Show me a civilization that has not developed a dumpling recipe, and I will show you a civilization on the brink of collapse.
I’m no foreign policy expert, but there’s a reason China is doing so well. I’m just saying.
I love dumplings in all forms – big, little, stuffed, doughy, whatever – but there is a special place in my heart for the humble spaetzle, the quick-cooking, wee dumpling from Germany.
Growing up, they were a special-occasion food to be served with a nice roast beef and drowned in homemade gravy. Typically, the special occasion spaetzle had something to do with my German father, as I’m sure my very Italian mom found them to be a pathetic simulacrum of what a dumpling can be.
And it’s kinda true; in the gnocchi v. spaetzle battle royale, I would root for the spaetzle and bet on the dumping. Even if the spaetzle managed to win, the zeppole would kick its ass in the alleyway after the fight.
Since tonight’s dinner was not to be a roast-and-gravy affair, I decided to toss my spaetzle with caramelized onions and apples and serve them with some quick-seared pork chops. While a sweet onion and granny smith apple slowly browned in some butter, I threw together the spaetzle batter. Flour, salt, white pepper and a hint of nutmeg in one bowl; eggs and milk in another.
I whisked the wet and dry together until they were just combined; fear not the lumps.
Every time I make spaetzle – which is not very often, I’ve really internalized my mom’s attitude toward them, just like I still secretly believe that drinking hot tea after eating General Tao’s chicken will melt down the fat in the Chinese food – I am surprised anew at how ridiculously easy they are. Which I like, because I’m lazy. But I also like to forget the ease, because frankly, there’s really no nutritional content in spaetzle. I don’t need any more simple ways to convey refined flour and butter to my mouth.
The spaetzle get plopped into a pot of boiling water. I use an actual spaetzle maker or, as Brian likes to call it, der spaetzlator. You fill the chamber with batter and slide it back and forth over the holes, causing the gadget to shit out little irregular dumplings that cook up in a matter of seconds.
You don’t need der spaetzlator to make this, you can just as easily run the batter through a food mill (as my mom did), or use a spatula to press it through a colander or slotted spoon. I understand if you don’t want to take your spaetzle seriously.
I set the cooked spaetzle until Brian got home from work, intending to reheat them with the onion and apple while the pork chops cooked so my man could have a piping hot dinner after a long day at the office. I also left a pile of dirty dishes next to the sink for him to wash. You know, so he doesn’t feel left out of the dinner preparation process.
To reheat them, I melted a little more butter and tossed the spaetzle, onion and apple together, adding some fresh sage and thyme at the last minute.
The pork – just in case you want to replicate the meal, since it was easy and delicious – was seared in a cast iron pan, which I then deglazed with a little stock before whisking in grainy mustard and a touch of heavy cream and honey.
I cannot tell a lie, I did chop down the cherry tree, and I still like my spaetzle better when they’re in a pool of brown gravy. But for those busy weeknights or otherwise gravyless days, you can do a hell of a lot worse then preparing your spaetzle this way. It’s kind of like pork chops with applesauce, except better. Toothsome, sweet, buttery with a touch of the warming flavor of nutmeg and the barest bite of pepper.
They’d also take very well to the addition of bacon, but one of my New Years’ resolutions is to cut down on bacon, so I opted not to add any.
Kidding! Like I would really do that. I just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.
2 2/3 c. all purpose flour
1 c. milk
4 large eggs
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg, fresh is best
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. white pepper
1 tbsp. butter
Put a large pot of water on to boil. Butter a large casserole dish.
Whisk the flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper together in a large bowl; whisk the milk and eggs together in another bowl until they’re very well combined.
Pour the milk and eggs into the flour mix and whisk until everything just comes together. You’ll have some little lumps, and a thick and sticky batter.
Form and boil the spaetzle: Choose your method, and do it over your pot of now-boiling water: You can use a specially-designed spaetzle maker, where you fill the chamber with batter and push it back and forth over the holes. You can put the batter into a food mill in batches, and press it through that way. You can also spoon globs of it onto a slotted spoon and push it through with a spatula; from the hi- to the lo-tech, you’ll end up with a pot full of little misshapen dough globules.
They’ll percolate to the surface once cooked, it’ll happen quickly. Let them cook another minute, then remove them with a slotted spoon to your buttered dish.
To make these particular spaetzles, caramelize two large, sweet onions in butter by sauteing them over medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes. Remove them, and in the same pan, cook peeled, diced apple in butter until tender and brown, about 10 minutes. Toss the onion and apple with the cooked spaetzle, adding finely chopped sage and thyme just before serving.