These photos were taken in a mindless stupor – the day after I woke up with a cold, the day after our place was visited by an uninvited burglar. I’ve been restless, but this spaetzle is comforting since my creature comfort has been thoroughly disturbed. I think I must have had this for at least six meals this month. I’ve made it just to re-make it, since habits are comforting. And comfort, you see, is a hard thing to live without in a loud city with loud intruders.
I spent most of my life not eating German food, and therefore not eating spaetzle, but that change came naturally when I found myself in Allemand on several occasions during a long year in Europe. It must have been a cold winter or an even colder spring when I tasted my very first spaetzle. It was sloppy and I think I had forgotten much about it except for the way it slumped on my plate with a heavy burden of mysterious brown sauce. I don’t remember much else, except that it was very unimpressive. Despite its mediocrity, I still knew that it was a First, and firsts are special, regardless of their pedestrian nature.
I respectfully ate no more spaetzle until I fell in love with a German restaurant in San Francisco – a full five years after visiting Germany and its forgettable spaetzle. Of course, I didn’t choose to eat the fried dumplings – it was the only reasonable vegetarian dish on the menu. I politely refused to eat the vegan sausage. They are dry and I drink mostly tea, coffee and wine, so dry things are disagreeable crumbs that dries me up with its thirst inducing quality. Thankfully, I did eat that spaetzle, because here we are talking about this pumpkin-colored pile of delicious, prepared in that way that I love – fried crispy with some cheese and bits of peas. Peas are definitely not in season, but I eat them frozen year round since they are even better when I don’t have to shell them. You can use Brussels sprouts or whatever you want that’s available and greenish.
I like to make this recipe using roasted pumpkin, hand pureed using my food mill – a favorite toy in my kitchen. I use it to puree/strain tomatoes for all my sauces and I also use it for making the spaetzle. For fruit jams, a food mill is indispensable, but I bought this food mill specifically for making spaetzle because I don’t always want to make gnocchi and spaetzle is my second favorite dumpling. Fortunately for me, second best is pretty great, and even easier to make since I no longer need to teeter a metallic colander over a cauldron of boiling water while coaxing dough through its tiny holes with spaetzle-hating spatulas. My food mill is why I now have spaetzle at least once a month, twice if it’s a particularly good month.
If you don’t have a food mill, you can make a puree using a food processor – but I’m not sure how those handle the stringiness of pumpkins. Autumn gourds tend to string themselves together in the heat of summer – by the time I get to roast them, I find they can be dated by the amount of strings in each bite. It’s delightful, but not in a spaetzle. Alternatively, you can try steaming pumpkins to decrease the threaded mess. Using canned pureed pumpkins can save you a lot of time, and you can keep the real pumpkins sitting on the table just a tad bit longer as cheerful dinner companions.
Pumpkin & Chive Spaetzle with Sherried Chanterelles
Adapted from many sources including this wonderful blog.
1/2 c. milk (1 c. if using canned pumpkins, which tends to be more solid)
250 g. pumpkin, roasted and pureed
500 g. ap flour
1/2 c. chives, thinly sliced
2 ts salt
Pinch of nutmeg
1 c. coarsely grated salty cheese like pecorino or parmesan
As much chanterelles as you can afford, I suggest a pound (if you live in SF, wild ones are only $12/lb at the Ferry Building right now)
1/2 c. dry sherry per pound of chanterelles (more, if you sip a little while you cook)
Splash of soy sauce (you can also use salt)
1 stick of butter per pound of mushrooms (you can use less but think of this as a butter sauce)
1 bag of frozen peas, or brussels sprouts, or pea shoots
A generous tablespoon of truffle oil
Small bunch of fresh sage leaves, sliced
+ Make the spaetzle batter in advance – the gluten will want to sit and idle a bit before getting dumped into hot boiling water. The resting time makes a big difference. To do so, mix together pumpkin, eggs, chives and milk until well blended. Next, add the flour, salt, and nutmeg by sifting it into the wet mixture and folding it in gently. It should resemble cake batter. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
+ To cook spaetzle, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Then, have your bowl of spaetzle dough and food mill right next to the pot (use the largest holes). Next, prepare your tools by getting a get a slotted spoon handy, and set a colander inside a larger bowl and a bottle of olive oil for drizzling. This oil will prevent them from sticking together too much while you cook them. In small batches, work the dough through the mill and into the hot water a little at a time, placing the food mill back into the bowl once some of the dough plops into the water. When the dough drops into the water from the mill, you might need to stir the water to keep them from sticking together into large clumps, which is very undesirable. The spaetzle is cooked once it floats. Remove it from the water using a slotted spoon and put it into the colander, where the water will drain into your bowl. Drizzle some oil onto the spaetzle and toss the dumplings to get them evenly coated in oil. If there is a lot of water in your bowl – drain them before cooking more spaetzle. Repeat until all of your spaetzle is cooked.
+ If you do not have a food mill, you can push the dough through a colander with large holes – preferably around 1/4″ holes or larger. Or a slotted spoon, but this is my least favorite method. They sell spaetzle makers, but I hear they are actually less effective than food mills. This ricer also looks effective, but gives you noodle looking dumplings – which is rather different than any spaetzle I’ve seen.
+ Next, fry* your spaetzle in a hot non-stick skillet with 1/4 stick of butter – the hotter the better. Drop in clumps of grated cheese and sage and flip the spaetzle when the cheese melts and the dumplings and golden and crispy. (if you’re not sure your skillet is non-stick enough, test it before dumpling your entire batch of dumplings in. I’ve had some heartbreaks … )
+ While that is cooking, melt the rest of the butter in a pan and begin cooking the mushrooms. Add a splash of soy sauce and sherry and cook until nearly all of the alcohol is gone. Add the peas and cook until no longer frozen. Basically, warmed – I just taste them to make sure the frost disappears. Anymore and it’s overcooked, imo. Next, throw in some truffle oil – I think a tablespoon is fine to toss with the peas and mushrooms, but you can also put a little extra on top of the spaetzle.
+ If you are using other vegetables, you can also braise them separately to get the right texture. I prefer cooking almost everything separately and then assembling at the very end.
* You should only fry them when you are ready to eat it the same evening. Boiled spaetzle can keep for days, but it’s best served freshly fried.
Next up: Bourbon Barley & Lentil Stew with Pumpkin Dumplings and Charred Cauliflower. Check back next Monday?