Making spätzle, those tender squiggly noodles
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This weekend I was testing some recipes from New York chef Kurt Gutenbrunner’s ‘Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna’ and wanted to make the quark spätzle.
First order of business: finding the spätzle maker Madame Zind-Humbrecht had given me years ago after a lunch she’d cooked at her renowned wine estate in Alsace. (Today the estate is run by her son Olivier.) I remember she’d poached an entire goose foie gras in a French canning jar--amazingly lush and silky. And that she made spätzle, the most tender squiggly egg noodles imaginable. When I asked her where I could buy a spätzle maker in Strasbourg, she gave me hers.
After rooting around in boxes and cupboards, I finally found it. How can you not love that red wooden knob on the crank?
Second order of business: finding quark, the tangy fresh cheese. I knew I’d seen it once at the Hollywood farmers market and I found a woman who sells it, but she was sold out of the plain. Had I seen some at Whole Foods? I couldn’t remember, but I made a quick detour and found it in the refrigerated case next to the crème fraiche.
Spätzle are about the simplest pasta you can make. Basically, you make a batter of flour, eggs and quark and/or cream and then pass the dough through the holes into a pot of boiling water. The beautiful thing is that they can be made ahead of time, and simply sautéed in butter before serving.
The recipe (adapted from Gutenbrunner’s new book ‘Neue Cuisine’) is easy as can be:
Whisk 2 cups flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. Add 2 large eggs, lightly beaten, 1 cup quark, and 1/3 cup cream. Beat until smooth. Working in batches, press the dough through a spätzle maker into a pot of boiling salted water.
Cook until the noodles float to the surface, 2 to 3 minutes. With a fine sieve, transfer spätzle to a bowl of ice water for a few minutes, then drain in a colander. When ready to serve, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet, and cook until lightly browned. Add salt and pepper and sprinkle chopped herbs--parsley, basil, chervil, tarragon--over the top.
As for the spätzle maker, I couldn’t find one that resembled Madame Zind-Humbrecht’s. But I did find one (entirely different concept) made by Norpro and sold at many cookware stores and online cookware dealers for around $10.
Or if push comes to shove, you can simply use a colander with large holes and push the batter through with a rubber spatula.
-- S. Irene Virbila
Photo: Traditional spätzle maker. Credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times