Käsespätzle/ photo by Stephanie Stiavetti

While I’m at Pigstock, an all-around Pig Love event in Traverse City, MI, here’s a guest post from my friend and fellow writer Stephanie Stiavetti; I’m not going to say what her upcoming cookbook is about but here’s a hint. —M.R.

By Stephanie J. Stiavetti

Käsespätzle

Many folks believe that macaroni and cheese is a purely American dish. They’re surprised when I tell them that most European countries not only have their own versions, but that some of theses recipes appeared on the culinary map long before macaroni and cheese became popular in the United States.

The Italians, stalwarts of all things cheese- and pasta-related, combined these two ingredients into many a hearty dish, such as baked ziti and cacio e pepe. The Swedes have their makaronipudding, a simple, stoic casserole of macaroni and any number of northern cheeses, such as Gruyère or Emmentaler. The French quite possibly perfected cheese sauce with their lovely Mornay, sister sauce to Our Lady of Béchamel, expanding upon the basic roux and milk combination with a few handfuls of shredded cheese.

Even the Germans have a macaroni and cheese dish: Käsespätzle. Found in many German homes and restaurants, Käsespätzle is just as entrenched in the traditional Deutsch comfort food lexicon as it is in ours.

Pronounced KAE-zeh-SHPET-zleh, this dish is a great example of simple German comfort food at its finest. While American renditions of this German dish may add any number of odd spices, such as nutmeg or mustard powder, a basic Käsespätzle consists only of soft, dumpling-like noodles mixed with melty, stretchy cheese and topped with a touch of caramelized onion. When made from scratch, Käsespätzle beckons to a simpler time when food didn’t have to be complicated to be delicious. It just had to be fresh.

To make spätzle, it helps to have a Spätzlehobel, or spätzle maker. This device is easy enough to use—you simply fill the hopper with batter, then slide it back and forth along a metal grate that is secured over a pot of boiling water. It’s an incredibly simple procedure, though you might appreciate a visual spätzle tutorial to give you an idea of how it’s supposed to work.

If you feel like channeling your dearly departed Oma (or someone else’s, in the event you’re not of German descent), you can also make it the old-fashioned way with a board and scraper, also known as a Spätzlebrett und Schaber. This method is particularly effective at giving you long, slender noodles, as opposed to those produced by the hopper contraption, which are shorter and rounder and somewhat resemble scrambled eggs.

If all else fails, you can also use a potato ricer or a large-holed colander. Hell, I’ve even seen people use a cheese grater to make spätzle, pushing batter through the holes with a rubber spatula. Remember, the keyword here is simple. Spätzle noodles are by their very nature imperfect, so don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how your finished product will look.

And for those of you who think that making spätzle sounds too difficult, my friend Nico, a twelve-year-old chef in training, was able to master the method on his first try. So, no excuses.

Käsespätzle

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
  • A few tablespoons water
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces Gruyère, shredded
  1. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook just until they begin to brown. Turn the heat to low and slowly caramelize the onions until they are soft, brown, and sweetly fragrant, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the pan. Add a tablespoon of water here and there if necessary to keep them from cooking too fast. When they are done, remove the onions to a bowl and set the pan aside. Do not wash it.
  2. In a bowl, combine the eggs and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream, beating to mix. In another, smaller bowl, combine the flour, salt, and pepper, combining well. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring with a wooden spoon. Do not overmix: stop stirring as soon as the batter is smooth and the flour has disappeared into the cream and eggs. Cover the batter and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  3. While the batter is resting, bring a large pot of water to boil. Once it’s bubbling madly, add a few tablespoons of salt and bring it back up to a boil.
  4. Set your spätzle maker over the pot and press the dough through the holes into the boiling water. (If using a flat cheese grater, just press the dough through the holes with your fingers or a wooden spoon.) You’ll need to work in two or three batches depending on how big your pot is. Once the spätzle float to the top, let them cook for another 2 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them to dry on a plate lined with a paper towel.
  5. Once all of your spätzle are done, add them to the pan that you cooked the onions in. Turn the heat to medium and cook the spätzle for 2 minutes, tossing a few times to get them to heat evenly. Add the shredded cheese and remaining 3 tablespoons of heavy cream, stirring until all the cheese is melted. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topped with a teaspoon of caramelized onions.

Other links you may like:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

Stephanie Stiavetti

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10 Wonderful responses to “Käsespätzle”

  • Karin

    My family is not from the region of Germany that makes Spaetzle. At my house it was Kaseknoedle. Same basic dough, dropped by spoonfuls in the boiling water. Faster, simpler and just as tasty. My mother just added what ever cheese we had in the fridge.

  • Frank

    I’ve yet to make this, before, but I love cooking German food, and have done spaetzle many times. The trickiest part is keeping the batter/dough from cooking onto the underside of the maker. I will be sure to give this recipe a try. Great guest post!!!

    • Stephanie

      Hi Frank,

      To keep this from happening, I use a taller pan so that the water is a few inches below the spätzle maker. This generally keeps them from cooking before they drop into the water.

      • Frank

        Thanks, Stephanie! I have adjusted a bit to prevent this. The biggest reason it happens is the maker I use. The silly thing doesn’t just have holes in it, it actually still has like the tabs that have been punched out, folded straight down at a 90 degree angle. It’s annoying, but I’ve managed pretty well, with it. Thanks, again, though, for the suggestion! I’m going to click over and check out your blog, now!

  • Dan

    Will have to try this recipe out…the one I have doesn’t have any cream in the batter, just flour, eggs and salt. I have a board that my Swiss-German ex gave me – it’s a plastic dinner plate sized contraption – one half is perforated, the other half is solid, along with a scarper to force the dough through the perforations. It sits on top of a large pot, so it leaves both hands free. And I always transfer my Spätzle into a bowl of cold water, to stop them cooking, then drain thoroughly in a colander.

  • Jessika

    I love spätzle! A tip is to try them as a dessert served with apple-sauce.

  • Tim

    Thank you! Our cousins took us to one of the finest restaurants in Swabia, we ordered and the eldest’s turn came up – she order Kasespatzle – we asked why, she said it was the dish that most reminded her of her childhood. My children followed her lead – needless to say it’s a staple in our house now. And we use Oma’s board…

  • Tim

    Oh… and a breakfast of egg, bacon, spatzle and onion is as close to heaven as it gets…