My mother never tired of my requests for spätzli when I was a child. She would boil them up and serve them warm, with a saucy, meaty stew. The next day, you could fry up the leftovers with a sunny side up egg for breakfast.
It was a dish that managed to seem both exotic and familiar. Most other families I knew didn't make spätzli, and yet it wasn't so different from dumplings or the ubiquitous pirogy. Only smaller, with no filling.
The word spätzle (spätzli in Switzerland) literally means 'little sparrows', perhaps describing the shape. The similar knöpfli, which uses the same batter but is formed in a little ball, is the diminutive word for 'buttons' in German. Although first mentioned in text in 1725, Wikipedia states that both the etymology and origin of spätzle is debated.
I called my mum to ask for her recipe. Without missing a beat, she said, "250 grams flour plus three eggs, a little water, then throw in some griess (cornmeal). You have to whip it until you see bubbles appear on the surface of the batter. And then you have to let it rest."
She was happy to hear that I owned a spätzlehobel, a gadget for making spätzli. It looks like a cheese grater with a box on top. It sits over a pot of boiling water and the batter drips through the holes as you move the box back and forth. There is another method, for pros and grandmas, that involves a scraper and a cutting board. It takes some real coordination and is a bit insane. Video here.
250 g flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
Whisk together flour, salt, and cornmeal in a large bowl.
Crack three eggs into a large measuring cup, then top up with water until you have 400 ml of liquid. Whisk this well.
Pour the liquid slowly into the dry ingredients, while beating with a wooden spoon. Beat this vigorously until you see bubbles beginning to form on the surface.
Cover and let rest for at least a half hour.
Once the batter is ready, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have a sieve or slotted spoon and a large bowl ready to fish out the spätzli as they float to the top.
Here you will find the procedure for using a spätzlehobel. Of course if you are brave, you could try it by hand.
Once the water is boiling steadily, ladle a couple of spoonfuls of batter into the metal box on the spätzlehobel (until the box is about half full). Run the box back and forth, allowing the batter to drip through into the water. Once the box is empty, remove the spätzlehobel from the pot (you can set it over the bowl). The spätzli is cooked once it floats to the top, so skim the water and place them in the prepared bowl until you have removed them all. Repeat until you have used all the batter.
You can serve the spätzli at this point, or it can be fried until brown and crispy.
Cornmeal makes for an improved texture, but you can omit if necessary.
After the vigorous beating, allow a couple of seconds for the bubbles to form on the surface. Sometimes it takes a moment for them to rise to the top of the batter.
If you are frying the spätzli, it helps to give them a good shake in a colander or sieve first, to remove any excess water.