Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spätzle gives new meaning to "hand-made"

I've always loved spätzle, and now I love them even more. I love making them, looking at them, and of course, eating them.

Wintertime is the perfect time for
spätzle, partly because of its inevitably home-made look and taste, and partly because the vehicle that carries the spätzle tends to fall into the comfort food zone (goulash, ragout, butter, cream, cheese, etc). I once had a delicious spätzle with mushrooms at Flatbush Farm, and I've been craving it for weeks now. In an attempt to try it at home, I got some tips from a German chef and downloaded some recipes from Wolfgang Puck and Epicurious.

Last night I successfully completed part one of the process - the making and boiling of the dough. I have to say I've never had so much fun with food in my life. The ingredients are basic - flour, eggs, milk (some omit the milk and use water), fresh ground nutmeg, salt, and pepper. I added in a bit of chopped thyme for taste and visual appeal since the mushroom sauce will also have thyme, and I liked the subtle result.

The fun begins when you mix the dough - you do it with your bare hand. I can't quite describe the sensation, but because the dough is so smooth and silky, your hand sort of becomes one with the dough. There was a point of difference between the Bavarian chef
and Wolfgang Puck's recipes - Bavarian said mix the dough well, for 10-15 minutes. Puck said mix it minimally, just until combined. Being the masochist that I am, I went with the longer route and boy, did my arm get a workout!

You then let the dough rest in the fridge for about an hour before you begin the next stage of fun.

To shape the spätzle, you simply pass it through a hole-y colander directly into boiling, salted water. The dough is nice and elastic-y, a little mushier than pizza dough, so you have to really smash your hand into the colander to get the dough to squeeze out. It's pure child's play.

A word of warning, though. The fun ends when you realize what a mess you've made and remember you have a kitchenette with no dishwasher. And this isn't a clean-as-you-go kind of dish - you need at least 2 or 3 hands full-time. But it was all worth it, every gooey drop of it. The spätzle are happily resting in my refrigerator, waiting for their next stage in life. Yay! Tomorrow, I will introduce them to some interesting mushrooms, and possibly a guy named pancetta, pending on M's presence.

Recipe: Spätzle
Adapted from Wolfgang Puck
4 egg yolks
1 egg
1 3/4 cups milk
1 pound (about 3 cups) all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup peanut oil
2 ounces unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley

1. In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks, egg, and milk together.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the butter, and egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix with bare hand until well blended and all the lumps have come out, about 10-15 minutes. Cover the bowl and refrigerate. Allow the batter to rest for at least 1 hour.

3. Bring salted water to a boil. Place a perforated hotel pan (or a large-holed colander) on top of the pot. Place the batter on the pan and force through the holes to form
spätzle. Cook until the batter rises to the top.

4. Skim cooked
spätzle. off top into a bowl of ice water to shock. When cool to the touch, drain well. Stir in half the oil. (At this point you can cover and refrigerate up to 2 days)

5. When ready to serve, over high heat place a large sauté pan until it gets very hot. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of oil and the boiled
spätzle. Let cook for 2 minutes without moving the pan to achieve a good brown color. Add the butter and start to sauté the spätzle. Sauté until golden brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Finish with a sprinkle of parsley.

If you're still reading, here's also a nice video via Chowhound, covering the basic aspects of
spätzle-making (click on the menu item on the left): How to make spätzle