Oktoberfest started in 1810 when Germans celebrated the royal wedding of King Ludwig and Queen Therese with a party in Munich. Oktoberfest from the celebration runs from the end of September though the first weekend of October. The festival became popular around the world in the 1960s.
Like many Americans, I attend Oktoberfest celebrations every year and drink beer and eat bratwurst. Other foods featured prominently during the festivities include warm potato salad, Wiener schnitzel, pretzels and sauerkraut. One of my favorite side dishes (and one of the easiest to make) is spätzle (or spaetzle). A cross between a noodle and dumpling, spaetzle can be savory or sweet, and prepared in a variety of ways.
Spätzle dough is fairly simple to make. There are no special tools required, just a bowl and a spoon. A basic control factor is finding a thickness for your dough that works best for the size of noodles you want. If your batter is too thick, you will have micro dumplings that are tough. If your batter is too thin, the dough will run though the holes of the form and dissolves into the water.
How you make the spätzle will determine the dough’s viscosity. If you are pushing the dough through smaller holes, you may need to incorporate a small amount of water. It is best to make the dough at least an hour beforehand to allow the gluten to rest. To prevent oxidation and discoloration, don’t make the dough more than 24 hours in advance.
You don’t have to have a special spätzle maker; chances are you already have something in your kitchen that will work. To form the shape, you can use a hand grater (not the box type, but one with a handle). To form the noodles, you can use the dull side and push the dough through with a rubber spatula or bowl scraper. A steamer insert with holes or a skimmer will also work.
Another method is to spread the dough out on a small cutting board. Then cut one noodle at a time with a pallet knife (this takes quite a bit of practice).
If spätzle turns out to be something you like, you can spend a few dollars on a spätzle maker. They range from plastic forms that you put over your pot to larger holed inserts for ricers. The cooking part is really simple; once you have chosen how to shape your noodles, place them in boiling water for two to three minutes. Taste one; it should be firm but not too chewy. Remove from the water and finish as desired.
Dough can be made up to 24 hours beforehand; noodles can also be cooked before and then reheated as needed with butter and herbs of your choice. Melt butter in a pan over medium heat until it is almost browned, add boiled noodles and toss with butter. Season with salt, pepper and herbs as desired. Another variation is to use the noodles as you would cooked macaroni — mix with cheese and milk, top with breadcrumbs and bake until the top is golden brown and the noodles have heated thoroughly. Spätzle is often mixed with warm sauerkraut. Sometimes it’s served as a dessert, using cherries or brown sugar. The combinations are endless; find a unique way to cook them to suit your palate.
Spätzle With Cheese (Käsespätzle)
Makes 4 to 5 side servings
3 ounces milk
3 ounces water
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups (10 ounces) flour
2 ounces (½ stick or 4 tablespoons) butter
Salt, pepper and herbs to taste
1 cup grated cheese
Whisk eggs, milk, water, and salt together. Slowly add flour and stir with a spoon until dough has formed and becomes sticky. Allow dough to rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour (up to a maximum of 24 hours) to relax gluten.
Using a spätzle maker or cutting board and pallet knife, drop noodles into salted boiling water in several successions. Boil each batch for 2 to 3 minutes, and then remove from pot and drain excess water.
Add butter to sauté pan over medium heat.
Once a small amount of brown starts to develop in the butter, add spätzle and coat with butter. If desired, cook until small amount of color forms on noodles, otherwise just until they are heated. Add herbs if desired and season with salt and pepper.
Remove from heat. Serve with grated cheese sprinkled over top of spätzle.