Commonly associated with Swabian cuisine (an area of southwest Germany), spätzle or spaetzle are a type of pasta made with flour, eggs, and milk, boiled for a short period of time, and commonly served with cheese, or gravy, or simply sauteed in butter.
Exactly where the immensely popular dish came from is highly, highly disputed. We know that pasta dishes like spätzle could be millennia old dating back to when grain was first cultivated. Today spätzle is heavily associated with the German state of Baden-Württemberg but can be found pretty much all over Germany.
How to Make Spätzle
Throughout history spätzle, we’re definitely more known as poor man’s food. Spelt, a grain particularly high in gluten, was easy to grow in poor soil and a moderate climate, perfect for the Swabian region. The high gluten protein content in the resulting flour made spätzle a cheap option especially in times where things like eggs we’re scarce.
A defining characteristic of most pasta is its use of eggs and spätzle is no exception. While a good dose of eggs wasn’t custom for the early versions of the dish. Today, they’re used in nearly all spätzle recipes.
Milk or water are used in most spätzle recipes but in this one we’re using buttermilk. Buttermilk adds a nice note of acidity to an otherwise rich and fatty dish. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, shake a cup of whole milk with 1 or 2 tablespoons of distilled vinegar. Leave it to sit for 10 minutes and use.
The earliest method of making spätzle involved adding a blob of the batter on a water-soaked wooden board, then using a thin, wet knife to scrape small bits of batter into boiling water. If you go to some really traditional and authentic German restaurants they might still be using the method, but a spätzle maker is the most common method today.
A spätzle maker looks like a Microplane with wider grates. It comes with a small plastic or metal box that fits onto the device in which you pour the batter, then move it back and forth to press out perfect spätzle. This Gourmex Stainless Steel Spätzle Maker leaves a helpful mark on the german culinary industry.
I highly recommend using one of these spätzle makers because using the traditional board and knife method for the first time is messy and was potentially destructive in my case. There are tools you can use around your kitchen (with varying degrees of success) but the truth it’ll never be as easy or as good-looking as if you just use one of these spätzle devices.
There are countless variations on the German classic like serving it in a stew, cutting it with liver, sauerkraut, even certain fruits. Where I spent most of my time in the black forest it is most commonly served with cheese (also known as Käsespätzle), a mushroom sauce (Jägerspätzle) or with gravy. There is one very common step that most german eateries use and that is frying the little dumplings in browned butter after being boiled.
Browning butter gives it a rich, nutty flavor that works just as well in baked desserts as it does with spätzle. To brown butter, simply drop it in a frying pan over low heat, slowly melt, then brown the butter for 5-8 minutes depending on how nutty and brown you like it. Take caution because it’s very easy to burn the butter in the later stages of browning or if you use heat that is too hot.
After you’ve browned the butter, simply toss in the strained spätzle, add any extra ingredients you’re using, then transfer to a plate and top with some fresh, chopped parsley for some freshness.