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Spaetzle

The first time I ever made, or even heard of, spaetzle was during culinary school. My idea of German/Eastern European cuisine was pretty skewed, at that time. I thought of sausages, schnitzel – the usual suspects. I never realized how hearty, comforting and delicious Eastern European food could be.

Everything changed after I made spaetzle for the first time – a world full of warm, bacon-laden sauerkraut, white asparagus, zingy potato salads, paprikash and head cheese (yes, even head cheese) was opened up before my eyes. I never looked back, and Eastern European remains extremely high on my list of favourite ethnic foods.

A soft, eggy, noodle-type dish, spaetzle is something Patrick repeatedly asks me to make. You can have it plain with butter, mix in soft cheeses or pair it with grilled or roasted meat. At the restaurant where I used to work, we would make huge batches of spaetzle, then, to order, would sear it in a hot pan with some spinach and caramelized onion. A large portion of perfectly braised, falling apart pork shoulder would be placed on top, followed by an apple gastrique. It was one of my favourite dishes and is still on the menu, as far as I can recall (if you’re in Toronto, the restaurant is called Bannock).

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At home, our favourite way to eat spaetzle is with chèvre and caramelized onion. Since I usually serve it with roasted pork, I also like to throw in the pan juices to make it extra creamy and savoury. Like I said, Pat asks me to make this all the time, but I don’t because it’s not the easiest thing to clean up after. There is a special tool called a “hopper” which makes spaetzle-making a lot easier, but I have yet to invest in one. The way I make it at home is how we made it at the restaurant – with a palette knife and a clean, plastic cutting board. You can also use a colander and a spatula, but it’s just as messy.

Like anything delicious, it’s worth the effort (and prying batter off the gas range for the following week). We had a gorgeous meal last night of roasted pork loin, goat’s cheese and caramelized onion spaetzle and a red cabbage slaw I made the day before.

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Spaetzle

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

2 eggs

1 cup whole milk

2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp grainy dijon mustard

Directions:

  • In a large bowl, add the eggs, flour, mustard, salt and half the milk.
  • Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the batter. It should look like a thick pancake batter. If it’s too thick, add the rest of the milk, bit by bit, until you get the right consistency.
  • Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
  • When you have the right consistency, continue to beat the mixture for about three minutes on medium speed. You want to develop the gluten in the flour.
  • When the water is boiling, put a ladle-full of batter on a clean plastic cutting board. Using your palette knife, spread batter evenly over the cutting board. Then, also using your palette knife, scrape ribbons of batter into the boiling water. Alternately, you can add a ladle-full of batter to a colander (or any perforated object) and press droplets of batter through the holes with a spatula, directly into the boiling water. If using a hopper, you’re set for life. Just add the batter into the moving compartment and scrape it back and forth, directly over the boiling water.
  • Boil the droplets/ribbons of batter  until they float to the surface. This will only take about 30 seconds or less and you do not want to overcook the spaetzle. Only boil one ladle-full of batter at a time.
  • Using a perforated spoon, remove the spaetzle from the boiling water and set on a baking tray lined with a clean dishcloth to cool, if you don’t plan on serving them right away.
  • Repeat this process until all the batter has been used and don’t get too upset when you realize half the batter is now all over your kitchen counter and stove top.
  • Reheat with caramelized onions and chèvre, or butter and spinach, or anything else you’d like! Just check the seasoning before you serve.
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