Germany/Austria's answer to pasta, these herb spaetzle are easy to make and tasty both as a side or on their own with butter and herbs & optionally cheese. Comfort food, for sure!
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I mentioned when I shared my Kaisershmarrn recipe that I spent many a summer as a child in Austria, generally being dragged out hiking up the Alps. I didn't tend to mind as it was a lot better weather-wise than hiking in Scotland (that happened a lot as well). Plus you got some great food in the huts dotted around the mountains that was a far cry from whatever packed lunch I might have had in Scotland instead.
Goulash soup, sausages and spaetzle were all pretty much standards on the menu for lunch and I grew to love all of them.
Spaetzle was definitely a favorite of mine, not just for lunch but also as a side to dinner where it was often served with casseroles or various 'schnitzels' (like jaegerschnitzel). I was always happiest when it came with 'Preiselbeeren' - lingonberries, which is like a kind of wild cranberries. They taste somewhere between cranberries and redcurrants and make a delicious sauce/jam.
Somehow, though, I have never made spaetzle until recently. I think I must have thought it was too tricky or needed special tools. Which is silly given I have gone out and bought a pasta maker sooner.
Anyway, since my first few attempts were without special tools, I can honestly say it is not that hard and you can definitely make them without. That said, now that I have since bought a spaetzle maker (which are inexpensive), it definitely make things quicker and easier.
What are spaetzle?
Spaetzle are essentially a kind of pasta or noodle. Exactly what spaetzle look like and how they are made varies a little by region. They tend to be more like little noodles and made with a board and cutter used to scrape them into a pan in Swabia, while in the South and Austria they tend to be a bit more short and stumpy.
In all cases, you drop little pieces of the raw dough into a boiling pot of water so they cook, which only takes a minute or two.
How to make spaetzle
- Mix together the dough ingredients until smooth.
- Prepare a bowl of cold water and set a pan of water to boil.
- Using spaetzle tool or colander with spoon, drop little pieces of dough into the boiling water.
- Once they float up, remove from pan and put in the cold water.
You can get a spaetzle maker that basically pushes the dough through a kind of grater over the pan. They are very reasonable, and I'm definitely thinking of getting one (space is more my issue!). However you can also use a colander, as I have to date, and just push the dough through the holes with a spoon. I would just suggest using one with slightly more and larger holes than mine as it took a while.
As I said, they cook really quickly in just a couple minutes. You know they are ready when they float to the top of the pan (just like gnocchi).
Once you have cooked them all, transfer them to an oiled dish. You can keep them like this at room temperature for a couple hours, or cover and refrigerate overnight. Then when you are ready to eat, you heat them in a little butter in a frying pan.
Alternatively, cook a bit more to get a bit of brown on them. I'd suggest you don't really need to brown them if you are having them with something sauce-based, more just warm through. On the other hand, if you have them on their own or eg with sliced meats then brown them a bit to build more flavor. If you brown them more, you will probably need a bit more butter.
Should you use water or milk?
One last thing on making them is I found recipes with both milk and water so I tried both. I have to say I don't think there's a heck of a lot of difference - they looked basically the same and I couldn't really taste much between them.
Potentially the milk version was a little tastier, so I have gone with that below. Oh, and I have gone with herbs in them here partly as I think it adds a nice color to them and partly for the freshness. You can obviously leave them plain too.
How to serve spaetzle
Having made them once, I've started making them a bit more. We first had them with mushroom stroganoff and have since made them to go with jaegerschnitzel - both delicious. They are great with many other sauce-based dishes, like sauerbraten, but don't feel you have to stick with German recipes.
My son enjoyed them with pesto (non-traditional, I know) and I can see them being great in place of pasta in many other ways. You could also make them into bacon onion spaetzle for a delicious meal in itself - a very Germanic lunch.
However you have spaetzle, they are both comforting and delicious, so be sure to give them a try!
See more German recipes in the archives.
- 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour plain flour
- 2 eggs
- 6 tablespoon milk or water - can add a bit more to make a slightly softer dough that can be easier to work with
- 1 tablespoon chives finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon parsley finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon butter approx, or a little more
- 1 tablespoon fresh herbs or a little more
- grated cheese eg Swiss optional
- Mix together the flour, eggs, milk and finely chopped herbs until well combined.
- Prepare a large bowl with cold water and bring a pot of water to the boil.
- Using a colander or a spaetzle tool, carefully hold the colander or spaetzle tool over the pot of boiling water and push the dough through the holes into the water. Little 'worms' should drop down by themselves.
- As the pieces of dough float to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon to the bowl of water. Continue until you have used all the dough.
- Lightly oil a dish, drain the spaetzle from the bowl of water and transfer them to the oiled dish. You can keep them like this, covered, at room temperature for an hour or two or else refrigerate (can keep overnight) for longer.
- When ready to use, melt the butter in a skillet/frying pan and add the spaetzle. Stir regularly as you warm them for a few minutes. If serving with a sauce-based dish they only really need warmed through, but if having alone, or with eg sliced meats then cook a little longer, probably needing a little more butter, until they start to brown.
- Serve with some more herbs on top and, optionally, some cheese (depending on how you are using).
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.