Snapshots from Germany: Spätzle


[Photograph: Urs Kuckertz]

Like Maultasche, Spätzle is a signature Swabian dish from Baden-Württemberg, arguably one of the most interesting culinary regions of Germany. Spätzle is essentially an egg noddle served either plain as a side dish or as a main course typically with cheese, onions and speck.

The ideal flour type for the Spätzle dough is Dinkelmehl (spelt flour). Dinkel is a wheat-like, dark-colored, sweet and nutty flavored flour. It is an ancient grain of the wheat family, believed to have been first cultivated across central Europe around 3000 BC, where traces of Dinkel grain have been found at Neolithic settlements. The flour is then mixed with organic eggs, lukewarm water or sometimes milk, salt and an optional pinch of nutmeg. The Spätzle dough must have a thick liquid texture so that it may be scraped of a moist wooden Spätzlebrett (chopping board) into boiling hot generously salted water.

Once the Spätzle rise to the surface of the boiling water, they're done, which should take no longer than a couple of minutes. If used as a side dish the plainly cooked Spätzle would then be served without any further ado. But it is strongly recommended to take the cooked Spätzle to the next level. For Kässpätzle (Cheese Spätzle) you'd quickly fry the cooked Spätzle in butter, soft onions and cheese (whatever you like; I prefer a mix of Gouda, Parmesan and Blue cheese) before placing your pan in the hot oven for 10 minutes to let the cheese fully melt and give it a golden crust . Garnished with freshly chopped spring onions and black pepper, the dish will look like the image above. Add to this a Thüringer bratwurst and a Neumarkter Lammsbraü Pilsner and you'll have a wonderful meal.

Another favorite is the Spätzle-Waldpilz-Pfanne, which adds lovely seasonal forest mushrooms such as Maronenröhrling, Pfifferling and Steinpilz (chanterelle and variaty of porcini mushrooms). Dishes with Waldpilz are popular in Germany, especially the chanterelle is widely used in pasta dishes or butter fried on toast.