Spätzle is gemütlichkeit at its best: homey, oddly shaped little clumps, somewhere between dumplings and pasta. Hearty and very homey. The traditional homemade style of cutting the dough on a wooden board and letting the little bits drop into boiling water is particularly rustic. That's how my grandmother and my mother prepared them. It's something I loved watching as a kid and is now how I make mine.
I'll admit, seeing spätzle being made was more captivating than having to do it myself. But in the end, it's worth the effort.
Sure, you could get a spätzle maker. They're easy to use (so I hear) and not at all expensive. Or, if you have just the right colander with large enough holes that are not too close together, you could use that. But, with either of these you end up with what I think of as restaurant spätzle. Much smaller and more consistently shaped (like monochromatic Fruity Pebbles), they may be more delicate, but doesn't that defy the essence of spätzle?
The shape and size of hand-cut spätzle is as individual as one's handwriting. Mine tend to be on the longer, thinner side, while my mom's spätzle are a little stubbier. Try it out for yourself and see what your personal spätzle-ization is.
If you've never made spatzle this way before, take a glance at the slideshow and see all the steps.
The Easy Part
Thankfully, while forming spätzle may take a little practice, preparing the dough is as easy as mixing pancake batter. There are two basic keys to getting the right flavor and texture. Adding semolina flour to the all-purpose flour adds flavor, a brighter color, and a texture that is lighter, a touch sandy, and less gummy. Secondly, it's important to rest the dough before cooking it. It doesn't need a long rest, just 15 minutes or so. In the time it takes you to get your spätzle board ready and boil a big pot of water, you'll be ready to start cooking.
The Lighter Side of Spätzle
Spätzle is served with any number of stews, braised dishes, and gulashes. It does a great job of holding on to rich sauces and holding up to hearty meats. Another popular way to serve it, particularly in the Swabian region of Germany, is as Kässpätzle, alternating layers of buttered spätzle and melted cheese topped with frizzled onions.
Though delicious, this kind of food is not daily fare, at least for me. I'm not turning it into spa food, but I do like to lighten it up just a tad and let the spätzle itself feature more prominently. In this recipe, toss some herbed spätzle with butter, crispy speck, peas, and top it with toasted bread crumbs.