Growing up there was something both exotic and familiar about spätzli.
Most other families I knew didn't make it, and yet it wasn't so different from dumplings or the ubiquitous pirogy. Only smaller, with no filling.
My requests for it were frequent, and my mother often obliged, serving them with Ossobuco or other saucy meat. The next day, you could fry up the leftovers with a sunny side up egg.
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 like spätzli plain, as a side dish, either boiled or fried, but it is also great as the base in a gratin like this one. Adding herbs to the batter gives it a little more colour and flavour, and the cheese and quark make it rich and creamy. Many vegetables would be welcome here, depending on your preference.
Inspired by Betty Bossi's similar gratin featuring spinach.
250 g flour
1 tbsp fine cornmeal (maisgriess) or semolina (weizengriess)
1 tsp salt
a handful of fresh herbs, minced very finely
about 5 carrots, cut into half moons
200 g quark
salt and pepper
250 g hard cheese, grated
more herbs to garnish
First, make the spätzli batter:
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.
Add the chopped herbs and beat again.
Cover and let rest for at least a half hour.
Now for the carrots:
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the carrots and cook for about 10 minutes, or until they are tender but not mushy. Use a slotted spoon to remove them and set aside. Keep the pot of boiling water—you will use this to cook the spätzli.
Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F / gas mark 6.
Cooking the spätzli
Have a sieve or slotted spoon and a large casserole dish ready to fish out the spätzli as they float to the top.
Here you will find the procedure for using a spätzlehobel, a gadget for making spätzli. It looks like a cheese grater with a box on top. You place it over a pot of boiling water and the batter drips through the holes as you move the box back and forth. Of course if you're 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 casserole dish until you have removed them all. Repeat until you have used all the batter.
Assemble the gratin:
Add the carrots, quark, salt and pepper to the spätzli in the casserole dish and mix well. Add three quarters of the cheese and mix in. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is browned to your liking.
Garnish with additional herbs.
- Most combinations of herbs will work well. I used thyme, basil, chives, parsley, rosemary, a little lovage, and even a couple of sage and mint leaves.
- Cornmeal improves the texture of the spätzli, 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.
- You can use various vegetables as well—just first boil the firm ones first until tender.
- In Switzerland, they also sell specific flour for spätzli, Chnöpflimehl, which already has the cornmeal/semolina added.