should drop from your wooden spoon (or kneading hook) sort of like this.Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. The pot should be quite full of water, as you want to press your spätzle directly into the boil. Place a second pot on your stove next to the first one. It should have hot water in it, which should not be boiling.
Now, fill about two tablespoons full of batter into your spätzle maker and press the batter directly into the center of the boiling water. Allow your fresh spätzle to boil in this water for about ten seconds (they should be floating on the top of your boiling water), then remove them from the boiling water (I use a strainer…) and dump them in the second pot of water, from where they should be removed after about another twenty seconds, drained well and placed into a large bowl. I suggest adding a chunk of butter after you’re about half way through your batch of batter, and making sure it reaches all areas of the bowl. This will avoid your spätzle from sticking to each other and make handling them later on much easier. Repeat with the remaining batter until it has been used up. You may have to refill your boiling pot of water a few times along the way. Don’t forget!About making Käsespätzle: you just fry them up in a hot pann (I use a mix of butter and oil), until most of them are golden-brown. You then add grated cheese, top it off with some (store-bought, gluten-free or homemade) roasted onions and off you go to lunch or dinner. Don’t forget your side of salad though! I thought the cold cucumber salad was quite a treat, too!