While I'm at Pigstock, an all-around Pig Love event in Traverse City, MI, here's a guest post from my friend and fellow writer Stephanie Stiavetti; I'm not going to say what her upcoming cookbook is about but here's a hint. —M.R.
By Stephanie J. Stiavetti
Many folks believe that macaroni and cheese is a purely American dish. They're surprised when I tell them that most European countries not only have their own versions, but that some of theses recipes appeared on the culinary map long before macaroni and cheese became popular in the United States.
The Italians, stalwarts of all things cheese- and pasta-related, combined these two ingredients into many a hearty dish, such as baked ziti and cacio e pepe. The Swedes have their makaronipudding, a simple, stoic casserole of macaroni and any number of northern cheeses, such as Gruyère or Emmentaler. The French quite possibly perfected cheese sauce with their lovely Mornay, sister sauce to Our Lady of Béchamel, expanding upon the basic roux and milk combination with a few handfuls of shredded cheese.
Even the Germans have a macaroni and cheese dish: Käsespätzle. Found in many German homes and restaurants, Käsespätzle is just as entrenched in the traditional Deutsch comfort food lexicon as it is in ours.
Pronounced KAE-zeh-SHPET-zleh, this dish is a great example of simple German comfort food at its finest. While American renditions of this German dish may add any number of odd spices, such as nutmeg or mustard powder, a basic Käsespätzle consists only of soft, dumpling-like noodles mixed with melty, stretchy cheese and topped with a touch of caramelized onion. When made from scratch, Käsespätzle beckons to a simpler time when food didn't have to be complicated to be delicious. It just had to be fresh.
To make spätzle, it helps to have a Spätzlehobel, or spätzle maker. This device is easy enough to use—you simply fill the hopper with batter, then slide it back and forth along a metal grate that is secured over a pot of boiling water. It's an incredibly simple procedure, though you might appreciate a visual spätzle tutorial to give you an idea of how it's supposed to work.
If you feel like channeling your dearly departed Oma (or someone else's, in the event you're not of German descent), you can also make it the old-fashioned way with a board and scraper, also known as a Spätzlebrett und Schaber. This method is particularly effective at giving you long, slender noodles, as opposed to those produced by the hopper contraption, which are shorter and rounder and somewhat resemble scrambled eggs.
If all else fails, you can also use a potato ricer or a large-holed colander. Hell, I've even seen people use a cheese grater to make spätzle, pushing batter through the holes with a rubber spatula. Remember, the keyword here is simple. Spätzle noodles are by their very nature imperfect, so don't spend a lot of time worrying about how your finished product will look.
And for those of you who think that making spätzle sounds too difficult, my friend Nico, a twelve-year-old chef in training, was able to master the method on his first try. So, no excuses.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ sweet onion, chopped
- A few tablespoons water
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream, divided
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces Gruyère, shredded
- In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook just until they begin to brown. Turn the heat to low and slowly caramelize the onions until they are soft, brown, and sweetly fragrant, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the pan. Add a tablespoon of water here and there if necessary to keep them from cooking too fast. When they are done, remove the onions to a bowl and set the pan aside. Do not wash it.
- In a bowl, combine the eggs and ¼ cup of the heavy cream, beating to mix. In another, smaller bowl, combine the flour, salt, and pepper, combining well. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring with a wooden spoon. Do not overmix: stop stirring as soon as the batter is smooth and the flour has disappeared into the cream and eggs. Cover the batter and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- While the batter is resting, bring a large pot of water to boil. Once it’s bubbling madly, add a few tablespoons of salt and bring it back up to a boil.
- Set your spätzle maker over the pot and press the dough through the holes into the boiling water. (If using a flat cheese grater, just press the dough through the holes with your fingers or a wooden spoon.) You’ll need to work in two or three batches depending on how big your pot is. Once the spätzle float to the top, let them cook for another 2 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them to dry on a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Once all of your spätzle are done, add them to the pan that you cooked the onions in. Turn the heat to medium and cook the spätzle for 2 minutes, tossing a few times to get them to heat evenly. Add the shredded cheese and remaining 3 tablespoons of heavy cream, stirring until all the cheese is melted. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topped with a teaspoon of caramelized onions.
Other links you may like:
- My recent post on making multigrain bread from scratch.
- Here is Stephanie Stiavetti's bio, and be sure to follow her on twitter @stiavetti.
- Chef Joachim Wissler is putting a new twist on classic German cuisine at Vendôme.
- Watch a video of Martha Stewart making Bette's braised red cabbage.
© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.