My mother's side is half German. My grandmother was even known to mutter German words when she was a little grumpy. I didn't eat spaetzle, however, until my first visit to Germany, in 2012. It was early December, and I was there for the first snow of the year. Spaetzle was the perfect way to warm up after long walks through the snowy city. Later in that visit, at a favorite cafe in Berlin, I had a really amazing dish where dandelion greens were paired with gnocchi. The bitter greens cut through the richness and provided the most pleasing counterpoint to the doughy bites of gnocchi. Later, in my home kitchen in Oregon, I figured out how to make spaetzle, and then tried out the pairing with dandelion greens. I'm very pleased to share the recipe now. I hope you have a chance to make it this late winter, as the cold and short days stretch on but the dandelion greens appear.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute up to 1/2 cup “flavor flour” successfully– rye and spelt work particularly well)
- 2 tablespoons toasted and roughly-ground caraway seeds
- lots of cracked black pepper
- 7 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups of soft white cheese, grated
- smudge of mustard
- + one other cheese of your choosing, to go on top before baking
- 1 bunch dandelion greens
- olive oil
- the soured cream:
- store-bought short tub of sour cream
- (or make your own—combine 1 cup cream with 1 tbsp buttermilk; leave out, covered, for 2 1/2 days. creme fraiche on the tangier side)
- 1 tbsp toasted and roughly-ground caraway seeds
- generous cracking of black pepper
To make the spaetzle:
Toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan until fragrant. Pound them with a mortar and pestle until ground finely. Set aside at least a teaspoon for the sour cream.
Start with the flour in a mixing bowl, incorporate the ground caraway seeds and black pepper, then make a well in the center. Crack all the eggs in a separate bowl, mix thoroughly (but don't beat heavily) with a fork, then pour into the well. Start to mix with a spatula, then pour in the milk as you go to make a smooth batter. If it seems to get too gummy or thick, thin out with a little water or more milk. The consistency should really be rather like pancake batter.
In a third mixing bowl (your largest), get an ice bath ready to receive the cooked spaetzle.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Take a small scoop (less than a ladle will hold) of the batter and put it in your colander with holes big enough for batter to drop through in little dots. With a flexible spatula, push and scrape the dough over the bottom of the colander so that tiny nubbins of dough fall through and into the water. When your scoop of batter has gone through (you may have to pause once or twice to stir the pot of spaetzle so they don't stick together), which should be after 1 1/2 to 3 minutes of cooking time (you will know when they are ready, as they rise to the surface and the outsides tighten), remove with a spider strainer. Drop into the ice bath. Stir lightly, and let them settle.
When all the dough has been used and you have an ice bath full of spaetzle, pass through another colander like you've finished making packaged spaghetti, discarding the ice water and getting as much moisture off the spaetzle as you can. Place into a buttered baking dish and let rest.
To make the sauce:
Take a tablespoon of butter, melt it in a small saucepan, toss in 2 tablespoons of flour, whisk together, lower heat and cook till the roux starts to color slightly. Add one cup of whole milk and whisk again to incorporate the flour/butter. Continue whisking at medium high heat until the mixture starts to thicken, then return to low. Add approximately 1 1/2 cups of soft white cheese (havarti, swedish farmer’s cheese, fontina, something like that). Stir until melted and incorporated into the sauce. Season with a little mustard and salt.
Pour the sauce over the spaetzle, tossing to coat. Top with another cheese of your choosing in patterns over the dish. Bake at 350° until it resembles a finished dish of macaroni and cheese (approximately 30-45 minutes).
To finish, prep the sour cream and cook the greens:
Stir the reserved ground caraway seeds and several crackings of black pepper into the sour cream. Season with salt or a touch of lemon juice if it seems like it needs something else.
When the spaetzle is all ready to serve, wash a bunch of dandelion greens under the sink, then toss directly into a wok, large cast iron, or small soup pot. Cook on medium-high until the color has intensified and they've wilted. Season with salt. Break some of them up if you like and toss with a mild oil to help them glisten and not stick together. Season further with lemon juice or a few drops of white wine vinegar.
In a bowl, artfully arrange the dandelion greens, add some spaetzle, throw in a bit of flaky salt (and maybe a small dollop of fine mustard), then top with a large serving of the caraway seed and black pepper soured cream.